Monthly Archives: April 2009

Remember to update your Risk Management Plan

smoke-from-stacks_0001-2Under the Clean Air Act, if you are required to file a Risk Management Plan (RMP), you are also required to update your plan every 5 years. EPA has started to warn companies to update their plans or face penalties.

For example, in a streamlined enforcement process, EPA’s Region 2 office continually identifies facilities that currently have risk management plans in place to see which plans are overdue.  Where the Agency finds facilities that have not updated their plans on time, EPA is giving that facility a chance to comply and pay a discounted penalty.  This was the case recently for the Kuehne Chemical Company in South Kearny, New Jersey.  As a result of EPA’s enforcement efforts, the company updated its plan and paid a $1,400 penalty for late filing.  Additional enforcement actions are planned in the coming months.

For assistance in submitting an updated RMP, facilities should contact the RMP Reporting Center at 301-429-5018.  Additionally, EPA has developed a new method for preparing and submitted your RMP which became available on March 13, 2009.  The new method is called RMP*eSubmit and information about RMP*eSubmit and how to set up an RMP*eSubmit account can be found here.


Crushing your fluorescent lamps

All fluorescent lamps contain mercury. You can manage your spent fluorescent lamps as universal wastes as long as you do not crush them. But once you crush them, they release mercury which is a hazardous waste and you must then manage the crushed lamps as hazardous wastes.

EPA Region 2 has just taken enforcement action against two recycling companies in New Jersey for failing to manage crushed fluorescent lamps as hazardous wastes.

For further guidance on management of fluorescent lamps, click here.

Change has come to EPA


lisaonbrownAs expected, the new Obama EPA has begun the process of “un-doing” some of the rules put into place by the previous administration. In December of 2006, the Bush EPA issued the TRI Burden Reduction Final Rule that expanded Form A eligibility for non-Persistent, Bioaccumulative, Toxic (non-PBT) chemicals to 5,000 pounds and allowed use of Form A for the first time for PBT chemicals under limited circumstances. This rule was met with concern over the availability of required data under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) and resulted in a lawsuit by 13 states to restore the TRI Form A thresholds and usage to what they were prior to the 2006 rule.


On April 21, 2009, Lisa Jackson – the new EPA Adminstrator – reversed the 2006 rule and restored the original TRI Form A threshold. 


Following the rule signature, all reports on PBT chemicals must be submitted on the more detailed Form R. For all other chemicals, the shorter Form A may only be used if the annual reporting amount is 500 pounds or less and less than 1 million pounds of the chemical was manufactured, processed or otherwise used during the reporting year.


TRI-ME software and other reporting assistance materials are being revised and will be available soon. TRI reports for 2008 are due on July 1, 2009.



EPA’s greenhouse gases findings

smoke-from-stacks_0001-2On April 2, 2007, in Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), the Supreme Court found that greenhouse gases are air pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act. The Court held that the Administrator must determine whether or not emissions of greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles cause or contribute to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare, or whether the science is too uncertain to make a reasoned decision. In making these decisions, the Administrator is required to follow the language of section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act.

The Obama EPA has completed its study of the public health impact of greenhouse gases and is now asking for public comments on its findings. The proposed findings by EPA do not contain any new regulations. However, it is reasonable to expect that new regulations or new laws will come in the future to regulate these greenhouse gases.

In case anyone thinks that EPA has gone wild, this is a reminder that it was the conservative-leaning Supreme Court that ruled two years ago that EPA does have the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act if they are determined to be harmful to public health and welfare.

This is no April Fool’s Joke

On December 5, 2008, the Bush EPA issued final rules alum-tankson several amendments to the SPCC (Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure) regulations. These amendments included exemptions for some operations. These final rules were to be effective February 3, 2009.

On April 1, 2009, the  Obama EPA issued a final rule to postpone the effective date of the December 5 amendments till January 14, 2010. As expected, the Obama White House had ordered all federal agencies to delay and review all last-minute regulatory changes that were made by the out-going Bush Administration. 

The delay in implementing the December 5, 2008 amendments does NOT mean that you do not have to comply with the SPCC if you meet those SPCC thresholds.

Environmental Sustainability Metrics

There is a lot of talk these days about environmental sustainability, global warming, carbon footprints and green house gas. An off shoot of all these “new” environmental issues is the desire to measure them through indices or metrics. In fact, a huge cottage industry has sprung up on developing, refining and re-defining these environmental indices and metrics. If you Google “environmental sustainability index”, you will get over 472,000 web pages! Googling the term “environmental metric” will get you 138,000 pages. Each set of “new” metrics comes with a new glossary of environmental buzz words.

There is the Environmental Sustainability Index of 2005 put out by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy which ranked the United States 45 out 146 – behind Congo and Botswana. Finland was ranked #1 while North Korea was #146. The same group also issued the 2008 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) which ranked the United States at 39 out of 149 – behind Albania and Uruguay. This time Switzerland was ranked first and the last place went to Niger. It is rather curious that the Yale Center that published these rankings stated emphatically in its executive summary that “the EPI’s real value lies not in the numerical rankings but rather in careful analysis of the underlying data and performance metrics.” If that’s true, why publish the numerical rankings at all?

The EPI does have some intrinsic value in that it looks at the two fundamental aspects, namely, environmental health (impact on humans) and ecosystem vitality (impact on ecosystem and climate change). The term “aspects” leads us directly to ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems. One of the key elements of ISO 14001 is the requirement to identify all the “significant environmental aspects” of an organization’s operation. The ISO 14001 standard defines an “environmental aspect” as an “element of an organization’s activities, products, or services that can interact with the environment.” The environmental aspects of a company’s operation can be used as practical indices or metrics for its environmental sustainability.

To identify the environmental aspects, you need to look at all the activities throughout your entire operation that could affect the environment – both positively and negatively. Focus on four areas: material usages, energy consumption, water usages and pollutant releases.

For material usages, look at how much raw material you purchase to make your products and how much of it actually ends up in the products that goes out your door to your customers. If a lot of it ends up as scrap or waste byproducts, you have a negative environmental aspect in that part of your operation. If you recycle a lot of your waste by-products, that would be a positive environmental aspect.

On energy consumption, track your kilowatt-hour usages and natural gas consumption. You can track it in terms of unit consumption per unit of goods produced.

On water usages, you should focus on conservation. For example, look at how much water is consumed per unit of production and how much waste water you generate. Pollutant releases include wastewater discharges, hazardous waste generation and air emissions. This is by far the easiest metric to track since most are regulated through environmental laws. Your performance can be easily monitored through your wastewater treatment plant permits, your air permits and hazardous wastes manifests. Every July 1 of each year, the government requires most industries to provide a full accounting of its emissions to the environment during the previous year under the Toxic Release Inventory (commonly referred to as Form R). The TRI is by no means a perfect metric but it does force industry to reconcile its environmental releases.

How do you go about quantifying these environmental aspects?

Many companies use a matrix that looks at the environmental impact from the standpoint of severity and frequency. You can assign a numerical value of 5 to an activity’s severity rating if its environmental impact is severe. If that activity occurs all the time, you also assign it a value of 5 for frequency. The “overall” environmental risk would be 25 (the product of severity and frequency).

For example, if you emit a hazardous air pollutant through your stack continuously, the overall environmental impact of that emission would have a risk value of 25. In general, if you have an activity that is regulated by law or if it impact human or public health, it should carry a high severity rating. Once you go through all the activities within your operation and have assigned an overall environmental risk to each one, you will have either a table or chart showing you which specific activities you should focus on to reduce your environmental risk.

The best way to do this is to involve your line supervisors and have them go through the process of identifying these environmental aspects. Ownership is the key to success in this endeavor. The more people involved in the process, the more ownership your employees will have and you will end up with a more complete and accurate picture of your environmental aspects. An effective EMS always requires bottom-up involvement in addition to top-down support.

water-spray-3One final note of observation on reducing water consumption at a manufacturing plant: I once worked for a multi-national food processing conglomerate. One of its plants was consuming an inordinate amount of water as it performed its daily plant wash down. The cleanup crew was observed to be hosing every bit of food scrap down the drain with excessive amount of water. This lead to hydraulic overloading of its wastewater treatment plant. As it turned out, the factory had only one single water meter that measured the totally water consumption for the entire plant. The shift foremen had no idea how much water their staff was using on a monthly basis. I was able to convince the plant engineer to install individual water meters at various processing lines and to bill the shift supervisors directly for their actual water consumption. The water wastage dropped significantly as soon the supervisors saw their budgets being charged for actual consumption. Their staff began sweeping the food scrap off the floor before hosing it down. This was a clear case where a metric can be used to hold people accountable for undesirable environmental behavior.