What’s EPA been up to?

As January closes, we take a quick look at the highlights (or lowlights, depending on your perspective) of actions taken by the US Environmental Protection Agency in the first month of 2010. Noteworthy actions included:

  • EPA proposes revisions to smog (ozone) standard
  • EPA to issue new standard for nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
  • EPA rejects confidentiality claims for toxic chemicals
  • EPA announces tip line for bad behavior in oil and gas drilling operations

In addition, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson set forth the agency’s priorities for the coming year.

Summaries of these actions follow.  As always, feel free to contact T. Cozzie Consulting for more information.

Proposed revisions to smog (ozone) standard

On January 19, EPA proposed the strictest health standards to date for smog or ground-level ozone.  The agency is proposing to replace the standards set by the previous administration, based on a conclusion that the existing standards were not sufficiently protective of human health.

The agency proposes to set the “primary,” health-based standard at a level between 0.060 and 0.070 parts per million (ppm) measured over eight hours.  The existing ozone standards was set at 0.075 ppm in March 2008.

EPA is also proposing to set a separate “secondary” standard to protect the environment.  This seasonal standard is intended to protect plants and trees from damage caused by repeated ozone exposure, which can reduce tree growth and increase susceptibility to disease.

EPA will take public comment for 60 days after the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register. The agency will hold three public hearings on the proposal: Feb. 2, 2010 in Arlington, Va. and in Houston; and Feb. 4, 2010 in Sacramento.  For more information, visit http://www.epa.gov/groundlevelozone.

EPA to issue new standard for nitrogen dioxide (NO2)

EPA also has announced a new national air quality standard for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).  NO2, which is formed from vehicle, power plant and other industrial emissions, contributes to the formation of fine particle pollution and smog.  The agency set the new one-hour standard for NO2 at a level of 100 parts per billion (ppb).  The existing, annual average standard of 53 ppb will be retained.

New monitoring requirements will be implemented in urban areas to measure NO2 levels near major roadways and throughout communities. Monitoring systems near roads will be required in cities of at least 500,000 residents. Additional monitors will be sited in larger cities and areas with major roadways.  Community-wide monitoring will continue in cities with at least 1 million residents.   At least 40 monitors will be positioned in communities that may be especially vulnerable to elevated NO2 levels.

By January 2012, EPA expects to identify or designate areas that do not meet the new standard, based on the existing community-wide monitoring network.  The new monitoring stations will begin operating by January 1, 2013.  EPA plans to redesignated areas, as appropriate, within three years after the new monitoring systems are activated.

More information on the NO2 standard can be found at http://www.epa.gov/air/nitrogenoxides.

EPA rejects confidentiality claims for toxic chemicals

Effective immediately, EPA has announced that it will reject Confidential Business Information (CBI) claims as applied to the identity of toxic chemicals. The affected chemicals are those shown to pose a substantial risk to health and the environment that have been previously disclosed on the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) chemical inventory. EPA describes this action as a step to use the agency’s authority under the existing TSCA to the fullest extent possible, recognizing that the 1976 law is both outdated and in need of reform.

Under Section 8(e) of TSCA, companies that manufacture, process, or distribute chemicals must immediately provide notice to EPA if they learn that a chemical presents a substantial risk of injury to health or the environment. Prior to this action, companies would routinely claim confidentiality for the actual identity of the chemical covered by the Section 8(e) submission, so public disclosure of the information would not include the name of the chemical. The new policy ends this practice for chemicals on the public portion of the TSCA Inventory.

EPA announces tip line for bad behavior in oil and gas drilling operations

A legitimate concern, or further evidence of the animus of the current administration toward the domestic oil and gas production industry?  On January 26, 2010, EPA announced the creation of the “Eyes on Drilling” tipline for citizens to report non-emergency suspicious activity related to oil and natural gas development.

The agency is asking alert citizens to call  the tipline at (877) 919-4EPA (yes, it’s a toll free call, and yes, you can remain anonymous!) if they observe possibly illegal disposal of wastes or other suspicious activity.   Reports also may be sent by email to eyesondrilling@epa.gov.   Citizens are asked to report the location, time and date of such activity, as well as the materials, equipment and vehicles involved and any observable environmental impacts.

In the event of an emergency, such as a spill or release of hazardous material, including oil, to the environment, citizens are advised to call the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802.

According to EPA, public concern about the environmental impacts of oil and natural gas drilling has increased in recent months, particularly regarding development of the Marcellus Shale geologic formation where substantial new activity is occurring.  The Marcellus Shale formation contains one of the largest mostly untapped reserves of natural gas in the United States, and underlies significant portions of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and New York, as well as  smaller portions of neighboring states.  Development of the Marcellus Shale has gained interest due to recent improvements in extraction technology and higher energy prices that now make recovering natural gas from this formation more profitable.

Information about the tipline can be found at  http://www.epa.gov/region03/marcellus_shale/tipline.html.

EPA Administrator identifies key themes for 2010

In a memo to employees, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson set out the agency’s main objectives and priorities for 2010.  The seven key areas described in her missive:

Taking Action on Climate Change: Actions to include finalizing of mobile source rules; expansion of cost-saving energy conservation and efficiency programs; development of “common-sense” approaches for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from large stationary sources like power plants.

Improving Air Quality: EPA intends to develop a comprehensive strategy for a cleaner and more efficient power sector, with emission reduction goals for SO2, NOx, mercury and other air toxics.  As demonstrated by the actions listed above, EPA will address ambient air quality standards for pollutants such as PM, SO2 and NO2 and pursue additional reductions in air toxics from a range of industrial facilities.

Assuring the Safety of Chemicals: Again, as illustrated by January’s activities, EPA intends to revisit the Toxic Substances Control Act, and to focus on high-concern chemicals as well as widely produced chemicals in commerce.

Cleaning Up Communities: The administrator made reference to the Superfund program and brownfields cleanup and redevelopment, particularly in disadvantaged communities.

Protecting America’s Waters: Measures to address post-construction runoff, water quality impairment from surface mining, and drinking water protection are anticipated.

Expanding the Conversation on Environmentalism and Working for Environmental Justice: Outreach to tribes, communities of color and economically distressed cities and towns is a priority, as will be inclusion of environmental justice principles in decisionmaking.

Building Strong State and Tribal Partnerships: In spite of declining tax revenues and fiscal challenges that pressure state agencies and tribal governments to do more with fewer resources, EPA intends to support state and tribal capacity, ensure consistent program delivery, and bolster state and tribal efforts.

The full text of the memorandum can be viewed on the EPA newsroom site, http://www.epa.gov/newsroom/index.htm.