NSPS for Landfill Methane Delayed

May 29, 2017

The EPA recently announced a 90-day administrative stay for the August 2016 New Source Performance Standards and Emissions Guidelines for municipal solid waste landfills.

In August 2016, EPA issued updated guidelines for existing municipal solid waste landfills and standards for newly built, modified or reconstructed landfills. The rules would require landfills to measure and capture methane. Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas with heat-trapping power that significantly eclipses that of carbon dioxide. The guidelines would help to reduce methane emissions by 334,000 tons per year in an effort to slow the harmful effects of climate change.

As part of the reconsideration process, EPA expects to prepare a proposed rule, which will allow for public comment.

Six-States Call for Limit on Vapor Pressure of Crude Oil

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh joined a coalition of six state Attorneys General in urging the Trump Administration to immediately close a loophole that allows highly flammable, highly explosive crude oil to be shipped by rail through communities in Maryland and across the country. These trains are responsible for several catastrophic rail accidents in recent years, including the 2013 explosion in Quebec that killed 47 people.

“In Maryland, trains carrying crude oil travel through densely populated areas such as Baltimore City, as well as suburban residential and rural communities throughout the State, potentially endangering Maryland citizens' lives, businesses and properties,” said Attorney General Frosh. “Maryland has an interest in ensuring that unrefined petroleum products such as crude oil, and other Class 3 flammable liquid hazardous materials are transported by rail and other modes in the safest manner possible.”

In comments filed in response to an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) issued by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the coalition calls on the agency to take immediate steps to require that all crude oil transported by rail in the U.S. achieve a vapor pressure—a key driver of the oil’s explosiveness and flammability—of less than 9.0 pounds per square inch (psi). Attorney General Frosh was joined by the Attorneys General of California, Illinois, Maine, New York, and Washington in filing the comments. Click here to read the comments filed by the Attorneys General.

Accidents of trains carrying crude oil have resulted in devastating explosions and uncontrollable fires – including the 2016 train derailment in Mosier, Oregon, where the resulting fire caused the evacuation of nearly one-quarter of the town’s residents, and the infamous 2013 Lac-Mégantic, Quebec accident, where a derailed train burst into flames, destroyed the downtown area, and killed 47 people. Despite the catastrophic impacts that these and other rail accidents have had on communities, currently there is no federal limit on the vapor pressure of crude oil transported by rail. In the comments filed with PHMSA on Friday, the Attorney Generals argue that reducing crude oil vapor pressures to levels below 9.0 psi is not only practical, but is necessary for minimizing the explosion and fire danger involved in transporting crude oil by rail.

The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015 requires PHMSA and the federal Department of Energy to report the results of a multi-year study conducted by Sandia National Laboratories to assess the volatility of crude oil and make recommendations on improving the safety of its transport. The completion of this study and the development of accompanying recommendation may take years. For this reason, the coalition is urging PHMSA to recognize the substantial present danger that oil trains pose to communities by taking immediate action to set a vapor pressure standard less than 9.0 psi until a final standard is promulgated.

Unrefined petroleum product and Class 3 flammable liquid hazardous material carrying trains pass directly through Maryland on a regular, if not daily basis, on their way to Northeast petroleum refineries, terminal facilities, and other destinations. These trains travel across and along Maryland's most heavily populated, and environmentally sensitive areas such as rivers and other surface waters, wetlands, and wildlife habitat. Crude-by-rail poses real and substantial threats to Maryland communities, the public health and safety, and to Maryland's environment.

Vapor pressure is a key contributor to crude oil’s explosiveness and flammability. Crude oils with the highest vapor pressures—such as those produced from the Bakken Shale formations in North Dakota—have the highest concentrations of propane, butane, ethane, and other highly volatile gases. While the vapor pressure of the crude oil involved in train accidents is frequently not disclosed, in the limited number of instances it is known—including the Mosier (Oregon) and La-Mégantic (Quebec) accidents—vapor pressures have exceeded 9.0 psi.

PHMSA’s stated mission is to protect people and the environment from the risks associated with the transportation of hazardous materials, including crude oil. In July 2015, in response to concerns raised by rail accidents involving crude oil shipments, the agency adopted a new rule that sought to enhance the structural integrity of train cars that ship crude oil, and lessen the chances of train derailments. Although the new rule imposed new regulations on the design and operation of train cars, it did nothing to increase the safety of the highly combustible liquids carried by these cars. Because of this, under federal law, crude oil can still be shipped through some of Maryland’s most densely populated communities without any limit on its explosiveness or flammability.

According to the Association of American Railroads, crude oil shipments by rail increased from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 493,126 carloads in 2014, representing an increase of over 5,000%. While rail shipments of crude oil have dipped somewhat in recent years, rail is expected to continue to be an important mode of transporting the resource in the future, particularly as crude oil prices and total U.S. production rebound as expected.

Business Owner Fined Over $1 Million for Environmental Cleanup Costs and Penalties

Dale Cich, Diane C. Anderson and J & D Services of Northern Minnesota Inc., must pay more than $1 million dollars for environmental violations and related cleanup costs, under a decision from the Minnesota State Appeals Court which recently upheld a lower court’s ruling in favor of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

As a result, Cich, Anderson and J & D Services must pay a civil penalty of $677,072 and reimburse the state $316,035 for waste cleanup and disposal costs and $67,000 in attorney’s fees. This is the seventh-largest civil penalty in the MPCA’s history and fourth-largest for waste violations.

Cich and J & D Services operated a fuel recycling business in Aurora, Minnesota, but closed it in the early 2000s and abandoned approximately 30,000 gallons of hazardous and non-hazardous waste on that property. Anderson acquired the property where the waste was located shortly thereafter as part of a separate business deal with Cich.

After years of unsuccessful attempts to have Cich, Anderson and J&D Services voluntarily clean up the abandoned waste, the MPCA filed a complaint in the district court. After being sued, Cich, Anderson and J & D Services signed a Consent Decree agreeing to remove the waste by late 2013, but they did not comply.

Because Cich, Anderson and J & D Services failed to comply, site conditions deteriorated to the point where the MPCA declared an emergency and used public funds to properly dispose of the waste. The agency then asked the district court to require Cich and Anderson to pay a civil penalty for failing to comply with the Consent Decree and reimburse the state for cleanup costs. The district court agreed, set the civil penalty and added the attorney fees to the state’s reimbursement costs.

In early 2017, the Minnesota Court of Appeals heard the parties’ case and upheld the district court’s civil penalty and state reimbursement decision. The district court subsequently awarded the MPCA an additional $90,345 for the agency’s emergency waste removal from the Aurora site.

U.S. Files Complaint Against Fiat Chrysler for Clean Air Act Violation

The Department of Justice, on behalf of the EPA, recently filed a civil complaint in federal court in Detroit, Michigan, against FCA US, LLC, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V., V.M. Motori S.p.A., and V.M. North America, Inc. (collectively referred to as FCA). The complaint alleges that nearly 104,000 light duty diesel vehicles containing 3.0 liter EcoDiesel engines are equipped with software functions that were not disclosed to regulators during the certification application process, and that the vehicles contain defeat devices. The complaint alleges that the undisclosed software functions cause the vehicles’ emission control systems to perform differently, and less effectively, during certain normal driving conditions than on federal emission tests, resulting in increased emissions of harmful air pollutants.

The Clean Air Act requires vehicle manufacturers to obtain a certificate of conformity before introducing a vehicle into commerce, by demonstrating to EPA that the vehicle will meet applicable federal emission standards to control air pollution. Manufacturers must disclose in their certification applications all auxiliary emission control devices (e.g. computer software that affects the performance of emission controls based upon operating parameters of the vehicle), justify the presence of any such devices, and explain why those that reduce the effectiveness of emission controls are not “defeat devices.” Motor vehicles equipped with defeat devices cannot be certified.

The complaint alleges that FCA equipped nearly 104,000 Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles (Model Years 2014-2016) sold in the United States with at least eight software-based features that were not disclosed in FCA’s applications for certificates of conformity and that affect the vehicles’ emission control systems. The undisclosed software features lessen the effectiveness of the vehicles’ emissions control systems during certain normal driving situations. This results in cars that meet emission standards in the laboratory and during standard EPA testing, but during certain normal on-road driving emit oxides of nitrogen (NOx) that are much higher than the EPA-compliant level. The complaint alleges that each of these vehicles differs materially from the specifications provided to EPA in the certification applications, and thus the cars are uncertified, in violation of the Clean Air Act.

These allegations are consistent with those set forth in notice of violation (NOV) that EPA issued to FCA US LLC and FCA NV on January 12, 2017.

Following the issuance of the NOV, EPA continued its investigation into the operation of the undisclosed software-based features. Based upon this investigation, the complaint alleges that one or more of these undisclosed software features, alone or in combination with the others, renders inoperative, bypasses and/or defeats the vehicles’ emission control systems, which were installed to make the vehicles comply with Clean Air Act emission standards. In short, the complaint now alleges that the vehicles contain defeat devices.

NOx pollution contributes to the formation of harmful smog and soot, exposure to which is linked to a number of respiratory- and cardiovascular-related health effects as well as premature death. Children, older adults, people who are active outdoors (including outdoor workers), and people with heart or lung disease are particularly at risk for health effects related to smog or soot exposure. Nitrogen dioxide formed by NOx emissions can aggravate respiratory diseases, particularly asthma, and may also contribute to asthma development in children.

The civil complaint seeks injunctive relief and the assessment of civil penalties. The United States also filed a notice that it will request to transfer its case and fully participate in the pretrial proceedings now initiated in the related multi-district litigation in the Northern District of California.

EPA and the California Air Resources Board are continuing in their discussions with FCA to bring the subject vehicles into compliance with the Clean Air Act and California law. The nature and timing of any resolution of this issue are uncertain.

Ohio Plans to Rescind Infectious Waste Incinerator Rules

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Division of Air Pollution Control (DAPC) proposes to rescind the rules specified in OAC Chapters 3745-75 and 3745-105 which established emission limits, monitoring and recordkeeping requirements, and performance and testing requirements for infectious and pathological waste incinerators.

Pursuant to Section 121.39 of the Ohio Revised Code, DAPC is required to consult with interested parties affected by the rules before the Division formally adopts them. On February 2, 2017, these rules went out for a 30-day review by interested parties. One comment was received in support of the planned rescission.

Pursuant to Section 119.03 of the Ohio Revised Code, a public hearing on these rule changes will be conducted on Friday, June 30, 2017 at 10:30 AM at Ohio EPA, Lazarus Government Center, 50 W. Town Street, Suite 700, Columbus, Ohio.

Wonder Farm Inc. Fined $26,700 for Pesticide and Worker Protection Violations

The EPA recently announced a settlement with Wonder Farm, Inc., over alleged misuse of pesticides and violations of worker safety regulations at its basil farm in Waianae, Oahu. Under the agreement, the company will pay a $26,700 penalty.

“Reducing pesticide exposure is a high priority for EPA. With our state partners, we’re focused on protecting agricultural workers,” said Alexis Strauss, EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “All agriculture companies must follow pesticide label instructions and ensure their workers are trained properly to use, apply and work in treated areas.”

The Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) discovered the violations during inspections conducted between 2012 and 2015, and referred the case to EPA. Inspectors found the company out of compliance with EPA’s Worker Protection Standard, which aims to reduce the risk of pesticide poisoning and injury among agricultural workers and pesticide handlers.

The investigation found the company had failed to:

  • Provide workers with information necessary for their safety regarding pesticide applications, including the location of the treated area, the product used, active ingredients, time of application, and any restrictions to entry
  • Ensure that its workers and handlers had received pesticide safety training
  • Post pesticide safety information in a central location after pesticides had been applied
  • Ensure handlers used the required protective clothing, such as waterproof gloves and eyewear

Inspectors also found Wonder Farm had applied several pesticide products containing the active ingredients malathion, carbaryl, and dimethoate to its basil crops. Those active ingredients are not authorized for use on basil. In addition, Wonder Farm failed to follow pesticide label instructions that set the approved application and frequency rate on crops, failed to properly clean leftover, non-refillable pesticide containers, and improperly used pesticides for cleaning spray tanks. EPA regulations for pesticide labels ensure they contain critical information about how to safely and legally handle and use the pesticide products.

Commercial Property Owner in Medford Fined $10,000 for Conducting Improper, Unauthorized Cleanup

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has penalized Lexington Savings Corp., LLC, $10,000 for conducting cleanup activities during 2016 at a formerly contaminated site, in direct violation of an Activity and Use Limitation (AUL) on the property at 20 Cabot Road in Medford. Lexington Savings Bank is the current owner of the commercial property, which had undergone a cleanup of oil and hazardous materials that concluded in 1999.

Under the terms of the AUL, commercial and industrial use of the property is allowed. However, certain obligations and conditions were imposed in the AUL, including maintaining existing foundations, buildings, concrete pavement and existing topsoil/loam surficial soil layers. In the event of intrusive activities below the protective cover, a safety plan is required to be implemented and management of excavated materials conducted in accordance with applicable MassDEP policies.

"A deed restriction like this is in place on the future activity at a site and it is there for a reason, and that is to protect health and safety," said Eric Worrall, director of MassDEP's Northeast Regional Office in Wilmington. "In this case, it's unacceptable that the proper protections and regulations in force were not followed."

On October 3, 2016, MassDEP was notified that the work at 20 Cabot Road included 600 gallons of water pumped from an excavation and 65 cubic yards of soil had been excavated and stockpiled at the site since August 17, 2016. Conducting this type of work without submitting a complete plan and obtaining approval from MassDEP is a violation.

Lexington Savings Corp. will pay $7,500 of the penalty and the remaining $2,500 will be suspended provided all terms of the consent order are met.

Feather-Light Metal Cathodes for Stable Lithium-Oxygen Batteries

Lithium-oxygen systems could someday outperform today’s lithium-ion batteries because of their potential for high energy density. However, a number of important issues, such as their poor electrochemical stability must be addressed before these systems can successfully compete with current rechargeable batteries. In an article in ACS Central Science, "Nanoengineered ultralight and robust all-metal cathode for high-capacity, stable lithium–oxygen batteries," researchers report a new type of cathode, which could make lithium-oxygen batteries a practical option.

Xin-Bo Zhang and colleagues note that most of the problems associated with lithium-oxygen battery systems arise from two highly reduced oxygen species that react readily with the electrolyte and the cathode. Carbon is a common strong-performing cathode, but it is unstable in these systems. So, the team hypothesized that the key to unlocking lithium-oxygen batteries’ potential could be to create cathodes that are unreactive to the reduced oxygen species, but that still have the same highly conductive, low-weight, porous characteristics of carbon cathodes. The researchers succeeded in creating an ultralight all-metal cathode.

The design incorporated three forms of nickel including a nanoporous nickel interior and a gold-nickel alloy surface directly attached to nickel foam. Compared to carbon cathodes, the system has much higher capacity and is stable for 286 cycles, which is amongst the best for lithium-oxygen systems, and is nearly competitive with current commercial lithium-ion systems. Further experimentation showed that the stability and performance arise from both the metal used and its nanoporous structure, and that both these aspects could be optimized to further improve performance.

BNSF Railway Company Ordered to Begin Work at Abandoned Uranium Mines

The EPA recently announced an agreement with BNSF Railway Company to begin cleanup at the Haystack Mines Site, a group of three abandoned uranium mines near Prewitt, New Mexico, and the Baca/Prewitt chapter, on Navajo Nation.

The mines site operated from 1952 to 1981 and produced 400,000 tons of uranium ore. Today, the 174-acre area is being used for livestock grazing and includes one residence with some additional homes nearby. The work is expected to begin in July and last for four months.

Under the agreement, BNSF Railway Company will conduct the following actions:

  • Through biological and cultural assessments of the property, ensure cultural resources and sensitive species are not impacted
  • Fence the property and post warning signs
  • Outreach to the local community
  • Provide temporary alternative housing to impacted residents if necessary
  • Construct access roads
  • Excavate contaminated soil

During the Cold War, 30 million tons of uranium ore were mined on or adjacent to the Navajo Nation, leaving more than 500 abandoned mines. EPA has entered into settlement agreements valued at $1.7 billion to reduce the highest risks to the Navajo people. Since 2008, EPA has conducted preliminary investigations at all the mines, remediated 48 contaminated structures, provided safe drinking water to 3,013 families in partnership with the Indian Health Service, and performed cleanup or stabilization work at nine mines. In total, funds are available to begin the cleanup process at over 200 abandoned uranium mines, representing 40% of the abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation. This work is a closely coordinated effort between federal agencies and the Navajo Nation to address the legacy of uranium contamination.

NHDES Presents Drinking Water Source Protection Awards

On May 18, 2017, two awards were given by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) at its annual Drinking Water Source Protection Conference at the Grappone Center in Concord. A Source Water Protection Award was presented to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF). SPNHF was recognized for its longstanding efforts to develop and carry out strategic conservation projects that serve to protect lakes, rivers and aquifers that are sources of drinking water. SPNHF is currently involved in permanently conserving 1,870 acres of pristine watershed around Tower Hill Pond in Candia and Hooksett that provide clean water to Lake Massabesic, a primary source of drinking water for Manchester. The University of New Hampshire/Town of Durham water system received NHDES’ Source Water Sustainability Award for developing a water conservation plan, passing local regulations limiting residential water use during drought and creatively expanding its groundwater storage capacity through the development of an artificial aquifer recharge area. Moving forward, when the Lamprey River is experiencing high flows, water can be pumped from the river into recharge basins and “stored” within the aquifer. During the drier summer months, when river flows are low, the stored water is "harvested" to supply the water system.

The NHDES Drinking Water Source Protection Conference is an annual day-long event, which was attended this year by over 240 water suppliers, municipal officials and volunteers, and industry consultants. Conference presentations and discussions included challenges facing public water suppliers today including PFAS (poly and perfluorinated compounds), lead, harmful algal blooms and the risks from large chemical spills. Additionally, NHDES gave a "Year in Review" summarizing important work done in New Hampshire to protect drinking water through strategic land conservation, tracking and responding to toxic algal blooms and expanding use of NHDES' Be Well Informed webtool to help private well users select appropriate water treatment options.

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