U.S. Files Amended Consent Decree in Response to Public Comments

May 23, 2003
The Department of Justice, EPA, and the state of Minnesota filed an amended civil settlement with Gopher State Ethanol L.L.C. concerning air emissions from its ethanol production plant in St. Paul, Minnesota. The settlement with Gopher State was originally lodged with the U.S. District Court in St. Paul on October 2, 2002, at the same time as settlements with eleven other Minnesota ethanol producers for alleged Clean Air Act violations.

During a government-prescribed public comment period, several citizens and public interest groups suggested changes to the Gopher State settlement. As a result of negotiations between the governments and Gopher State following review of the public comments, the amended settlement filed today includes strengthened pollution controls.

Public comments by citizens who live near the plant noted particular concern that Gopher State's production of "wet cake" (a by-product used for animal feed) was resulting in odor and other problems. The amended settlement filed addresses this concern and other comments by:

  • prohibiting wet cake production through July 10, 2003, except in the event of a dryer system upset, breakdown or malfunction.
  • requiring that during periods of upset, breakdown or malfunction after July 10, 2003, wet cake production may only take place if emissions will not exceed the source-wide emission caps. Gopher State must quantify its emissions using a method agreed to by EPA and MPCA. If Gopher State's wet cake emissions have not been quantified, wet cake production is limited to the completion of the ethanol in process at the time of the upset, breakdown or malfunction and no fermentation can be initiated until the dryer control technology is fully operational.
  • requiring Gopher State to install a baghouse for additional control of particulate matter and volatile organic compounds from the cooling cyclones.
  • expressly stating that the settlement does not relieve Gopher State Ethanol of its obligations under other agreements or other applicable federal, state and local laws or ordinances, such as odor-control ordinances.

Following lodging of the amended settlement, there is an additional 15-day period for public comment.

"This amended settlement demonstrates the Department of Justice's willingness to listen and give serious consideration to public comments on our environmental settlements," said Thomas L. Sansonetti, the Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division. "Whether or not we always agree, we listen to the public and especially to those who will be most directly affected."

The original settlement required Gopher State to install pollution controls expected to cost approximately $2 million and comply with stringent limits on plant-wide emissions of six key air pollutants, including particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds, as well as meeting limits on hazardous air pollutants.

Ethanol is primarily a product of industrial corn and widely used as an automobile fuel by itself or blended with gasoline. Because of its high oxygen content, ethanol allows automobile engines to better combust fuel, resulting in reduced tailpipe emissions.

The Clean Air Act, as amended in 1990, directed EPA to issue regulations that require gasoline to be "reformulated" in order to burn cleaner. EPA's reformulated gasoline program is helping to reduce pollution in areas with the worst air quality problems. Reformulated gas is made in a way that prevents it from evaporating as quickly as conventional gasoline, and contains a chemical oxygen, know as oxygenate, to improve combustion. Ethanol is a type of oxygenate and a renewable fuel.

Despite ethanol's environmental benefits as a gasoline additive, the process of manufacturing ethanol can result in noxious emissions into the air. During ethanol manufacturing, dry mills burn off gasses that emit volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide, both of which pose dangers to human health and the environment. EPA Regional Administrator, Tom Skinner, who heads the Chicago office that oversees environmental compliance in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin and 35 tribal reservations, met with representatives from the ethanol industry on June 3, 2002, to discuss recent emission test results, recommended test methods and the proposed pollution control technology. Minnesota is the first of the states to take action based on the new information.

In complaints filed with the 12 Minnesota settlements in October 2002, the government alleges that the facilities were operating in violation of the Clean Air Act's New Source Review (NSR) provisions. The Clean Air Act's NSR program requires a source to install pollution controls and undertake other pre-construction obligations to control air pollution emissions. The settlements reached with the 12 Minnesota ethanol plants, including Gopher State, will greatly reduce air emissions such as volatile organic compound emissions by 2,400-4,000 tons per year and carbon monoxide emissions by 2,000 tons per year. The settlements also will result in annual reductions of nitrogen oxides by 180 tons, particulate matter by 450 tons, and hazardous air pollutants by 250 tons. In addition to emission control requirements valued at about $2 million per plant, each facility agreed to pay a civil penalty ranging from $18,000 - $42,000.

Eight of the 12 settlements were signed by the Court on March 7, 2003, while two others were signed on March 11, 2003. One other settlement, with Diversified Energy Co., L.L.C. in Morris, Minnesota, also received comments, and the governments' responses were filed with the Court on March 27, 2003.

EPA, UPS and DaimlerChrysler Test Fuel Cell Vehicles for Real World Use

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman joined senior executives from DaimlerChrysler and UPS to announce a new government-industry partnership to put hydrogen-powered fuel cell delivery vehicles on the road. For the first time, fuel cell delivery vehicles will be tested in a real-world driving environment on the nation's streets. Whitman unveiled this initiative at EPA's National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

"Working together we are making an important new delivery," said Administrator Christie Whitman. "This commitment to bring the first fuel cell vehicle into a commercial delivery fleet, is a joint effort that will be delivering something to all Americans – something that will help make the air we breathe cleaner and our skies clearer."

This will be the first time zero emission medium-duty fuel cell delivery vehicles are introduced as a part of a commercial vehicle fleet in the United States. This fuel cell test program announced by EPA, DaimlerChrysler and UPS will be based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at EPA's National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory.

Later this year, a passenger-sized fuel cell test vehicle based on the DaimlerChrysler Mercedes-Benz
A-Class will be available for use as an express-delivery vehicle by UPS. In 2004, one or more fuel cell powered Dodge Sprinter vans will be delivered as the first medium-duty fuel cell commercial vehicle to be put in service in the United States.

These DaimlerChrysler fuel cell vehicles will be used in a typical UPS delivery operations on established routes. This program will enable EPA and the partner companies to continue evaluating fuel cell vehicle attributes such as fuel economy and driving performance under varying weather conditions.

EPA's Ann Arbor lab will provide a hydrogen refueling station to fuel the UPS delivery vehicles for the fuel cell vehicle initiative. Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., of Allentown, Pennsylvania, will design and build the hydrogen fueling station. This will allow the EPA, DaimlerChrysler and UPS to evaluate the operations of fuel cell fleet vehicles and the new hydrogen refueling station.

This partnership and the promising technologies of fuel cells and hydrogen fuel fit together with EPA's overall strategy of protecting public health and the environment while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This strategy includes the Clear Skies Act of 2003, the historic recent proposal for nonroad diesel engines, the Clean School Bus USA Initiative, and the SmartWayK Transport program.

In his 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush challenged America to move the country toward greater use of hydrogen as an energy source. His request for $1.2 billion to support research into the development of efficient, affordable hydrogen fuel cells represents a significant investment in both energy self-sufficiency and environmental protection.

Information on this initiative and other fuel cell projects is available at www.epa.gov/fuelcell

Health and Environmental Groups Compel EPA to Set Schedule to Update National Soot and Smog Standards

A court settlement announced last week between EPA and a coalition of environmental and public health groups offers the prospect of improved air quality standards across the country. In the settlement, EPA has agreed to a schedule for reviewing national standards for soot (particles) and smog (ozone) and strengthening them if appropriate in light of recent scientific evidence.

The air quality standards to be reviewed were set in 1997, in response to data showing that the previous standards were inadequate to protect public health and welfare. The Clean Air Act requires that these health-based standards be reviewed—and as appropriate, revised—every five years to ensure that they reflect the latest scientific research.

“Soot and smog cause the most widespread public health damage of any air pollutants, for example by aggravating respiratory ailments such as asthma and chronic bronchitis. Tellingly, each year soot is responsible for more deaths than highway accidents or homicides,” said Howard Fox of Earthjustice. “It is crucial that we continue to update public health safeguards according to the latest medical research about the dangers of these pollutants.”

Of particular concern is the standard for short-term exposure to soot or particulate matter. Soot pollution is currently held to both an annual average as well as a daily average. Public health advocates point to scientific evidence showing that the daily average is too lenient and still allows for short-term spikes drastic enough to cause premature death.

“Over the past five years, new research has shown that even short term exposure to particulate pollution can be dangerous for some people, particularly the elderly, young children and people with asthma and other serious lung diseases,” said John L. Kirkwood, President and CEO of the American Lung Association. “These new data need to be taken into account to adequately protect public health. That’s why the mandatory five-year review is so critical.”

Particulate matter has been linked to a variety of heart and lung ailments, leading to premature deaths, hospitalizations, emergency room visits, respiratory symptoms, and missed work and school days. The elderly and the young are especially vulnerable to these profound health effects. Ozone (smog) has been associated with asthma attacks, reductions in lung function, coughing, shortness of breath, increased susceptibility to respiratory infection, and pulmonary inflammation. Those with preexisting respiratory conditions such as asthma or chronic bronchitis, the young, and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to the effects of ozone pollution.

“We simply want the Agency to move forward towards cleaner air and improved public health as fast as possible,” said Ann Weeks of the Clean Air Task Force, which represented regional groups in the lawsuit.

“The best medical research available today clearly points to a serious health risk from exposure to sooty fine particles and smog, two types of air pollution that are especially dangerous to young children and the elderly,” added Dr. John Balbus, a physician who heads the environmental health program at Environmental Defense. “Policies to protect the air we breathe must be based on the best available scientific research and the goal of this settlement is to guarantee that the nation's air quality standards do in fact protect public health.”

The proposed settlement was filed in United States District Court for the District of Columbia (Docket No. 03-778 ESH).

EPA Proposes to Delist Methyl Ethyl Ketone as Regulated Toxic Air Pollutant

EPA is proposing to remove methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) from the Clean Air Act's list of 188 hazardous air pollutants emitted from large industrial facilities.

Since 1996, the Agency has exhaustively reviewed the potential health and environmental effects that could result from exposure to MEK emitted from industrial facilities, and EPA has concluded that the sources of exposure regulated by the Clean Air Act are not likely to cause adverse human health or environmental problems. The health effects information on MEK that EPA used to make this decision has undergone independent scientific peer review.

MEK is used as a solvent in the surface coatings industry. Industries also use MEK for producing adhesives, magnetic tapes, printing inks, degreasing and cleaning fluids, antioxidants, and perfumes.

The Agency's proposed delisting of MEK as a hazardous air pollutant does not affect other ways this chemical will be regulated. MEK will continue to be regulated as a volatile organic compound because of its contribution to smog. In addition, MEK emissions would still be reported as part of EPA's Toxics Release Inventory.

This proposal is open to public comment for 90 days after publication in the Federal Register.

Whitman Resigns as Administrator of EPA, Effective June 27, 2003

On May 20, 2003, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman met with President Bush at the White House and tendered her resignation as Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, effective June 27, 2003.

Following is the text of Administrator Whitman's resignation letter:

May 20, 2003

Dear Mr. President:

With gratitude for the opportunity to serve the American people in your Administration, I hereby tender my resignation as Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, effective June 27, 2003.

It has been a singular honor to be entrusted with the responsibility to lead the EPA in its effort to leave America's air cleaner, its water purer, and its land better protected than it was when this Administration took office. Our work has been guided by the strong belief that environmental protection and economic prosperity can and must go hand-in-hand, that the true measure of the value of any environmental policy is in the environmental results it produces. I am pleased that the EPA has built an enviable record of success that will result in significant improvements to the state of our Nation's treasured environment.

America's air will be cleaner. Our actions to reduce pollution from nonroad diesel engines represent, in the words of one major environmental organization, the "biggest public health step" in more than 20 years. Our landmark Clean School Bus USA initiative means that every public school student in America should be riding low emission school buses by 2010. Our aggressive and effective efforts to enforce the Nation's environmental laws have achieved some of the largest Clean Air Act settlements in history. This record will only be enhanced by the eventual passage of the Administration's proposed Clear Skies Act of 2003, your far-reaching proposal to reduce pollution from the Nation's power plants.

America's water will be purer. EPA's Watershed Initiative is expanding watershed-based water protection policy across the country. The Agency's innovative Water Quality Trading program will help address the growing problem of nonpoint source pollution. EPA's plan for cleanup of the Hudson River has set a new standard for restoring waterways that have been threatened by decades of abuse. Improvements to the rules governing Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations will protect surface water by requiring reductions of at least 25 percent in runoff of nitrogen and phosphorous from those large agricultural operations.

America's land will be better protected. Our success in enacting long-overdue brownfields legislation is already accelerating the reclamation of abandoned parcels of land in hundreds of communities across America. The enactment of this legislation, after nearly a decade of partisan wrangling, is a testament to your commitment to change the way things are done in Washington.

In addition, the Agency has played a key role in responding to the terrorist attacks of September 11th and the subsequent anthrax attack and in promoting the security of our homeland. The work EPA did in the aftermath of those attacks will long be a proud chapter in this Agency's history. As the federal lead for protecting the Nation's water infrastructure and the chemical industry, we also have added significantly to efforts to reduce the vulnerability of those sectors to terrorist attack.

I am proud of the work this Agency has done and of the contributions it has made to the success of your Administration. The people who serve our country as employees of the EPA are as dedicated and as committed a group as can be found in federal service. It has been a true honor to be able to lead this Agency as it worked to implement the innovative, effective environmental policies to which you are so clearly committed.

As rewarding as the past two-and-a-half years have been for me professionally, it is time to return to my home and husband in New Jersey, which I love just as you do your home state of Texas. I leave knowing that we have made a positive difference and that we have set the Agency on a course that will result in continued environmental improvement. Please accept my deepest thanks for the opportunity to serve our country in your Administration and my every good wish for continued success in leading the Nation in these challenging times.

Sincerely yours,
Christine Todd Whitman

The President
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500