Archive for the ‘Chemical Industry’ Category

No Need For Clean Water Regulations Because Freedom!

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

It’s no secret that lots of Republican politicians loathe the Environmental Protection Agency. Aside from Obamacare, it’s one of the party’s favorite whipping boys. Never mind that the agency was the creation of President Richard Nixon, himself a hyper-partisan Republican. (The Watergate scandal arose out of an attempt to undermine Nixon’s Democratic opponents in the 1972 presidential race.) What a Republican president created in 1970, the current party is bound and determined to dismantle today.

The Republican party largely denies the existence of global climate change and assiduously pooh-poohs the necessity of environmental regulations. While its 2008 party platform addressed environmental concerns at length, the 2012 platform demanded that Congress  “take quick action to prohibit the EPA from moving forward with new greenhouse gas regulations.”  In line with that official statement of hostility, the party has been casting about for ways to prevent the Obama administration from using the EPA to advance its environmental agenda. Obstruction by any means is the strategy of the day. The party’s aversion to the EPA has been one of the principal hurdles in filling the empty seats in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Now the Republican controlled House of Representatives has come up with another way to hamstring the agency by undermining its ability to clean up heavily polluted sites via the Superfund. The bill, H.R. 2279, coyly titled  the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act of 2013, is intended to make it harder to hold companies accountable for environment damage from toxic waste and to give states more control over regulating toxic waste. The bill would also make it more difficult for the president to demand financial assistance for cleanup projects from state governments.  The bill has virtually no chance of passing in the Senate, and the president has already promised to veto it should it make its way to his desk. But it is a pure expression of the party’s loathing of federal environmental regulations.

Undercut the EPA’s ability to clean up toxic waste, devolve environmental control to the states, hobble the ability of the feds to coordinate financing with the states – what could possibly go wrong? You know exactly what could go wrong and, as if on cue, it did. The very same day the House passed the bill, a chemical spill near Charleston, West Virginia essentially shut the capital city down.

Thousands of gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, a foaming agent used in coal production, leaked from a holding tank into the ground and then into the Kanawha River in downtown Charleston. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin told inhabitants not to drink, bathe, cook or wash clothes with tap water. The only appropriate thing to do with municipal water is to flush toilets. You certainly can’t drink it. You can’t even wash your hands with it. The National Guard has been called up to distribute drinking water, and police and firefighters are controlling long lines as people cue up to get their share. As of Sunday, some 300,000 West Virginians were still without clean tap water and the city has come to a virtual standstill. Even flights in and out of the local airport have been cancelled due to the lack of potable water.

So far, nobody knows how long the chemical had been leaking or how long it will take to clean it up and get it safely out of the water supply. Nor does anyone have an idea what the costs will ultimately be. With visitors and residents alike fleeing the capital, local businesses are in a state of suspended animation.

And the name of the company whose chemicals have poisoned the capital’s water supply? Freedom Industries. The Onion couldn’t have come up with a more ironic name. The company has been studiously mum about the spill. Apparently it didn’t report the spill to the water company which supplies most of the household water in the area.

So by all means, let’s slash the EPA’s ability to clean up contamination. Let’s shift the burden of regulatory enforcement to the states. Let’s make it harder for the feds to share cleanup costs with the states. It’s all in the name of freedom.

UPDATE: Speaker of the House John Boehner has now weighed in, arguing that the spill is President Obama’s fault and that the real problem lies with “those regulations that we think are cumbersome, are over the top, and that are costing the economy jobs.” Remember, regulations are always “job killers.” What Boehner neglected to mention is that he received $5,000 in political donations from Freedom Industries last year.

Fracking in California and Moviemaking in Pennsylvania

The Promised Land? Photo by Alan Bowring, some rights reserved.

In July, we wrote about the scramble to regulate fracking. Last month, California entered the fray, releasing a “discussion draft” of hydraulic fracturing regulations and seeking comments from interested parties ahead of the formal rulemaking process set to begin in February.

California’s Department of Conservation’s Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Division released the draft, detailing testing, monitoring, operating, and disclosure requirements (thanks to Arnold Porter for their advisory). The Division will operate a chemical disclosure directory to which operators will have to disclose information about the chemicals and concentrations used as well as data on the amount of fluid recovered. There is a trade secret exemption, but in the case of an operator withholding information, they must submit documentation of the type of information withheld, why it was withheld, and that the proprietary information could not be gathered through testing. However, operators would have to be able to provide the information immediately if necessary to investigate a release of fracking fluid or to a doctor to treat an individual exposed to fracking fluid.

Information from required pre-fracking testing would be available to the public before fracking at a particular well begins, and operators would be required to monitor certain variables in and around a well during fracking and for thirty days after.

A personal tidbit of my own says something on the topic as well.

I just saw Matt Damon and John Krasinski’s Promised Land, which seems to encourage viewers to focus on its exploration of selling mineral rights leases to gas companies rather than its characters and story, so I will do just that. Centered on a Pennsylvania town whose struggling farms are sitting on millions of dollars of natural gas, Matt Damon’s character as a representative of Global Crosspower Solutions claims to be offering the town its last chance to fund and prolong the myth of the small town of family-run farms. At a town meeting, an influential local science teacher raises questions about the risks surrounding the type of drilling Global plans to do – fracking – leaving some of the community hesitant to join farmers promised a big payout in their enthusiasm for the gas company’s drilling plans.

And though the appearance of a fake environmental advocate employed by Global to discredit environmental concerns portrays townspeople as uncritical pawns of interest groups, the point that such tactics may not be far from the truth is certainly taken. The questions Promised Land raises are as much emotional and cultural as scientific and political, but maybe with the information gathered through California’s regulations the debate in the future can be informed by a more measured understanding of its risks.

VC Investment Down, IPOs Up for Clean Technology Companies in 2011

Solar panels in the Mojave Desert. Photo by Shayan (USA). Some rights reserved.

The public debate about government’s role in developing clean energy has never been livelier. In addition to President Obama’s push for clean energy in his State of the Union address, Spain, a poster-child for wind energy, is making headlines for cutting subsidies to renewable energy industries. Less discussed, at least recently, is the role of private investment in clean energy.

An Ernst & Young analysis, covered by Environmental Finance here, shows that venture capital investments in clean technology reached $4.9 billion in 2011, down 4.5% from 2010 due to a slow fourth quarter. The number of deals fell slightly to 297 from 300 in 2010, but Ernst & Young’s clean-tech director, Spencer Jay, trumpets that the industry is holding steady in a tough economic environment, and that many companies are commercializing their services.

The leading clean-tech segment was energy and electricity generation, raising $1.5 billion, followed by the industry products and services segment at $1.0 billion, energy storage at $932.6 million, and energy efficiency – the innovation that Ernst & Young says does not require as much capital – at $646.9 million.

The big mover here is the energy storage sector, which saw a 250% increase in investment in 2011 compared to 2010. Energy storage complements the intermittent electricity generation of wind and solar, allowing the overall cost of electricity to consumers to decline.

The IPOs announced in 2011 for clean-tech companies confirm these trends. Solazyme, the year’s high-profile advanced biofuels IPO, as well as Gevo (producer of isobutanol as a “drop-in” for gasoline and chemicals used in manufacturing), KiOR (converting forest-based biomass to crude oil), and BrightSource (large-scale solar developer), are all energy generation companies. The fifth IPO, Silver Spring Networks, in the industry products and services sector, is a smart grid software provider.

These companies have something else in common, too:  four of the five are based in the San Francisco area. While northern California has long been a hot clean-tech market, both Massachusetts and Colorado – the home of Gevo – have also taken big steps towards establishing themselves as clean-tech ‘innovation clusters,’ seeing venture capital investment increases of 63% and 28% respectively.

Attack of the Killer Receipts!

Photo by rosiepet. Some rights reserved.

As an environmental blogger, I’d likely advise only taking receipts if and when it’s necessary anyways, but now there may be another, less paper-friendly/more human-friendly reason to pass on hard copy receipts. The New York Times featured a story yesterday by Rachel Nuwer on the dangers of bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical compound used in polycarbonate plastic products, and specifically how BPA is being used as a color developer for the dye printed on thermal receipts.

BPA made serious headlines in the mid-2000’s, specifically in 2007, when a National Institute of Health panel concluded that there was some reason for concern regarding human over-exposure to BPA, specifically in fetal and infant development. In 2008, a Journal of the American Medical Association found that higher levels of BPA in adults correlated with heart disease, diabetes, and other un-pleasant things. Then, in 2010, the FDA released their own study, which reached essentially the same conclusion, that BPA was, in general, thought to have negative effects on the brain, heart, and prostate glands in infants and young children. Doesn’t sound good!

So, while the FDA has yet to take decisive action in banning BPA (though it has been declared a toxic substance in Canada!), the EPA has since declared it a chemical of concern, while states including Connecticut and Maine have taken action on a state level to ban the use of BPA in food and beverage containers. Yet, as the first sentence of Nuwer’s NY Times article is quick to point out, eight billion pounds of BPA are still being manufactured and put into use worldwide. And while BPA tends to spring up in high percentages in paper products, in the study discussed in the article in which the New York State Department of Health looked at different types of paper products, it was the receipt paper which had the highest frequency and concentration of BPA. The study found significant traces of BPA in 94% of the sample receipts, and concluded that receipt paper is responsible for a whopping 98% of paper-based exposure to BPA. The EPA is currently looking into alternatives to the thermal receipts that contain BPA, but results aren’t expected until next May at the earliest.

EPA Takes a “Glyme”- Out

Photo by Patrik Johansson. Some rights reserved.

You’d be forgiven for mistaking “glyme” for a fitness drink, a swanky speakeasy, or a supervillain made of toxic sludge, but “glyme” is in fact the common name for Dimethoxyethane, a liquid ether with a wide spectrum of uses, including as a solvent in lithium batteries, paints and dyes, and in some car brake systems. Glymes also play a part in the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” which readers of this blog should be more than familiar with. But the wacky world of glymes may have some storm clouds on the horizon, as the EPA is now following up on preliminary investigations into the substance’s potentially harmful side effects begun in 2008 with new proposed rulemaking.

The EPA proposed a new Significant New Use Rule (and here’s the press release) last week that would investigate the potentially harmful (glyme is thought to harm the reproductive system and potentially development) effects of usage of 14 chemical compounds classified as glymes and conclude whether or not the products are safe for continued use, with a 90 day period set aside for evaluation.

As a Significant New Use Rule (or SNUR), however, as Treehugger points out, the EPA would only be able to regulate new uses of glymes, and all existing uses would be able to remain in use, which though human exposure to glymes has been supposedly limited, could lead to further legislation down the road, depending on their findings.

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