Archive for the ‘Particle Pollution’ Category

Two “Big Deal” Final Rules Released: Mine Safety Disclosure and Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

Photo by Grayskullduggery. Some rights reserved.

December 21st marked a day of great regulatory importance as both the SEC and EPA released final versions of rules that have been in the works for years.

The SEC published Final Rule 33-9286, “Mine Safety Disclosure,” – which implements Section 1503 of the Dodd-Frank Act – a grandiose 364 days after the proposed version hit the Federal Register. The new rule will dictate how mining companies must disclose information about mine safety and health in certain SEC filings. Now that the rule has finalized (it becomes effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Regsiter), we hope to see examples of this disclosure from more companies than just Monarch Cement Co.

Even earlier in the day came the news that the EPA had revealed its new, finalized rule setting national standards to limit mercury, acid gases and other toxic pollution from power plants. Grist called the rules a “Big Deal,” waxing poetic about how the rules “will make America a more decent, just, and humane place to live.” Grist wasn’t the only one who thought so – we thought they were landmark, too. To read more about the standards, check out the EPA’s “MATS” page.

So go ahead and mark December 21st down in your calendar. It may just go down in history.

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule: Keep Your Dirty Air to Yourself

Photo by jepoirrier. Some rights reserved.

Though the implementation deadline for the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (“CSAPR”) is just a few short weeks away, many folks’ defiant response has been: Keep your Cross-State Air Pollution Rule to yourself.

The final rule, published by the EPA in the Federal Register on August 8th of this year, endeavors to reduce air pollution by limiting power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOX) that cross state lines. By 2014, this rule is estimated to prevent a whopping 13,000 to 34,000 premature deaths annually.

However, not everyone is as excited as the EPA about the reduction in premature deaths.

Two bills currently working their way through Congress include sections or amendments aiming to hobble the act. An amendment in the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation Act of 2011 (H.R. 2401) would delay action on CSAPR until an interagency panel has an opportunity to investigate the economic impact of various air emissions rules. H.R. 2891, America’s Energy Independence Act, proposes to delay the initial compliance deadline of CSAPR for ten years.

And Congress members aren’t the only ones squawking. At least eight states, and several private companies, have consolidated seven separate cases against the EPA into a singular challenge to the rule. Jenner & Block has more on the super-case, EME Homer City Generation, L.P. v. EPA No. 11-1302 (D.C. Cir. filed Aug. 23, 2011).

Because the displeasure has been so loud, many owners or operators of the subject power plans – high on the idea that the rule might not survive pending legislative and legal challenges – are unlikely to “install expensive pollution control technologies or to engage fully in CSAPR’s emission allowance markets,” despite the pending compliance date, according to a recent Client Publication from Shearman & Sterling.

Still, it hasn’t stopped companies from fretting: There have been at least 250 appearances of the terms CSAPR or Cross-State Air Pollution Rule in SEC filings since the rule was finalized, many in the vein of: “If finalized, the rule’s new requirements to control mercury emissions could result in implementation of additional technologies at power plants that could negatively affect fly ash quality,” or “The Cross-State Air Pollution Rules, if commenced on January 1, 2012, could adversely affect cost of operations at our Roanoke Valley Energy Facility.”

You can read more about the CSAPR here.

EPA Issues Landmark Mercury Pollution Standards for Power Plants

Photo by Flickr user Kansas Poetry (Patrick). Some rights reserved.

On March 16th, facing down a final court deadline, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled the proposed rule for the first-ever national emission standards for hazardous air pollutants from coal-and-oil-fueled power plants, and the first significant legislation of its kind since the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1990. These standards were developed based on the practices and results from the best functioning national plants, and would primarily regulate toxic gases such as mercury, arsenic, chromium, and nickel, as well as requiring mandatory safety upgrades and employment of effective pollution control devices for most U.S. plants. These changes have been in the works since December 2000, when the EPA first re-examined the standards proposed in the original Clean Air Act.

In a fact sheet published alongside the rule itself, the EPA offers a number of encouraging statistics that will result from the new standards. The new technologies employed would prevent 91% of mercury and acid gases and 55% of sulfur dioxide burned in power plants from escaping into the air. By 2016, according to the EPA, the legislation will prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks annually, with 120,000 fewer cases of aggravated asthma and 12,000 fewer emergency room visits. And while the rule is estimated to cost $10.9 billion annually, it will theoretically also save workers and affected persons between $59 and $140 billion in health costs, and could create as many as 31,000 short-term construction jobs implementing the new technology and 9,000 long-term utility-based jobs.

As the EPA has recently come under scrutiny from Republican lawmakers for enforcing new climate rules that the GOP argues could cripple the already troublesome federal budget, these new emission standards may be looked upon with some skepticism. However, the EPA, in their press release for the rule, assures skeptics that the new standards align strictly with an executive order signed into action by President Obama in January that requires new regulation by federal agencies to be as cost effective as possible.

EPA Boils Down Final Rules to Bare Essentials, Conservative Groups Still Emitting Concerns

In April 2010, after three years of delayed litigation, the EPA released its proposed Boiler MACT (Maximum Achievable Control Technology) rules that would govern emission standards for commercial, institutional and industrial boilers, solid-waste incinerators, and furnaces.

The rules, long-awaited by environmental groups and clean-air industries alike, aimed to make significant cuts to emissions of hazardous air pollutants (“HAP”s) like mercury, dioxin, soot, hydrogen chloride, and carbon monoxide.

Photo by Andy Dingley. Some rights reserved.

The proposed rules received over 4,800 comments over the 45 days they were open in the Federal Register, and with pressure from both sides of the issue, the EPA requested an extension to finish drafting the final rules in January 2011. District Judge Paul Friedman denied the agency its requested 15 month extension and gave a 30 day window for the agency to comply, and the final rules were submitted on February 23, 2011.

The EPA estimates that the final rules cut the cost of compliance by a significant 50%, with the figure associated with implementing the rule estimated at $1.8 billion, as opposed to the $3.6 billion figure associated with the proposed rules.

The most significant difference between the proposed and final rules was that biomass boilers were changed to be included with coal boilers in one single solid-fuel category, which eased considerably the standards for biomass boilers emitting less than 25 tons of combined toxins annually.

Response to the final rules has been divided by party and agency lines, with House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) claiming that they were issued hastily and under pressure of court-ordered deadline. The Council of Industrial Boiler Owners has stated that the rules are too costly, and that adhering to their standards could cause many facilities to shut down, estimating a potential 300,000 jobs lost as a cost.

The EPA, on the other hand, is optimistic about its rules and estimates it could create as many as 2,200 new jobs. Likeminded environmentalist organization the NRDC estimates that the new emission standards could save 6,500 lives and prevent 46,000 cases of asthma and bronchitis annually. As the back and forth continues, the EPA has encouraged companies and agencies to offer their feedback on the rules, as their opponents, such as Upton, prepare to combat them.

You can find a copy of the final rules, along with related international news and agency materials in this knowledgemosaic Spotlight, published on our Keep Current news page.

Danger in the Air in Afghanistan and Iraq (and it’s not what you think)

Photo by Greg Henshall. Some rights reserved.

About two weeks ago, the GAO released a report scolding the Department of Defense (DOD) on their enforcement of burn pit operations procedures and solid waste management. The GAO initially was asked to report on “(1) extent of open pit burning in Afghanistan and Iraq, and whether the military has followed its guidance; (2) alternatives to burn pits, and whether the military has examined them; and (3) extent of efforts to monitor air quality and potential health impacts.” Their conclusion? DOD needs to improve “adherence” to guidance on burn pit operations and waste management, as well as consider alternatives to current procedures.

According to the DOD, soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq each generate about 10 pounds of solid waste per day. The efficiency of the process means that most of this waste is burned in open pits, despite the abundant smoke and other emissions associated with the practice. DOD and the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) have only recently provided specific guidance and policies on the management of these burn pits. GAO investigators found that many burn pits inspected were failing to comply with the published guidelines – burn pit operators routinely burned items that are now prohibited (such as plastics and aerosol cans) and failed to monitor or document emissions from the pits. Additionally, burn pits were often used for stretches of time that exceeded recommendations (it is suggested that burn pits be replaced incinerators when practical).

As the GAO points out, U.S. environmental protection laws do not normally apply overseas. Therefore, the military has developed its own policies and guidelines for the management of solid waste during military operations. In September of 2009, CENTCOM published Regulation 200-2, which finally detailed “minimal acceptable standards for solid waste disposal” and burn pit operations. In March of 2010, DOD issued Memorandum 09-032, which prohibited “the disposal of covered waste in open-air burn pits during contingency operations except when no alternative disposal method is feasible.” Following the guidance wouldn’t just eliminate the more toxic elements in resulting emissions – it would ideally prevent some of the pollution altogether. The DOD memo was to be incorporated into DOD Instruction 4715.5, which established general environmental standards “for protection of human health and the environment at DoD installations in foreign countries.” (A complementary DOD guidance document on the environmental compliance standards is available here.)

What happens when you fail to follow the directions? According to the EPA, the kind of particle pollution produced by open pit burning is associated with the following health problems: “irritation of the airways, coughing, or difficulty breathing; decreased lung function; aggravated asthma; development of chronic bronchitis; irregular heartbeat; nonfatal heart attacks; and premature death in people with heart or lung disease.”

The GAO reports that “some veterans returning from both conflicts have reported pulmonary and respiratory ailments, among other health concerns, that they attribute to burn pit emissions.” To date, more than 200 current and former servicemembers have joined together for a class action suit against Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR), one of the contractors hired to provide burn pit services in Iraq. They allege that exposure to air pollutants due to the contractor’s negligent management of burn pit operations has resulted in serious health problems. The MDL Docket Report for the case can be found here. The District Court for the District of Maryland has published an Order and a Memorandum Opinion on the case (In re KBR Burn Pit Litigation, RWT-09-2083). KBR has responded to the accusations online with “Facts About Burn Pit Litigation.”

The GAO report concluded with six recommendations for helping the DOD adhere to “relevant guidance on burn pit operations and waste management.” When given a chance to review the draft report, the DOD concurred with almost all of the GAO recommendations, and explained the ways in which they hope to improve operations. One hopes these improvements can help prevent at least some of the perils of war.

%d bloggers like this: