Recycler Agrees to $145,760 Penalty for Mishandling and Burning Hazardous Waste

January 06, 2020
The California Department of Toxic Substances Control announced an agreement with Bay Area appliance recycler Freon Free, which will pay a penalty of $145,760 for its mishandling and incineration of hazardous waste.
DTSC inspectors found Freon Free was burning hazardous waste without a permit, increasing the risk of an on-site fire or explosion. DTSC also learned that for years Freon Free was improperly treating two to three ammonia-containing refrigerators per week by bolt-cutting refrigerant lines and releasing their contents into a container with water. This manner of treating ammonia without a permit violates legal requirements and could result in serious injury.
“California law sets forth clear guidelines and a certification process for handlers of discarded appliances,” said DTSC Director Meredith Williams. “The inherent dangers posed to the public and environment by certain components, including materials that require special handling, must be taken seriously and mitigated by recycling companies.”
DTSC’s Office of Criminal Investigations and Enforcement and Emergency Response Division conducted on-site inspections at Freon Free locations in Fairfield, American Canyon, and Orland. Inspectors found Freon Free was treating and storing hazardous waste without a permit; removing materials that require special handling at locations that were not certified; inadequately training staff on how to manage waste; and using other hazardous waste management practices that conflict with the state’s Hazardous Waste Control Law and Health and Safety Code.
Under California law, those who recycle discarded major appliances that contain materials requiring special handling, also known as MRSH, must meet certification requirements. Handlers who demonstrate the ability to properly remove and manage waste in accordance with all applicable hazardous waste control laws are approved by DTSC’s Certified Appliance Recycler Program.
To prevent the release of dangerous components in appliances, handlers are required to remove mercury, oils, refrigerants, polychlorinated biphenyls, and any other materials that are regulated as hazardous waste. Freon Free may continue to remove MRSH as part of the agreement.
The consent judgement can be viewed here.
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New Colorado Rules to Reduce Oil and Gas Emissions
The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission approved the first set of ambitious rules designed to minimize emissions from oil and gas operations state-wide yesterday. The rules will help reduce ozone pollution and protect the health of Coloradans and the air they breathe.
“Yesterday was a milestone, and we are already looking ahead to achieve further reductions of emissions at oil and gas sites through our next rulemaking. The department intends to build on this momentum,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The commission’s Thursday vote came after a thorough rulemaking process in which the Air Pollution Control Division worked closely with local governments, the public, and other stakeholders to craft new rules that meet the needs of Colorado’s diverse communities. In addition, the Commission held meetings in Rifle, Durango, and Loveland at which commission members heard hundreds of comments from the public.
The rules approved by the Commission on Thursday include:
  • Eliminating the existing 90-day permitting deferral on new oil and gas facilities - under the new rule, these facilities must be permitted before they can begin exploration and production activities.
  • Requiring at least  twice-a-year leak detection and repair at well production facilities throughout the state with volatile organic chemical (VOC) emissions of greater than two tons per year.
    • Requiring either quarterly or monthly leak detection, depending on the size of the facility, at sites within a 1000 feet of occupied structures.
  • Requiring oil and gas operators to provide a comprehensive annual emissions report for oil and gas facilities.
  • Further reducing emissions of VOCs and from storage tanks by setting more stringent control requirements across the state.
  • Requiring new oil and gas facilities to control hydrocarbon emissions from sampling and measurement activities and from the loadout of storage tanks to trucks.
  • Enhancing recordkeeping requirements for emissions at wells across the state.
  • Expanding new inspection requirements - currently in place within the ozone nonattainment area - for pressure valves or “pneumatic controllers” at oil and gas sites across the state.
The division estimates that the new rules will reduce methane and volatile organic compound emissions by thousands of tons a year.  “The objective is simple-- minimize emissions at the source,” said Garry Kaufman, director of the Air Pollution Control Division. “These new rules represent months of hard work and communication with affected communities. They will slash emissions, make Colorado’s air cleaner and improve the quality of life for Coloradans across the state, including those citizens that live or work near oil and gas sites. They’re reasonable, cost effective, innovative, and absolutely necessary. And we’re just getting started.”
January is Radon Awareness Month
January is Radon Awareness Month and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s Radon Control Program encourages people to consider that long-term exposure to indoor radon can be deadly.
Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer for non-smokers, and second only to smoking for the entire population. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 20,000 Americans die of radon-related lung cancer every year.
Radon is a colorless, odorless, naturally occurring radioactive gas. Radon seeps into homes and buildings through cracks in the foundation or walls, and can accumulate over time in homes that are not properly vented. The underlying geology of much of Montana and the Northern Rockies makes homes in our region particularly susceptible.
The Surgeon General issued a health advisory for radon in 2005, stating that millions of homes have elevated radon levels. The advisory encourages everyone to test their home for radon every two years, and to retest after moving, making structural changes, or occupying a previously unused level of a house.
The EPA recommends that people take action if they find radon at levels in their homes greater than or equal to 4 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L) of air. 
The good news is that when elevated radon levels are found they can be significantly reduced, in most instances for an investment of less than $ 2,000. And new homes can be built using easy and inexpensive radon-resistant construction techniques. EPA encourages the building and real estate communities and all new home buyers to demand radon-resistant new construction.
Montana and EPA also urge people to test their homes for radon, and to install systems to vent radon from their homes if they find levels at or exceeding the 4 pCi/L action level. For more information on how to test your home for radon, visit: or
$30.6 Million Penalty for Pennsylvania Pipeline Violations After Explosion
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced that it has issued a $30.6 million civil penalty to ETC Northeast Pipeline (ETC) for violations related to the 2018 Revolution Pipeline explosion and fire. The penalty is one of the largest civil penalties collected in a single settlement.
“ETC’s lack of oversight during construction of the Revolution Pipeline and their failure to comply with DEP’s October 2018 compliance order demanded serious accountability. Their inaction led directly to this unprecedented civil penalty,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “DEP is committed to holding permittees accountable for permit compliance and will continue to provide active and stringent oversight over the construction of their projects. Permittees are obligated to ensure that their projects are constructed without incident and in full compliance with permits. If a permittee fails to do so, they will be held accountable.”
On September 10, 2018, a landslide occurred along the Revolution Pipeline in Center Township, Beaver County. When the landslide occurred, a section of the pipeline separated, allowing gas to escape from the pipeline. The gas ignited, causing a fire that burned several acres of forested areas; destroyed a single-family home, a barn, and numerous vehicles; resulted in the evacuation of nearby residents; and caused six high voltage electric transmission towers to collapse. Fortunately, no one was harmed in this incident.
DEP’s subsequent investigation determined that ETC, which is a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, had not stabilized a number of areas along the pipeline resulting in additional slides. ETC also failed to properly implement or maintain hundreds of best management practice controls to address stormwater runoff. The full investigation also found that during construction of the pipeline, ETC had illegally impacted numerous streams and wetlands along the length of the pipeline right of way.
In the Consent Order and Agreement (COA) between DEP and ETC, $28.6 million will go to the Oil and Gas Program Fund and Clean Water Fund. Revenue in these funds will buttress the department’s oversight of oil and gas development statewide, including pipeline projects, and will also provide financial assistance to water remediation projects across the state. An additional $2 million will go toward a DEP-approved community environmental project or projects that will benefit Pennsylvania’s environment and the waters of the commonwealth.
In 2019, ETC employed a new management team for the project and new consultants from Pennsylvania to address all of the outstanding issues with this project. After a detailed review by the department, on December 13, 2019, DEP approved, with conditions and an implementation schedule, a temporary slope stabilization plan, a landslide hazard evaluation, and an updated erosion and sedimentation control plan which are also incorporated as conditions of the COA. The COA also requires ETC to restore and mitigate stream and wetland impacts that occurred during the construction of the pipeline and to permanently stabilize all areas in and along the pipeline corridor.
As a result of the COA, ETC has demonstrated its intention to correct its unlawful conduct to DEP’s satisfaction; therefore, DEP will lift the nearly year-long permit bar currently in place. This will allow DEP to issue, over time, approvable horizontal directional drilling (HDD) re-evaluations to enable HDD or other more appropriate methods to be completed on the project. These actions will not occur all at one time but rather over a period of months. The company has agreed to inform the agency where and when it will be doing work so that DEP can ensure a field presence during this work going forward. It will also allow DEP to accept new permit applications and to act on other pending authorization requests when reviews are complete.
The Clean Streams Law permit bar, issued in February, was the broadest and longest bar to have been placed on any company in Pennsylvania.
The COA provides for reinstatement of the permit bar in the event of noncompliance by ETC. In addition, ETC’s failure to comply with any terms and timelines in the COA could result in additional and historic stipulated penalties of $20,000 per day, per violation and any other additional enforcement required and within DEP’s legal authority.
“DEP will continue to carefully monitor ETC’s activities to ensure that ETC meets the terms of this agreement and all approved permits,” McDonnell said. “The conditions imposed by this agreement seek to ensure that ETC will get this right. Anything less is unacceptable.”
Fuel Dealer Fined for Failing to Report and Respond Appropriately to Fuel Release
The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation announced that Webber Discount Fuel, Inc., of Sunderland was fined $1,500 for failing to report a release of heating oil to the environment and failing to take appropriate responsive actions to protect the public and environment from the release.
In January 2019, Keith Webber of Webber Discount Fuel released fuel oil on Melendy Hill Road in South Londonderry when his delivery truck experienced a mechanical failure. Mr. Webber then left the site without taking appropriate action to contain the release and without reporting the spill to DEC. The South Londonderry Fire Department responded to the site after the release was reported by a nearby resident. Contaminated snow and soil were removed from the site after Mr. Webber, at the direction of the Agency, returned with a contractor to clean up the release.
Heating oil is a hazardous material that, when released to the environment, can contaminate soils, drinking water and surface water, and pose a threat to public health. Vermont law requires any spill of hazardous materials or waste over two gallons be immediately reported to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The law also requires responsible individuals to take all appropriate immediate actions to contain the release. Once notified, the DEC Spills Program assesses the environmental impact of hazardous materials spills and oversees and directs cleanup where necessary.
“Immediately reporting and taking actions to control hazardous material releases are critical steps to protecting the environment and public health,” says Emily Boedecker, DEC Commissioner. “Our priority is to quickly assess and minimize threats to public health or sensitive environmental areas such as drinking water sources. Slow responses and delayed reporting stymie these efforts.”
Mr. Webber agreed to pay a $1,500 fine for the violations. The agreement was incorporated into an Assurance of Discontinuance and entered as a Final Judicial Order by the Vermont Superior Court, Environmental Division on December 23, 2019.
For more information about DEC’s Waste Management and Prevention Division, including information about how to report a spill as well as a database of recently reported spills, visit
Maryland Attorney General Joined Amicus Brief to Hold Oil Companies Accountable for Costs of Climate Change
Joining a coalition of 13 states, Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh filed an amicus brief supporting Rhode Island in its lawsuit State of Rhode Island v. Shell Oil Products Co., et al. In the lawsuit, the state seeks to hold oil companies accountable for their actions contributing to climate change and the resulting harms from sea-level rise, changes to the hydrologic cycle, and increased air and ocean temperatures.
“Climate science confirms that harmful pollution from Big Oil contributes to climate change and its devastating effect on our environment,” said Attorney General Frosh. “Maryland, like other states, should have the right to pursue these fossil fuel polluters under state law, even when the danger to the environment and public health is widespread.”
In its suit, Rhode Island alleges that the major fossil fuel producing companies knowingly contributed to climate change and failed to warn regulators and the public about the harms of fossil fuel use. Instead, these companies promoted pseudo-scientific theories and questioned legitimate climate science in order to confuse the public and maintain their profits. The complaint argues that oil companies should be liable for infrastructure-related damages resulting from their actions.
The case is currently pending in the First Circuit after the oil companies appealed a district court decision that the lawsuit belongs in the state court. In their brief, the coalition of attorneys general asserts that the district court decision should be affirmed.
The coalition argues that:
  • States play an important role in addressing climate change and protecting human welfare, including providing a forum to decide cases related to climate change;
  • The Clean Air Act recognizes states’ roles in reducing air pollution and does not indicate that the federal courts should have exclusive jurisdiction over cases involving climate change; and
  • The defendants’ appeal to transfer the plaintiffs’ claims to federal court, knowing that similar claims have been displaced by Congress, could unjustly deny plaintiffs a remedy for harm.
Joining Maryland in filing the brief are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.
Court Clears the Way for New California Lighting Regulations to Take Effect Tomorrow
A federal court cleared the way for California’s updated light bulb efficiency standards to take effect on January 1, thwarting attempts by the lighting industry to block them. The court’s denial of a request for a temporary restraining order means California can proceed with stopping the sale of energy-wasting incandescent bulbs designed to fill 260 million sockets in the state, a move that will cut utility bills while combating climate pollution.
Noah Horowitz, director of California’s Center for Energy Efficiency Standards at the Natural Resources Defense Council said, “Today’s decision keeps California at the forefront of the movement to resist the Trump Department of Energy’s efforts to tie Americans to the technology of the past. Given our climate crisis, it’s appalling that the greedy lighting manufacturers are still fighting these common-sense regulations that deliver massive carbon savings and put money back in consumers’ pockets.”
The National Electrical Manufacturers Association and the American Lighting Association had urged the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California to issue a temporary restraining order against the new standards as part of their lawsuit seeking to reverse the California Energy Commission’s Nov. 13 decision to expand its minimum efficiency standards for light bulbs. The denial did not include a date for court proceedings to begin on the lighting associations’ lawsuit.
The associations are fighting the addition of such common household types as the candle- and flame-shaped bulbs used in chandeliers and sconces, reflector bulbs used in recessed cans and track lighting, round globe bulbs, and the bulbs that can operate at three different light levels – the same models the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently eliminated from being covered by national lighting efficiency standards. NRDC and others have sued over the rollback.
Energy efficient LED and CFL bulbs will continue to be sold in the state but incandescent and halogen bulbs, which waste up to 90% of their energy as heat, were required to be removed from store shelves as of January 1 because they do not meet the minimum efficiency level of 45 lumens per watt.
The updated standards will save Californians as much as $2.4 billion on their annual utility bills – and avoid up to 13,600 gigawatt-hours of annual electricity use – once the current stock of inefficient bulbs turns over. The savings are in addition to state standards that went into effect in 2018 for the pear-shaped bulbs used in table and floor lamps, and small diameter reflector bulbs for track and recessed lighting. DOE also recently said it would not update national standards to the level California implemented last year.
The decision to deny the restraining order can be found here. A blog related to choosing the best bulbs is being posted here. Background on the California standards can be found here:
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