The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) recently issued a final rule that amends the U.S. Hazardous Material Regulations (HMR) to maintain consistency with international regulations and standards. The amendments to the HMR include changes to proper shipping names; hazard classes; packing groups; special provisions; packaging authorizations; air transport quantity limitations; and vessel stowage requirements. The revisions harmonize the HMR with recent changes in theInternational Maritime Dangerous Goods Code, the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air, and the United Nations Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods—Model Regulations. In addition, several amendments resulted from coordination with Canada under the U.S.-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council. Prior to adoption, PHMSA considers each amendment on its own merit; PHMSA seeks to promote consistency without diminishing transportation safety or imposing undue burden on the regulatory community. The final rule is effective with voluntary compliance beginning January 1, 2017. Mandatory compliance begins January 1, 2018, unless otherwise specified. For more information on DOT's efforts to improve hazardous materials safety and awareness, or to access the HMR, visit the PHMSA website at http://www.phmsa.dot.gov/.
Executive Order Rolls Back Clean Power Plan
President Donald Trump signed the Energy Independence Executive Order. The Energy Independence Executive Order directs agencies responsible for regulating domestic energy production to submit plans to the White House, which will identify, and propose measures to revise or rescind, regulatory rules that the administration believes impede progress towards energy independence. The Order rescinds several Obama executive orders and policies related to climate change. It will roll back carbon standards for new power plants; stop the current court cases; throw out the government’s method for counting the benefits of cutting dangerous carbon pollution; abandon a moratorium on new coal leases on public lands; and rescind methane standards. EPA released statements from lawmakers from energy producing states and trade association executives that applauded the Executive Order.
Fulfilling his promise of cooperative federalism and acting on President Trump’s Energy Independence Executive Order, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt sent letters to state governors advising them that they are under no obligation to adhere to the Clean Power Plan (CPP) rule.
“The days of coercive federalism are over,” the letter reads. “Accordingly, I look forward to working with you, your state experts and local communities as we develop a path forward to improve our environment and bolster the economy in a manner that is respectful of and consistent with the rule of law.”
Governors and Attorney Generals from several states have pledged to challenge the executive order or put state regulations in place to counter the harmful effects on the environment as a result of the executive order.
The American Chemical Society (ACS) expressed its concern over the Presidential executive order on climate change policies. The ACS public policy statement on Global Climate Change specifically supports the importance of addressing Earth’s changing climate and calls for international cooperation to address the issue. The statement notes that climate change is real, is serious, and has been influenced by anthropogenic activity. The statement adds that continued uncontrolled greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will accelerate and compound the effects of climate change.
“Climate policy in the U.S. has been based on extensive science and an iterative process involving thousands of scientists that span the globe,” says ACS Executive Director and CEO Thomas Connelly Jr., Ph.D. “Climate change is undeniably real, and steps must be taken to prevent further drastic impacts on our environment, economy and quality of life.”
ACS created and maintains a public information resource on climate science—The Climate Science Toolkit. The toolkit has served as a valuable information resource for individuals around the globe. In 2016, the toolkit had nearly 200,000 visits from nearly every country on Earth.
EPA Administrator Pruitt Denies Petition to Ban Widely Used Pesticide
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt signed an order denying a petition that sought to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide widely used in agriculture and linked to many health hazards, particularly damage to children’s brains.
EPA wants to engage in further study of the scientific evidence of adverse neurodevelopmental harm to children. It contends putting off a decision for what could be many more years complies with a court order to act by March 31, 2017, because “the court’s order does not and cannot compel EPA to complete the registration review of chlorpyrifos in advance of the October 1, 2022, deadline” in the statute.
In October 2015, under the previous Administration, EPA proposed to revoke all food residue tolerances for chlorpyrifos, an active ingredient in insecticides. This proposal was issued in response to a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network North America.
Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate insecticide that is sprayed on a variety of crops including, apples, oranges, strawberries, and other foods that are widely consumed by children.
Chlorpyrifos, in use since 1965, can cause long-term damage to children’s developing brains and nervous systems at low levels of exposure during pregnancy and early childhood. It is also acutely toxic and causes systemic illnesses to people by inhibiting the body’s ability to produce cholinesterase, an enzyme necessary for the proper transmission of nerve impulses. Once exposed to chlorpyrifos, people can experience a range of symptoms from nausea, vomiting, headaches, and dizziness to seizures, paralysis, and even death in some instances.
Seventeen years, ago, the EPA eliminated all home uses of the pesticide, but re-approved its use in agriculture, allowing continued risk of poisoning of farmworkers, their children and rural families, and dismissing the growing evidence that prenatal exposures damage children’s brains.
Last November, EPA released an updated assessment of the risks linked to chlorpyrifos and concluded that its current safety standards were not enough. The EPA, citing studies from Columbia University, University of California, Berkeley and other prestigious academic institutions, found that prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos is correlated with lower IQ, loss of working memory, attention deficit disorders and developmental delays. The EPA, academic researchers and the EPA’s own Scientific Advisory Panel found that brain damage can occur even at far lower levels of chlorpyrifos exposure than those needed to cause acute poisoning.
As a result, EPA lowered the allowable level of exposure to chlorpyrifos and found the following alarming risks:
- All exposure to chlorpyrifos through food exceeds safe levels of the chemical. The most exposed population is children between one and two years of age. On average, this vulnerable group is exposed to 140 times the level of chlorpyrifos the EPA deems safe.
- Chlorpyrifos contaminates drinking water
- Chlorpyrifos drifts to schools, homes, and fields in toxic amounts at more than 300 feet from the fields
- Workers face unacceptable risks from exposures when they mix and apply chlorpyrifos and when they enter fields to tend to crops
Ordered by a court to take regulatory action by March 31, 2017, EPA is now refusing to revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances. A ban would have ended all uses of chlorpyrifos on food crops, which constitutes the vast majority of applications.
EPA Administrator Seeks Additional Time to Review RMP Rule
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt signed a proposed rule this week to further delay the effective date of EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP) Amendments to allow EPA time to complete the process for reconsidering the RMP Amendments issued on January 17, 2017.
“We want to prevent regulation created for the sake of regulation by the previous Administration. Any expansion of the RMP program should make chemical facilities safer, without compromising our national security. And, any new RMP requirements should be developed in accordance with the explicit mandate granted to EPA by Congress,” said Administrator Pruitt.
Administrator Pruitt’s proposal to further delay the effective date of the amendments will allow the Agency time to evaluate the objections raised by multiple petitioners and consider other issues that may benefit from additional public input. The Agency will also use this time to ensure that all provisions in the RMP Amendments are in accordance with the explicit mandate granted to EPA by Congress in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.
On March 13, 2017, Administrator Pruitt signed a letter announcing the convening of a proceeding for reconsideration of the RMP Amendments and signed a final rule issuing a three-month stay of the effective date, thereby delaying the effective date to June 19, 2017. The proposed rule signed by Administrator Pruitt on March 29, 2017, would, if finalized, further delay the effective date of amendments to the Accidental Release Prevention Requirements: Risk Management Programs Under the Clean Air Act until February 19, 2019.
EPA will hold a public hearing on this proposed rule on April 19, 2017, to solicit input on the proposed delay of the effective date. Written comments on the proposed delay are due by May 19, 2017.
Report Finds EPA’s Controlled Human Exposure Studies of Air Pollution Are Warranted
The EPA carries out experiments in which volunteer participants agree to be intentionally exposed by inhalation to specific pollutants at restricted concentrations over short periods to obtain important information about the effects of outdoor air pollution on human health. A new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine finds these studies are warranted and recommends that they continue under two conditions: when they provide additional knowledge that informs policy decisions and regulation of pollutants that cannot be obtained by other means, and when it is reasonably predictable that the risks for study participants will not exceed biomarker or physiologic responses that are of short duration and reversible.
In controlled human inhalation exposure (CHIE) studies, participants are exposed to one or several common air pollutants usually for a few hours at concentrations that are not expected to produce adverse responses. The goal is to observe temporary and reversible responses without causing clinical effects. The studies are designed to minimize the effects of extraneous factors and focus on the relationship between the experimental exposure conditions and the biologic response being measured, for example, a temporary change in lung function. These experiments are done in order to understand pathways of toxicity by which air-pollutant exposures might lead to illness or premature death to sensitive individuals in the general population.
Results from CHIE studies are used to inform the periodic review of National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for common pollutants, such as ozone and particulate matter (PM), and advise other policy decisions. The NAAQS process has broad health importance because it regulates the outdoor air concentrations of those pollutants. The committee that conducted the study and wrote the report examined the contributions of CHIE experiments to the scientific information used for the reviews of NAAQS for ozone and PM. Ozone and PM CHIE studies have enabled investigators to separate the effects of exposure to such individual pollutants from effects associated with exposures to ambient complex mixtures. They have provided unique information on short-term exposure-response relationships that cannot be obtained from animal inhalation studies or epidemiologic studies of people engaged in their normal daily activities.
To assess the level of safety provided by study protocols and the likelihood of participants experiencing any serious health effects with long-term consequences, the committee reviewed eight recent CHIE studies. The committee concluded that the societal benefits of CHIE studies are greater than the risks posed to the participants in the eight studies considered, which are unlikely to be large enough to be of concern. EPA applies a broad set of health-evaluation criteria when selecting participants to determine that there is no reason to believe that their participation in the study will lead to an adverse health response. The health status of subjects is monitored shortly before, during, and immediately after the exposure studies and usually again about 24 hours later.
The biologic responses of the participants in the past studies, as anticipated by the study protocol, dissipated once the exposure to air pollutants stopped and did not result in any serious effects with long-term consequences. Out of the 845 intentional pollutant exposures conducted at EPA’s study facility from January 2009 to October 2016, one participant developed an unexpected episode of irregular heart beat during an experimental PM exposure. The individual reverted to a normal heart rate spontaneously, within two hours after the exposure, and was hospitalized overnight for observation. This one hospitalization, which corresponds to 0.1% of the experimental pollutant exposures, illustrates that despite substantial efforts to screen potential participants, there is some level of risk in these studies. The committee said it is not possible to definitively say that there was no risk to the subjects in these studies.
“While communicating with potential participants, it’s particularly important to appropriately characterize the risks,” said Robert Hiatt, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at University of California, San Francisco, and chair of the committee. “EPA needs to make every effort to ensure that these descriptions are accurate, scientifically grounded, and comprehensible to people.”
The report calls for improvements in the way consent information is communicated with potential participants. For example, some of the current consent documents used by EPA are limited by their use of complicated and technical language. The committee recommended that EPA use plain language in presenting risks, provide information on the occurrence of serious adverse events associated with previous CHIE studies, and explain how those events were resolved.
While not all possible risks can be listed in a consent disclosure process, the Academies' report says study consent forms should list all health risks for which there is some credible evidence that harm might occur. Risks likely to be perceived as important by participants should be included even though there is no credible evidence to suggest they are reasonably foreseeable. For example, participation in a PM CHIE study would add little risk of cancer or heart diseases because the extent of exposure during the study is very small compared with the total PM exposures that many people experience in the U.S over many years. In addition, any increase in chronic disease risk resulting from PM exposures in the studies would be vanishingly small, the report says. According to the committee, allowing people to judge risks for themselves and determine if they are willing to assume those risks is essential in respecting the autonomy of participants.
Going forward, the report recommends EPA regularly review and update its risk-profile information on groups that show sensitivity to air-pollutant exposures to inform decisions on who should be included in CHIE studies and who should be excluded. The report also recommends that the EPA convene an external scientific advisory committee of experts on a regular basis to ensure that the most important CHIE study topics are selected in order to maximize the rigor and impact of each study.
The study was sponsored by the EPA. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. For more information, see http://national-academies.org/.
Maryland Department of the Environment Develops Guidelines for Reuse of Dredged Material
Newly developed Maryland Department of the Environment guidelines will help allow for dredged material to be safely reused in innovative ways that protect and benefit the environment.
The Department of the Environment developed the draft guidelines in collaboration with the Maryland Department of Transportation’s Port Administration (MPA). The draft guidelines are for reuse of dredged materials, as an alternative to disposal, for such purposes as: fill for brownfields redevelopment; construction and roads; landfill cover; and restoration or creation of aquatic habitats such as marshes. They are designed to clarify regulatory requirements—and, in turn, encourage further private sector innovation in using dredged materials to benefit water quality or as useful products.
“Putting valuable material to work for communities and ecosystems makes sense, and the Maryland Department of the Environment is providing a road map to doing just that in ways that protect public health and benefit the environment,” said Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles. “Through science, innovation and public-private collaboration, we can advance the greening of Maryland and strengthen our economy with valuable dredged materials.”
“Finding innovative ways to manage sediment removed from the shipping channels serving the Port of Baltimore is a priority for the MPA. With the development of MDE’s Draft Guidance Document and Technical Screening Criteria, there is now a clear path forward for making innovative reuse a reality, not just for the MPA, but for the private sector and related industries throughout Maryland,” said MPA Director of Harbor Development Chris Correale. “The MPA is grateful for MDE’s leadership on this effort—we share the same goal that dredged material, as a valuable natural resource, can safely be reused while driving innovation, benefiting the environment and growing Maryland’s economy.”
The Department of the Environment considers dredged material a valuable resource for achieving its mission to protect and restore the environment for the health and well-being of all Marylanders. Most dredged material from the Chesapeake Bay, including Baltimore Harbor’s navigation channels, is made up of clean sediments that can be used on the land as soil amendments or fill or in water to create aquatic habitat.
Dredged material has been safely reused to restore islands, such as Poplar Island in the Chesapeake Bay. That project also increases wetlands and upland habitat for nesting birds. Dredged material could be reused for projects to protect shorelines from erosion or from rising sea levels as a result of climate change, to create wetlands that improve water quality or to restore contaminated sites to safe and productive use. Other potential uses include as aggregate products for block or pavement or for use as base material for highways. Reuse of dredged material from Baltimore Harbor that would otherwise be disposed of in the MPA’s Cox Creek Dredged Material Placement Site would also effectively extend that facility’s lifespan.
The Maryland Dredge Material Management Program’s executive committee assigned a broad-based workgroup the task of reviewing current law and regulatory programs and recommending policy revisions to promote the reuse of dredged material. The newly developed technical guidance is in response to a recommendation in that workgroup’s June 2016 report.
The draft guidance is designed to assist scientists, engineers and other technical professionals seeking approvals to innovatively or beneficially reuse dredged material. The guidelines are designed to allow applicants to better understand what information is required, leading to increased transparency and efficiency in the permitting and approval process.
A public meeting to present the draft guidance and answer questions is scheduled for 6 p.m. April 25 at the Department of the Environment’s Baltimore headquarters, 1800 Washington Boulevard. Public comments on the document will be accepted through May 26. The department will review and consider all comments received.
Kwik Lube N Tune Fined $17,820 for Hazardous Waste and Groundwater Discharge Violations
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has penalized Kwik Lube N Tune, Inc., $17,820 for environmental violations related to a drywell located at its facility in Swansea. The company operated an automotive repair/service facility at 537 Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Highway, from which MassDEP received notification of a possible release of oil on December 22, 2014.
MassDEP found during an inspection that a drywell was located adjacent to the main building structure and its use constituted violations of groundwater discharge regulations, as well as the underground injection control regulations.
Kwik Lube N Tune, Inc., contends the drywall was in place when the property was purchased in 1994, but the company undertook actions to have the entire drywell structure removed and replaced with clean backfill.
"The Commonwealth's environmental regulations for drywells are in place to protect public health due to the potential threat to groundwater and soil contamination, and to ensure the proper management of waste oil and hazardous material," said Millie Garcia-Serrano, director of MassDEP's Southeast Regional Office in Lakeville. "The owners have a responsibility to not only protect public resource areas, but ensure the proper management of waste oil."
The company will pay the entire $17,820 penalty with monthly payments of $1,272.86 over the next 14 months.
Innovative Initiatives Proposed to Promote Greener Communities
Representatives from business, environmental groups, industry, academia, and government have come together to make Michigan greener buy proposing 21st century infrastructure solutions for sustainable waste materials management.
The recommendations include revitalizing Michigan’s solid waste law to focus on removing barriers and recognizing waste as a resource to help double the states recycling rate. The current rate of 15% is far below the national average. In proposing these initiatives, the collaborative group recognized reducing the state’s waste will go a long way in promoting stronger, healthier communities.
"We need to change the way we look at waste by fostering convenient, comprehensive, and cost-effective opportunities that benefit Michigan’s economy and environment, as well as provide value for our families,” Governor Rick Snyder said.
The details are included in two complimentary reports produced by the Governor’s Recycling Council (GRC) and the Solid Waste and Sustainability Advisory Panel (SWSAP) and available at www.michigan.gov/deqswsap. Highlights of the reports include:
- Investment in the infrastructure needed to collect and process recyclable materials
- Robust local planning processes with measurable recycling goals
- Education campaigns to promote recycling and understand waste management
- Assistance to local governments for developing and operating collection and processing programs
Accomplishing these goals will require changes to Part 115 of the National Resources and Environmental Protection Act which deals with solid waste management. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) will work with members of the GRC and SWSAP to develop robust legislation and identify funding to implement the recommendations.
The GRC advises the Governor and the MDEQ regarding implementation of the Governor’s Residential Recycling Plan. The SWSAP advises the MDEQ about ways to reach the state’s solid waste and sustainability goals.
Source of Mystery Spill in Columbia River Found
A coordinated investigation by state and federal authorities in Wenatchee has identified Coleman Oil, Inc., a fueling facility near the Columbia River, as the source of the biodiesel spill that has been leaking into the river.
The search for the source narrowed last week when spill responders identified the product as biodiesel. The investigation then focused on the facility because of its location near the river and because it handles biodiesel.
The company worked cooperatively with state and federal officials over the weekend to excavate parts of their site. What they found were leaking pipes and soils saturated with red and yellow biodiesel fuels.
“The samples in the soil and the pipes matched the samples we’ve collected from the river,” said Dave Byers, who manages Ecology’s statewide spill response program. “We appreciate the company helping us locate the source of the leak.”
Bob Coleman of Coleman Oil, Inc., said, “At Coleman Oil Company a core value of ours is environmental stewardship. We deeply regret that there was a release to the environment that appears to have originated at our Wenatchee facility. We will work diligently to contain and eliminate the release, in continued cooperation with federal, state, and local agencies.”
The oil sheen was first spotted on the river the evening of March 17. A diesel odor was reported in the area between Thurston and Chehalis Streets in Wenatchee.
By March 18, state, federal and local partners formed a Unified Command to respond, involving the Department of Ecology, the EPA and Chelan Emergency Management, with support from several federal, state and local agencies. The Washington State Patrol, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, City of Wenatchee, and Chelan County Fire District 1 also provided on-scene resources to support the spill.
More information and photos can be found on Ecology’s Columbia River Biodiesel Spill website.
Baton Rouge Reaches Attainment with National Standards for Ozone
The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality announces that on March 21, the Greater Baton Rouge redesignation to attainment became effective for the pollutant ozone. The area includes Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Iberville, Livingston, and West Baton Rouge parishes.
Due to the cooperation of LDEQ, industry, businesses and individuals, the Baton Rouge area has reached attainment two times before, once for the 1-hour standard and another time for the 1997 8-hour standard. This time, the area met the more stringent 8-hour ozone standard again. This means that the whole state is in compliance with ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
“Louisiana’s air is the cleanest it has been since the promulgation of the Clean Air Act,” Dr. Chuck Carr Brown, LDEQ secretary said. “This accomplishment has been a cooperative effort between LDEQ, industry and individuals for many years and has greatly improved the air quality and the quality of life for Louisiana. Many people have worked hard to make this happen.”
While the area is in attainment the EPA has proposed an even more stringent standard which may impact that designation.
It is important that the area remain involved in regulatory as well as voluntary activities and practices that continue to improve the air quality. Sign up for Enviroflash to keep up with the air quality in any area of the state. Enviroflash is a free automatic notification system that emails or texts you the air quality forecast on a daily basis; or if you prefer, when air quality alerts are issued.
Joseph Freedman Co. Fined $5,000 for Discharge of Cutting Fluid to Storm Drain
Joseph Freedman Company, Inc., a scrap metals recycling company based in Springfield, has been assessed a penalty of $5,000 by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) for discharging machine cutting fluid to the storm drainage system at its facility at 115 Stevens Street.
On June 16, 2016, the Freedman company self-reported discharges of machine cutting fluid to the storm drainage system at its property. The cutting fluid, a water-based mixture that contains petroleum hydrocarbons, is utilized in the precision machining industry during fabrication of metal parts; machine shops send their scrap metal chips to Freedman for recycling. The fluid is regulated by MassDEP as an industrial wastewater. Prior to recycling, the chips are stored at the firm's facility; residual cutting fluid seeps from the chips and is collected in a holding tank.
The discharge occurred when an employee pumped the contents of the holding tank to an outside storm drain. The company estimated that 2,500 gallons of cutting fluid was discharged to the storm drainage system at the property during the course of several months. The discharge was ceased as of June 16, 2016, and the Freedman company retained an environmental contractor to clean out the impacted storm drainage structures. Storm water from the property ultimately drains to Poor Brook, however, it is apparent that most of the cutting fluid infiltrated to soil underlying the storm drainage structures due to the age, construction and current physical condition of the structures.
Prior to meeting with MassDEP to discuss the violation, the company re-trained its employees on procedures for collection and disposal of waste cutting fluid. Additionally, Freedman's environmental consultant is assessing soil and groundwater for contamination from the cutting fluid.
"It is imperative that companies generating hazardous and industrial wastes continually monitor their employees and operations in order to verify that proper collection and disposal of waste material is occurring," said Michael Gorski, director of MassDEP's Western Regional Office in Springfield. "We appreciate Freedman's cooperation in taking steps to correct the violation and assessing environmental impacts from the cutting fluid discharge."
CT Joins Other States in Opposition to President Trump's Clean Power Plan Executive Order
Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen joined other state attorneys general and chief legal officers of several counties and cities in strongly opposing the executive order signed by President Donald Trump that rolls back the federal EPA’s Clean Power Plan.
In addition to Connecticut, the Attorneys General of California, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia, the chief legal officers of the cities of Boulder (CO), Chicago (IL), New York (NY), Philadelphia (PA), South Miami (FL), and Broward County (FL) issued the following joint statement in response to the executive order:
“We strongly oppose President Trump’s executive order that seeks to dismantle the Clean Power Plan.
Addressing our country’s largest source of carbon pollution—existing fossil fuel-burning power plants—is both required under the Clean Air Act and essential to mitigating climate change’s growing harm to our public health, environments, and economies.
We won’t hesitate to protect those we serve—including by aggressively opposing in court President Trump’s actions that ignore both the law and the critical importance of confronting the very real threat of climate change.”
The Clean Power Plan required fossil-fueled power plants—the single largest source of GHG emissions in the country—to cut their emissions pursuant to the federal Clean Air Act. The EPA adopted the Clean Power Plan through a multiyear process that drew heavily on the experience of states, like Connecticut, and utilities in reducing power plant GHG emissions. The finalization of the plan marked the culmination of a decade-long effort by cities and states to require mandatory cuts in the emissions of climate change pollution from fossil fuel burning power plants.
"The state of Connecticut has consistently demonstrated a commitment to clean air, reduced emissions and the development of alternative energy sources, and it is incumbent upon the federal government to use its authority to protect our environment and our public health and welfare," said Attorney General George Jepsen. "My office is reviewing the details of this executive order, and we stand ready to join with our colleagues and partners in other states to use every legal means within our authority to protect the Clean Power Plan and the progress it represents."
On January 3, 2017, Attorney General George Jepsen sent a letter to then President-Elect Trump urging him to support the Clean Power Plan as an appropriate and well-tailored exercise of EPA's authority to regulate GHG emissions through a meaningful cost effective approach to reducing carbon dioxide from power plants.
In November 2015, Connecticut was part of a coalition of 25 states, cities and counties, which intervened in defense of the Clean Power Plan against legal challenge in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court heard oral argument en banc for a full day in late September; a decision is expected soon.
Wastewater Treatment Operator Indicted for Fraudulent Monitoring
The president of a private wastewater treatment company and an engineering company in Fitchburg has been indicted on dozens of charges in connection with falsifying wastewater samples and test results at condominium facilities in Dover, Holliston, and Lunenburg, Attorney General Maura Healey announced recently.
Kent Oldfield, age 52, of Fitchburg, the president of SRA, Inc., and New England Engineering Group, LLC, was indicted by a Statewide Grand Jury on charges of Knowingly Tampering with Wastewater Test Methods (six counts) and Knowingly Making False Reports to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) (52 counts).
“The public relies on certified operators like the defendant to ensure that harmful pollutants are removed from wastewater discharged directly into the ground in our communities,” said AG Healey. “Those who falsify these reports, which can have significant public health and environmental consequences, are violating the law.”
"Wastewater has a direct impact on groundwater, a valuable natural resource. For that reason, wastewater must be treated to meet strict environmental standards,” said MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg. “We rely on certified operators to test discharge water, factually report their findings to us, and ensure that wastewater is properly treated before it is discharged. Most operators do it right, but we will enforce on those that do not. "
Oldfield is expected to be arraigned in Norfolk, Worcester, and Middlesex Superior Courts at later dates.
Authorities allege that in July and August 2014, Oldfield submitted to a laboratory for testing, and later reported to MassDEP, samples from two wastewater treatment facilities he had been hired to operate. Those samples should have been, but were not, taken from each facility’s stream of treated wastewater.
The investigation also revealed that, on dozens of occasions between March 2013 and April 2015, Oldfield allegedly falsified wastewater sampling results from three condominium facilities in reports to MassDEP in order to cover up permit violations at those facilities.
These charges stem from an investigation by the Massachusetts Environmental Strike Force, an interagency unit which is overseen by AG Healey, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew A. Beaton, and MassDEP Commissioner Suuberg. The Strike Force comprises prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office, Environmental Police Officers assigned to the Attorney General’s Office, and investigators and engineers from MassDEP who investigate and prosecute crimes that harm or threaten the state’s water, air, or land and that pose a significant threat to human health.
All of these charges are allegations and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Staten Island Executive Pleads Guilty in Environmental Cover-Up
A company vice president that police say falsified documents concerning a gasoline-contaminated remediation project on Staten Island pled guilty in Richmond County Criminal Court, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced.
The plea was a result of an 18-month investigation by DEC Environmental Conservation Officers (ECOs) and the Richmond County District Attorney's (RCDA) office into Vincent Nantista, lead engineer and vice president of Soil Mechanics Drilling Corp.
"The actions of the defendant in this case would have jeopardized the health of anyone who stepped onto this property," DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. "It was a blatant attempt to put profits above public safety. I applaud the work of our investigators and the Richmond County District Attorney Michael E. McMahon and his staff in aggressively pursuing this case, which sends a strong message to others companies trying to cheat our environmental laws."
Arrested in January, Nantista pled guilty to offering a false instrument for filing in the second degree, a class A misdemeanor, and was ordered to pay $25,000 in asset forfeiture to the RCDA's office along with $25,000 in restitution to DEC. In addition, the court ordered that Nantista's professional engineer license be suspended for one year.
"With this guilty plea, Mr. Nantista has accepted responsibility for illegally filing false reports to impede NYS DEC's assessment of contaminated soil in the ground," said District Attorney Michael E. McMahon. "This type of criminal behavior puts both the environment and public at risk and will not be tolerated. I commend DEC staff and Commissioner Seggos for thoroughly investigating this matter and the professionalism they exhibited while working in partnership with ADAs Jeffrey Curiale and Andrew Sterrer."
The investigation began in June of 2015 when staff from DEC's Region 2 Division of Environmental Remediation noticed a possible false filing of reports concerning an ongoing cleanup project on Staten Island.
Soil Mechanics, a remediation company, was cleaning up a site of a former gas station at 900 Hylan Boulevard, that had, in prior years, caused significant gasoline contamination to the soil and surrounding groundwater. A construction project was planned for the site, and as part of the cleanup, Soil Mechanics staff were tasked with monitoring wells and bailing them of gasoline. However, after several years of remediation, contamination remained.
Investigators alleged that the professional engineer in charge of the project, Nantista, grew frustrated with the slow process and in attempt to speed up the project, altered monitoring data gathered by the company's field technicians.
DEC remediation staff and investigators from the Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigation (BECI) unit visited the site and confirmed that the contamination was still present.
Nantista allegedly submitted false final reports to DEC that misrepresented the size and extent of the gasoline to make it appear the site was clean. DEC investigators set up surveillance on the site, and hours before a final inspection employees were observed removing gasoline from the wells so they would pass inspection.
BECI investigators and the Richmond County District Attorney's Office obtained search warrants, one for Soil Mechanics Environmental Services, 3770 Merrick Road, Seaford, and another at Soil Mechanics Environmental Services, 245A Broadway, Amityville, and seized materials related to the remediation project.
Fishing Vessel Owner Convicted of Discharging Oily Waste into the Coastal Waters of the United States Off Washington State
Bingham Fox, owner of the fishing vessel Native Sun, was recently convicted in U.S. District Court in Seattle of discharging oily waste directly into coastal waters of the State of Washington, a felony violation of the Clean Water Act. The jury deliberated six hours following a five-day trial. U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik scheduled sentencing for July 11, 2017.
According to court documents, Bingham Fox, and others associated with the Native Sun, repeatedly discharged oily wastes into the ocean using unapproved submersible pumps and hoses. According to evidence presented at trial, the Native Sun had multiple, long-term, mechanical problems that put substantial amounts of oil in its bilges. In addition, the vessel was leaky, so the bilges were constantly filling with a mixture of oil and seawater. Bingham Fox had at least one illegal pump installed on board and directed others to regularly dump oily waste from the bilges, even in port.
“This criminal conviction clearly shows that treating our oceans as a dump has serious consequences,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeff Wood of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD). “Law-abiding vessel operators know the importance of compliance with our nation’s environmental laws, but those that flout those laws will face justice.”
“This case highlights the great collaborative efforts of Sector Puget Sound, Coast Guard Investigative Service and the Department of Justice, in holding those who pollute our waters accountable,” said Captain Linda A. Sturgis, Commander, Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound. “The results announced today are a prime example of the importance of the Coast Guard's marine environmental protection mission.”
Bingham Fox faces up to five years in prison and a criminal fine of up to $250,000 for this conviction. On March 17, 2017, his son Randall Fox pleaded guilty to conspiring with others to discharge oily wastes into the ocean when the Native Sun was offshore. Those acts violated the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS), which specifically prohibits the discharge of machinery space bilge water, unless it has been properly treated, and meets rigorous oil pollution standards. APPS implements America’s obligations under an international treaty to control pollution by ocean-going vessels. On at least one occasion, a discharge under Randall Fox’s command left a large oily sheen in the wake of the Native Sun, which was video recorded by a crewmember, who reported the crime to authorities. Randall Fox faces a maximum of six years in prison for the APPS count and five years in prison for the conspiracy count. He also faces a criminal fine of up to $250,000 for each count. His sentencing is scheduled for June 16, 2017.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard. The case is being prosecuted by trial attorneys Todd W. Gleason and Stephen Da Ponte of ENRD’s Environmental Crimes Section.
Weather Whiplash Triggered by Changing Climate Will Degrade Midwest’s Drinking Water
One consequence of global climate change is the likelihood of more extreme seesawing between drought and flood, a phenomenon dubbed “weather whiplash.”
Now, researchers at the University of Kansas have published findings in the journal Biogeochemistry showing weather whiplash in the American Midwest’s agricultural regions will drive the deterioration of water quality, forcing municipalities to seek costly remedies to provide safe drinking water to residents.
“As rainfall patterns change with climate change, it’s predicted there will be more times of drought, and more times of excessive rainfall—really big storms,” said Terry Loecke, assistant professor of environmental studies at the University of Kansas and lead author of the new investigation.
Loecke and co-author Amy Burgin, associate professor of environmental studies, said the extreme flux between drought and rainfall changes the storage of nutrients in the agricultural landscape— nitrogen used in fertilizing farms most importantly.
“Farmers put on their normal amount of fertilizer, but when we have a drought, plants don’t grow as big and don’t take up as much nitrogen,” Loecke said. “Instead of going into the plants, which would be harvested, it stays in the soil— and no water is flushing it away.”
But when floods occur, nitrogen is washed into surface waters such as tributaries that feed into rivers.
“The soil is like a sponge, and when it’s dry the nitrogen stays put,” Burgin said. “But as soon as you wet it, like when you wring a sponge, the nitrogen can flood into the rivers.”
Because many of these rivers supply drinking water for communities throughout middle America, remediating high loads of nitrogen will stress taxpayers as water departments are forced to build new facilities to eliminate nitrogen from municipal water supplies.
The KU researchers, along with Diego Riveros-Iregui of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Adam Ward of Indiana University, Steven Thomas of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Caroline Davis of the University of Iowa, and Martin St. Clair of Coe College, analyzed data from the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as other sources.
The team took a close look at a 2012–2013 drought and flood cycle that affected much of the Midwestern U.S., leading to a nitrogen spike in surface waters. “We looked at observations of the 2012 drought that ended in a flood and asked how frequently that has occurred across upper Midwest across in the last 10-15 years,” Loecke said. “We found that the connection between drought-to-flood conditions and high nitrate was pretty common.”
Indeed, skyrocketing nitrate levels in the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers forced the Des Moines Water Works to construct a $4.1 million nitrate removal plant that costs $7,000 per day to operate. “The drinking water is a real problem, especially in Des Moines,” Burgin said. “It has one of most expensive nitrate-removal facilities that we know about. In recent years, they’ve been running it from 25 to 150-plus days each year. That’s really adding up, because the money isn’t in the budget they have to spend to get clean drinking water to citizens.”
Recently, the water utility sued several farm-dense Iowa counties upriver from the city to recoup its denitrification costs. According to Loecke and Burgin, who both also serve as scientists with the Kansas Biological Survey, surface-water nitrate spikes like the ones plaguing Iowa will occur more widely throughout the agricultural Midwest as weather whiplash becomes more commonplace in the region.
“The average person will pay more to have clean drinking water, like in the city of Des Moines,” Loecke said. “A city can’t predict how many days they’ll have to run a nitrate-removal facility. When they run it a lot, it’s a huge hit to their budget, and they have to pass it on to their citizens, and it will spread out to rest of the Midwest. Midwesterners will have to pay more for drinking water going forward.”
Loecke and Burgin said they hoped their research could help inform farmers, policymakers, water departments and the general public. “Municipal water services should be paying attention,” Burgin said. “Iowa is the bull's-eye of this problem, and it’s going to spread out from there—this might not be at the forefront of a lot of Kansas minds right now. But given it’s an agricultural state, it’s a matter of time before we’re in same boat. In Iowa, now it’s hitting smaller municipalities. According to analysis by the Des Moines Register, 30% of them will have this problem—and most don’t have the tax bases to support huge nitrate-removal facilities.”