Monthly Archives: November 2008

How will the new administration and Congress impact environmental regulations

p1010417When President Obama takes office next year and the Democrat-controlled Senate and House convene, you can expect two things: A roll back of some of the new environmental rules that the Bush administration put in place and a step up on enforcement.

Congress has the power to reverse federal regulations that have become finalized during the last months of a previous administration.

Henry Waxman – a powerful Democrat congressman has just been elected chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. This is one of the most powerful committees in Congress and it has jurisdiction over the environment and EPA. Waxman’s counterpart on the Senate side is Barbara Boxer – viewed as an environmental activist by many.


The politics of new environmental regulations

When EPA finalized its rule on excluding wastes that are to be reclaimed or recycled from the definition of RCRA solid waste on October 7, 2008, it was following a long tradition of rushing through final regulations in the waning days of an administration. These rules are to become effective December 29, 2008 – several weeks before a new administration takes over EPA in 2009.

The Clinton White House did the same “last minute” rush in finalizing environmental regulations. The difference was that they rushed to finalize more stringent regulations whereas the Bush White House is relaxing the regulations.

There are two ways the new Obama administration can reverse the last minute changes if it so chooses. One is for the Democratic Congress to pass a new law specifically reversing the new regulations. The other way is for the new EPA Administrator to go through the rule-making process all over again to reverse it. Both processes will take considerable amount of time.

One note about the new EPA regulation on redefining “RCRA solid waste”: it does not require state agencies to adopt it in their state regulations. What that means is that a state agency does not have to recognize EPA’s new regulation. So – check with your state agency after Decemebr 29, 2008 to see if it has adopted the new EPA regulation.

Video of a sea turtle

Here is a video of a sea turtle feeding in the morning in Bonaire

Managing your environmental data and tracking performance

As an environmental manager, you face a myriad of time consuming tasks on a daily basis. One of them is the management of environmental data. The other is the tracking of compliance. If you are responsible for several site remediation jobs across the country, how do you make sure that the different tasks associated with these jobs are being carried out in a timely fashion? How do you track the performance of your environmental programs?


For small jobs, many managers use Excel spreadsheets to track deadlines. You can also use Microsoft Outlook to track the different tasks and deadlines. For example, if you are a large quantity generator, you program your Outlook to alert you a month before the March 1, 2010 deadline to prepare your biennial report. If you have quarterly reports that you need to file under your air permit, you set up the deadlines in Outlook or in a spreadsheet.


To track new regulations, by far the best and least expensive way is to subscribe to EPA’s listservers. Many state agencies have similar services too. And they are all free. All you need to do is to subscribe to the service on the agencies’ websites and they will email you alerts on new and pending regulatory developments. There are also commercial services such as Business and Legal Reports that offer regulatory updates for an annual subscription fee.


If you are a Fortune 500 company with limited staff and multiple locations – either domestic or worldwide – a spreadsheet may not be the right tool for you. You might want to consider subscribing to commercial services that track both compliance issues and deadlines for you.


There is a company based in California that provides such service. It is called Locus Technologies. Its website is It has recently rolled out a series of programs (e-Task, ePortal and eSite) designed to help medium and large companies track their environmental performance worldwide. According to Marian Carr, Locus’ Vice President, many of their customers are Fortune 500 companies – including several major energy and defense companies. The costs of such programs are based on the number of users with a subscription fee of between $15 and $25/person per month plus an annual license fee.


Carr maintains that her company is not in the business of keeping track of changing regulatory requirements. It partners with other companies that specialize in that area. What this company does is integrate compliance updates into its tracking program so that its users will stay on top of the deadlines.


Programs like that being offered by Locus are designed to allow company employees from different locations to update their activities online with relative ease. The data base resides on a remote off-site server that is accessible to the customers’ senior managers who want to have a bird’s eye view of their corporate compliance picture.


According to Carr, eTask has a simple intuitive user interface and is easy to learn. She said: “eTask is very simple and I would be shocked if it took more than a one hour webinar to get up to speed on the application”.


After viewing a demonstration of eTask, it is clear that it can be a useful tool for medium to large scale companies with multiple locations. If you are a small company, you may be better off tracking your activities with spreadsheets or Outlook.


The storage and management of environmental data is also becoming a big concern for many companies. Employees may be storing their environmental data on different spreadsheets at multiple locations. That can become a problem when someone in senior management wants to look at the big picture. A similar problem arises when you have different consultants working on different projects for you. Your environmental data are going to be stored in different formats at different locations. There is no guarantee that these formats are compatible with one another. You are at the mercy of your consultants.


You basically have two options. One is to have your consultants send you backup copies of all your data and then you find a way to make them compatible. Another option is to store all your data at one central location under one format. Companies like Locus store their customers’ environmental data at one central location.  


One note of caution: If you are looking for an integrated system, you want to look for systems that have document management tools, site information and permit tracking tools built into it.


Tracking compliance performance will be a higher priority in the coming years. With the Democratic White House and Congress, you can expect a much more focused approach on environmental regulations and compliance enforcement than in the previous eight years.

Things to remember about your SPCC Plan

Here are nine things you need to keep in mind about the Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plan – commonly referred to as the SPCC Plan.


1.      If you have more than 1320 gallons of oil (any kind of oil) and you have the potential to impact navigable waters of the United States, you must prepare an SPCC plan. For example, if your facility is anywhere close to a storm water drain, you have the potential to impact navigable waters.

2.      Recent changes to the EPA regulations require you to only count containers that are 55 gallons or larger in capacities towards the 1320 gallons threshold.

3.      Plant management must sign its Plan indicating it is prepared to commit financial resources to implement the plan. If your plan is not signed by management, you do not have a plan. EPA inspectors will always look for the signature.

4.      You can do self-certification – without the signature of a professional Engineer –  if you have less than ten thousand gallons onsite and you have not spilled more than a thousand gallons within 12 months in the last 3 years.

5.      You must have an SPCC plan if you store more than 42000 gallons of oil in underground storage tanks.

6.      SPCC plans must be implemented by July 1, 2009.

7.      You must have secondary containment for your oil storage area. Containment can take the form of a dike, berm, or natural contour. The idea is to contain any spilled oil and keep it from reaching navigable waters.

8.      Do not count oils that you do not own or control For example, do not count transformer oils in a substation on your property IF you are neither the owner nor operator of that substation.

9.      Keep your plan simple and do what you say you are going to do. Never make commitment that you cannot keep. EPA inspectors will always look for evidence of implementation. For example, if you say in your plan you are going to do weekly inspection of your facility, the EPA inspector will be looking for a weekly inspection checklist from you.






New EPA regulations on reclaimed hazardous wastes

Almost five years ago, EPA proposed to exclude certain hazardous wastes from the definition of solid wastes. On October 7, 2008, EPA finalized the exclusions. 

The scope of this exclusion includes: (1) recycling onsite at the generating facility; (2) off-site recycling within the same company; and (3) recycling through a “tolling” agreement. All materials under this exclusion must be reclaimed within the United States. Under this exclusion, notification to EPA or the authorized state would be required, speculative accumulation would not be allowed, and the hazardous secondary material must be legitimately reclaimed. All hazardous secondary materials must be contained when they are stored.

What this means is that if you have spent solvents on-site waiting to be recycled either at your own facility or elsewhere, you do not have to manage these spent solvents as hazardous wastes because they are no longer defined as “solid wastes”. Under RCRA regulations, only solid wastes can become hazardous wastes. 

This final rule was published in the Federal Reister on October 30, 2008 and will become effective December 29, 2008.