March 08, 2002

Environmental News Service has reported that, in a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the White House has put environmental officials on notice that they must do a better job of notifying the public in a timely manner about industrial releases of toxic chemicals. The administration told the agency to speed up its annual reports on such releases.

The letter from the White House Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs asked the EPA to enhance its Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), an annual measure of chemical releases by facilities.

"TRI data is widely used by communities and companies throughout the country, and has been credited with stimulating, through voluntary actions, a significant reduction in pollution from industrial facilities," said Information and Regulatory Affairs administrator John Graham. "The Administration is committed to increasing the utility of this information."

"As you know, environmental information plays an essential role in advancing EPA's objectives of protecting public health and the environment," wrote Graham in the letter to the EPA. "However, there has been a considerable lag in recent years in the public release of this data. For example, we understand EPA plans to release the TRI data for 2000 this spring - almost a year after it was received and more than a year after the end of the reporting year."

The OMB suggested several ways in which the EPA might improve the release and dissemination of TRI data, including replacing most paper reporting of toxic releases with electronic reporting.

"The increased use of electronic reporting reduces the quality control burden on the agency and should allow quicker processing of the data for the public's benefit," Graham explained.

This task should be made easier by a new Web portal that the EPA created in December 2001 for all environmental data entering the agency, including TRI reports. The Central Data Exchange (CDX) offers companies, states and other entities that provide data to the EPA a faster, easier and a more secure reporting option.

The portal includes built in data quality checks, web forms, standard file formats and a common approach to reporting data across different environmental programs such as TRI, the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule and the Air Emissions Inventory.

Use of electronic reporting could help reduce the EPA's burden of cross checking TRI reports to identify potential errors. The EPA's practice of comparing all TRI data with reports from previous years slows the agency's processing time, and hampers timely public release of the information, the OMB noted.

"In conducting this analysis, EPA is assuming some of the quality assurance burden that properly rests with the respondent," wrote Graham. "Respondents should be responsible for the quality of the reported data."

The OMB also encouraged the EPA to assign a common identification number to each facility, so performance data could be presented for specific facilities. Community organizations have supported this concept in the past.

"The adoption of a single facility identification number for reporting facilities has long been recognized as an important step in making data readily available to regulators and the public," Graham wrote. "This effort will augment the practical utility of the data by making it easier for the agency, other governmental entities and the public to link data reported by a facility in different contexts (e.g., TRI data and water discharge data)."

The OMB's request came in the form of a so-called prompt letter, a tool introduced by the Bush Administration. While not forcing agency action, prompt letters alert agencies to issues that OMB considers worthy of priority status. The OMB letter, dated March 4, asked the EPA to respond within 60 days.


The Justice Department, EPA and the State of Ohio announced a settlement with the City of Youngstown that will reduce and perhaps eliminate long-standing and significant raw sewage discharges from its combined sewer system. Under the settlement, the City estimates that it will spend $12 million in short-term improvements over the next six years and $100 million over the next two decades to develop and implement a long-term sewage discharge control plan. This agreement will likely eliminate over 800 million gallons of wet weather sewage discharges annually.

Combined sewer systems carry sanitary sewage, wastewater and storm water runoff from rainfall or snowmelt in a single system of pipes to a publicly owned treatment works. When heavy rainfall or snowmelt reaches combined systems, total wastewater flow can exceed the capacity, resulting in the overflow of raw sewage directly to nearby streams, rivers or other water bodies. The untreated discharges -- combined sewer overflows (CSOs) -- can contaminate waters with bacteria, pathogens and other harmful pollutants, causing serious water quality problems and thereby threaten public health.

"Close cooperation between EPA, the Department of Justice and the State of Ohio has resulted in a settlement that will significantly benefit the environment," said EPA Regional Administrator Thomas Skinner. "Controlling discharges of raw sewage will have an immediate positive impact on the Mahoning River, but the heart of the agreement is the long-term control plan that will play a major role in restoring the waterway."

This settlement ensures that the City will eliminate the discharge of raw sewage during dry weather. It also makes important progress toward controlling Youngstown's combined sewer overflows. In addition, Youngstown will pay a total civil penalty of $60,000 for its past violations, which will be split evenly between the United States and the State of Ohio.

Specifically, the settlement puts Youngstown on an enforceable schedule to eliminate direct discharges of raw sewage, eliminate a sewer overflow at Orchard Meadow near Mill Creek Park's Lily Pond, replace two pump stations and make significant improvements to operation and maintenance of the sewer system. The settlement also requires the City to develop and implement a long-term control plan to reduce or eliminate wet weather discharges from its combined sewer system, which will require several major construction projects over the next 20 years.

The Justice Department and the federal EPA, often joined by the States, are taking an active lead in municipal CWA enforcement across the country and have already entered into settlements with numerous municipalities, including Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Boston, Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Honolulu, Jefferson County, Ala., Miami, Mobile, Ala., New Orleans, San Diego.

The settlement was lodged in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Ohio in Akron and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.


EPA approved regulations yesterday to extend the deadline by which they must set emissions standards.

In 1990, Congress amended the Clean Air Act, requiring EPA to set standards for every category of industrial facility that emits major amounts of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs)--ten tons per year of any single HAP or 25 tons per year of any combination. Although the Act gave EPA ten years (from 1990 until 2000) to do so, the agency has done only half the job. Hundreds of major sources in more than 80 categories remain uncontrolled.

Frustrated by the habitual disregard by EPAÆs air program for statutory deadlines, Congress also enacted a backstop provision known as the æhammer.Æ The hammer (42 U.S.C. º 7412(j)) provides that if EPA misses a statutory deadline for hazardous air pollutant regulations by more than 18 months, industrial facilities and state agencies must pick up the slack. Specifically, each facility in each industrial category for which EPAÆs emissions standards are overdue must apply for a state permit. State agencies must then set emissions standards equivalent to those the agency should have set, on a case-by-case basis. Any facility that continues operating without having submitted a complete application for a hammer permit by the deadline is in violation of the Clean Air Act and subject to enforcement actions.

Because EPAÆs regulations were due by November 15, 2000, the hammer deadline is May 14, 2002.EPA has extended the deadline by two years in order to avoid the hammer. This extension hurts all Americans, said Marti Sinclair, chair of Sierra ClubÆs air committee. Here in Ohio, you can see, smell and taste the air pollution in many neighborhoods--and the people in those neighborhoods are not happy or healthy. But every year that the polluters donÆt have to clean up is money in their pockets.


EPA Administrator Christie Whitman recently signed a proposed regulation that would reduce the number of fish, shellfish, and other aquatic life harmed or killed by the effects of the withdrawal of cooling water from rivers, streams, lakes, reservoirs, estuaries, and oceans. It would apply to certain existing power-producing facilities that use large amounts of water to cool power-producing machinery. The proposed regulation would establish requirements based on the best available technology.

"This proposed regulation offers a broad range of options to protect our aquatic resources from cooling water intake structures," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "This is not a one size fits all regulation. It allows local decision makers discretion to determine the best course of action to solve potential problems."

The proposed regulation, signed on February 28th, which would implement section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act, would establish requirements based on the best technology available for minimizing the effects of cooling water withdrawals. It would also allow for local decision making to determine how to minimize the effects of cooling water intakes if site-specific factors lead to costs that are either significantly greater than projected, or significantly greater than benefits at that site.

Under the proposed regulation, waterbodies that are more sensitive or that have more extensive aquatic resources will receive increased protection. The proposed regulation also provides that facilities may use restoration measures in addition to, or in lieu of, direct controls on the cooling water intake to protect aquatic life. By laying out several options in the proposal, the public is afforded the opportunity to comment on a broad range of potential scenarios for protection of fish, shellfish and other aquatic life.

The proposed regulation partially fulfills EPA's obligation to comply with the terms of a court order in a lawsuit brought against EPA by a coalition of environmental groups and individuals. Additional information on the proposal and public comment opportunities are available at http://www.epa.gov/ow .