A busy week of environmental regulations

The past two weeks have been one of the busiest periods of time in recent memory for movement on sweeping environmental regulations. Since these will impact every sector of the economy and every person in the nation, a summary is in order:

Pennsylvania DEP continues its series of 14 listening sessions on how it should craft the state plan to comply with the EPA Clean Power Plan.  Most testimony followed the expected path with the usual suspects delivering the usual lines.

However, in Greensburg,  The Green County Messenger reports the offerings were more personal with Thelma Szarell, superintendent of the West Greene School District, saying, “Recently, we consolidated our elementary schools and built a new West Greene Elementary center, after years of wrestling with the issues of need, cost, and safety. It is not the Taj Mahal, but it is an updated facility that meets the needs of our students and community.This endeavor would not have been possible without adequate tax dollars,” she said. “Our school district has been supported by the coal industry. Local taxpayers would be burdened with higher taxes without the contribution from the mining industry to offset the cost.”

Pittsburgh was one of three locations for EPA to host a public hearing on the proposed methane rules for the oil and gas industry. The proposed rules are part of a plan that would reduce the industry’s pollution by up to 45 percent by requiring improved leak detection in most infrastructure components and targets reductions at compressor stations. API, an industry trade group, credits the industry with reducing emissions through the use of new technologies and practices, and calls the new rules, “another layer of burdensome requirements could actually slow down industry progress to reduce methane emissions.”

Complete details on the rule can be found in the Federal Registry.

On Wednesday, EPA has finalized revisions to effluent limitations guidelines and standards, and set the first federal limits on the levels of toxic metals in wastewater discharges from steam electric power plants. The rule has been surrounded by legal uncertainties, and POWER reports the challenges will continue – “I think that industry will likely argue that EPA’s record does not support some of the technology determinations, such as chemical precipitation and biological treatment for FGD wastewater and dry handling/closed-loop handling for bottom ash, and that EPA’s cost estimates are not properly supported (that is, the significantly underestimated the costs of these controls).”

The final prepublished 311 page rule is available from EPA’s website.

In another first, EPA released final rules for oil refinery emissions that will require fenceline monitoring and additional controls on various flaring activities. The U.S. has 142 refineries and EPA estimates 6.1 million people live within three miles of these facilities.  Facilities will have until 2018 to comply.

On Thursday,  after much anticipation, EPA tightened the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone to 70 parts per billion (ppb), from a previous standard of 75 ppb. EPA was expected to adopt a standard between 65-70 ppb. The Wall Street Journal does a good job summarizing the claims by environmentalists the standard isn’t stringent enough, while industry claims the standard goes too far and will adversely impact the nation’s economy.

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