EPA Breathes Easy with Implementation of Next Gen Tools and Compliance Initiatives.

“Out with the old, in with the new” seems to be the 2016 mantra of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The agency’s fall 2015 release of new proposed National Enforcement Initiatives (NEI), coupled with its memorandum calling for the incorporation of Next Generation Compliance (Next Gen) into enforcement settlements, indicates sweeping changes are ahead for the companies it’s tasked with regulating.

According to the NEI for 2017-2019, the EPA is moving its air enforcement focus from new source review (NSR) permitting of large sources (e.g., coal-fired utilities, cement plants, glass plans and acid plants) to reducing air toxic emissions — and CO2, methane and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) — per President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. The EPA will first target flares, storage tanks, hazardous waste and vehicles, which will most immediately impact those operating in the oil & gas, petrochemical and automotive industries.

Alongside these new enforcement targets, the EPA is increasing pressure on companies to implement Next Gen compliance tools to either achieve compliance or, more to the point, to retroactively address noncompliance. In its January 2015 memorandum, the EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance directs its employees to include Next Gen tools in all appropriate civil enforcement settlements. As such, any organization involved in noncompliance settlement cases will likely be compelled to implement one or more of the following tools outlined in the memorandum as part of the EPA’s proposed settlement:

  • Advanced monitoring, including both point source emission/discharge monitoring and ambient monitoring (e.g., fence-line monitoring of air pollution at the border of a facility),
  • Independent third party verification of a settling party’s compliance with settlement obligations,
  • Electronic reporting, and
  • Public accountability through increased transparency of compliance data.

Although the proposed NEI will not become official until 2017, recent enforcement settlements indicate the EPA has already begun focusing on the new enforcement targets and including Next Gen tools as part of those settlement agreements, as evidenced by the EPA’s Next Generation Enforcement Settlement Highlights document.

At EDGE, our Air Quality Management Practice is well-versed in the new NEI enforcement targets. We can assist proactive companies across all affected industries plan and prepare for Next Gen compliance, or assist companies found in non-compliance in responding to enforcement actions and implementing Next Gen tools.

Sources: EPA Next Generation Settlement Highlights | EPA Use of Next Generation Compliance Tools in Civil Enforcement Settlements Memorandum | Law360 | The National Law Review

She Aced It.

Please join us in congratulating Jessica Ross of EDGE’s Air Quality Practice, who recently passed her P.E. exam and is now a licensed Texas Professional Engineer!

Natural Gas Plants Will Soon Be Held To Toxic Release Inventory Requirements.

More than 500 natural gas plants across the nation may soon be required to annually report their toxic emissions to the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), according to a recent decision by the EPA.

Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986, facilities in certain industry sectors — including mining, utilities and manufacturing — that have 10 or more employees and handle between 10,000 to 25,000 pounds of chemicals designated as highly toxic are required to annually report emissions of those chemicals to the TRI.

In October, the EPA responded to a petition filed by environmental coalitions stating natural gas processing plants will be added to the list of industries required to report emissions under Section 313 of the EPRCA. While most natural gas plants are already required to report air emissions yearly, the TRI places the added burden of reporting chemical release levels affecting land and water as well.
While the decision must first make its way through the EPA’s rulemaking and public review process before it is finalized, a process that could potentially lead to the addition of other large oil and gas industry facilities, the EPA has stated it “intends to implement the new regulation as quickly as possible.” For the natural gas plants affected by this decision, that means implementing measurement and reporting processes needs to begin now.

EDGE is highly experienced in assisting our clients in meeting their responsibilities under the EPCRA, and the TRI, specifically. We use the most effective means available to gather information from facilities and pride ourselves on taking full advantage of technological solutions to ensure accurate, timely reporting prepared based on the specific needs of each client. EDGE has a successful track record of working with organizations that have a large number of facilities spread over a large, multi-state geographic area, often facilitating information sharing between separate groups and effectively coordinating stewardship of the reporting program within the organization.

In addition to assisting with EPCRA reporting, EDGE can also evaluate facility changes over time to help your organization set and meet environmental and sustainability goals.

Sources: Environmental Protection Agency | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | Texas Tribune

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Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA)

  • Section 304 Emergency Notifications/Accidental Release Reporting
  • Section 311 and 312 Tier II Chemical Inventories Reporting
  • Section 313 Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) Preparation and Reporting

Why President Obama’s Rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline Won’t Significantly Impact Gulf Coast Refineries.

On November 6, 2015, President Obama announced his administration’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have facilitated transportation of Canadian tar sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast for processing and refining. Although the decision is a blow to U.S. proponents of building the pipeline, who argue it would have bolstered the American economy by creating jobs and facilitating energy independence from the Middle East, the financial impact on the refineries hoping the pipeline would generate new business may be negligible.

For one, the existing southern Keystone pipeline, running from Cushing, Oklahoma, to Port Arthur, Texas, is still bringing an adequate supply of crude oil to refineries across the Gulf Coast — even without the northern connection that would allow easy access to Canadian tar sands. Second, the lack of a pipeline from Canada to the southern U.S. does not prohibit the transportation of the oil sands, it simply necessitates other modes of transport. Third, although upstream oil companies may not currently be rushing to Canada to capitalize on its natural resources, all it takes is an uptick in oil prices and that sands crude will undoubtedly begin making its way to our U.S. refineries by the boat-, train- or truck- load. And lastly, let us not forget that despite President Obama’s rejection, the next president to take office will likely still have the power to reverse his decision.

So, while some may applaud while others scoff, the Keystone XL pipeline decision probably won’t have any U.S. refinery operations screeching to a halt any time soon.

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Sources: Bloomberg View | Energy & Commerce Committee | NPR | U.S. News

New EPA Ground-Level Ozone Air Quality Standards Update Has Major Implications for Industries Across the Country.

Trust EDGE to help you breeze through the tightened requirements.

As of October 1, 2015, companies across the United States are now tasked with reducing ozone emission levels by 5 parts per billion (ppb), thanks to the EPA’s final National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) rule. The changes necessary to meet these new requirements need to occur more quickly than the EPA’s announced timeline may suggest.

The EPA’s revision of the primary ground-level ozone standard demands a reduction in levels from the current standard of 75 ppb to a tightened 70 ppb. According to the EPA, the aim of this primary standard revision is to diminish the negative health effects O3 exposure has on the human population, which clinical studies found can be “harmful to healthy exercising adults” at levels of 72 ppb. The new rule also strengthens the secondary standard, which is geared toward improving protection for vegetation, to 70 ppb.

Though attainment and nonattainment designations for the revised standards will not be made until late 2017, air quality data already collected, as early as 2014, will likely be used in making these designations. This means, in order to avoid stricter emission regulations at the federal, state and local levels in the event of a nonattainment designation, companies need to immediately begin implementing plans to lower emissions. What’s more, companies seeking preconstruction permit applications from this point forward may face a slower approval process as the EPA works to establish new rules and guidelines for obtaining permits in light of the new standards.

However, perhaps an unforeseen opportunity for companies to generate additional Emission Reductions Credits (ERCs) has been created by these lowered emission standards. Should an area receive a nonattainment designation, it also becomes an area in which additional ERCs may be generated. With our deep understanding of the EPA’s New Source Review Program, EDGE can assist your business in intelligently managing its ERCs by identifying opportunities to further reduce emissions or acquire new credits from new areas or interpollutant trading.

Additionally, the EDGE Air Quality Management Services Practice is constantly at the forefront of regulatory and technological changes and permitting and management strategies to help our clients with everything from fast permit approvals to long-term compliance.

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Sources: Environmental Protection Agency | Texas Chemical Council | Texas Commission on Environmental Quality | Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality

EPA Goes For The Fences With New Refining Regulation Updates.

Trust EDGE to help you meet the stricter requirements.
In its final ruling announced on September 29, 2015, the EPA introduced a first of its kind initiative that will require petroleum refineries to implement continuous fenceline monitoring of hazardous chemicals, including low levels of benzene, by September 2017. While the initial EPA proposal gave an implementation timeline of three years from the announcement date, the final rule curtailed that timeline to a mere two years, drastically increasing the pressure on the 142 U.S. refineries affected by the new regulation to quickly strategize and execute a plan of action.

According to the EPA’s fact sheet:

  • Monitors must encircle the facility to better identify sources of pollution under any wind direction.
  • The fenceline monitoring required by this rule is able to detect benzene at very low levels.
  • If monitored fenceline emissions from the facility exceed the level established in this rule, a refinery will be required to take corrective action.

Additionally, monitoring data must be collected every two weeks (alternative methods utilizing new technology allowing for real-time reporting may be introduced as they become available) and refineries will be required to report on emissions on a quarterly basis. Those reports will be made publicly available on the EPA website in an effort to create what EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy calls a “kind of neighborhood watch.”

In order to meet these and other tightened regulatory requirements enacted through the EPA’s latest ruling by the set deadlines, petroleum refineries must immediately begin taking action. At EDGE, we specialize in developing and effecting cost-effective plans to meet the ever-changing demands of government regulations like the Clean Air Act.

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Additional Sources: Consolidated Petroleum Refinery Rulemaking Repository | Oil & Gas JournalBloomberg BNA

How one bird nearly disrupted energy industry progress across 11 states — and still could.

The greater sage grouse, a ground-bird native to the western United States, has enjoyed near-celebrity status over the past few months as businesses and environmental groups anxiously anticipated the decision on whether the species would be listed as not warranted, threatened or endangered.

Ultimately, on September 21, the U.S. Department of Interior decided the bird did not warrant federal protection because of extensive and increasingly successful conservation efforts across multiple government and private entities. Had the bird been listed as endangered, its sagebrush habitat — spanning 11 states and millions of acres — would have been protected from any future development, negatively impacting not only the oil & gas industry, but the agriculture, livestock and other industries as well.

While these industries may breathe a momentary sigh of relief, the battle is far from over. Not only has the Department of Interior vowed to revisit the protection status of the sage grouse in five years, groups on both sides of the issue are already threatening law suits that could bring about changes even sooner. In the meantime, any land development or other activities that may impact the sage grouse population will continue to be regulated at a state level.

At EDGE, our National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Practice has supported successful development of capital pipeline and facilities projects from the Rockies to the northeastern United States and all points in between. With our experience and in-depth knowledge, we can help you understand and plan for environmental permitting requirements, like those associated with endangered species listings, to keep your project moving forward.

Sources: E & E Publishing | National Public Radio (1) | National Public Radio (2)

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Look Who’s Here.

EDGE is proud to announce the addition of four new employees to our growing team!

Laura Rudolf, Jessica Ross and Karen Alsept have joined our NEPA, Air Quality and Remediation practices, respectively. Additionally, we’ve welcomed Mel Haynie as our new Director of Recruiting. All four new hires operate out of our Houston office.

Headlines suggest the need for a proper plan in the event of a leak or spill.

The recent spill of heavy metal contaminants into the Animas River by a contract company working for the EPA has brought the issue of water contamination to the forefront of national media.

An approximated 3 million gallons of wastewater were dumped into the river, sullying water supplies for three states including Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. In one water sample, levels of lead were estimated to be 12,000 times higher than normal, just one of the nearly dozen pollutants leaked into the river when a team working to clean up an abandoned gold mine breached a dam using a large piece of equipment.

The takeaway lesson from this unfortunate event is that accidents like this can happen to anyone — including the agency tasked with preventing them — without a proper plan in place.

From Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plans to liability and compliance assessments, EDGE offers a range of Site Investigation & Remediation services to help mitigate your risk for spills and provide a plan of action for swift cleanup should one occur.

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Providing a clear understanding of air quality rules, regulations and updates.

Federal, state and local regulations are constantly evolving and each amendment impacts your operations.

Take the recent Supreme Court ruling demanding that the EPA reevaluate its Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS). This EPA rule, enacted in 2012, imposed the first restrictions on mercury emissions from electric plants across the nation. While the industry immediately appealed the EPA decision, all affected electric plants were forced to begin putting steps in place to meet the new emission requirements.

Three years later, due to the EPA’s failure to adequately consider cost when implementing the new rule, the government agency is being forced to revise its standards. For the more than 600 electric plants in the U.S., however, the financial damage has been done as many have already begun phasing in new controls for complying with the 2012 MATS rule.

Updates such as this aren’t limited to the Supreme Court. Regulatory change can come from EPA, states, lower courts and even guidance memoranda at any given time. At EDGE, we pride ourselves on remaining well-informed on federal, state and local environmental regulations from proposal through implementation. We help our clients achieve their business objectives by developing regulatory compliance strategies that work.

Our Air Quality Management Services leadership team has extensive experience providing a range of services to the energy, chemical, oil and gas, manufacturing, power and refining industry sectors.

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