Monthly Archives: September 2009

Just exactly what is “used oil”?

drum storage 4Used oil is defined as any petroleum-based or synthetic oil that has been USED. When you use oil, impurities or contaminants such as dirt, metal scrapings, water or other chemicals can get mixed in with the oil. such impurities may make your oil less effective as a lubricant for example.

Some examples of used oil are engine oil, transmission fluid, refrigeration oil, compressor oils, metal working fluids and oils, laminating oils, electrical insulating oil, industrial process oils, etc. Waste oil is not used oil. Oil that has been spilled is not classified as used oil because it has not been used for its original purpose.

You should recycle your used oil by re-conditioning, re-refining or burning it for energy recovery. EPA has specific management standards that you should comply with if you handle used oil in your business. You should label all containers and tanks as “Used Oil”. Keep these containers in good condition. You are not permitted to store used oil in lagoons, pits or surface impoundment.

If your used oil is mixed with hazardous waste, you may have to dispose of the mixture as hazardous waste. So make sure you store your used oil away from other hazardous wastes.

Always check with your state agencies because they may have more stringent used oil regulations.

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Exclusion vs exemption

girl thinking- iStockWhen you come across terms such as “excluded” or “exempt” in federal or state regulations, have you wondered what do they mean exactly?

Something is being excluded from being regulated by a specific law because it is being regulated elsewhere by a different law.  For example, nuclear wastes are excluded from the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) because they are regulated by the Nuclear regulatory Commission. Domestic sewage is excluded from RCRA because it si covered under the Clean Water Act.

Exemption is a bit different. Something is exempt from being regulated or it is being less regulated because it meets certain conditions. For example, used oil is exempt from being regulated FULLY as a hazardous waste if it is being recycled. Universal wastes is another example. they are basically hazardous wastes but they are exempt from the full force of RCRA if they are recycled.

Resist the temptation ……don’t do it!

Has this ever  happened to you?

angry manAfter you tell your VP of production that he cannot install his new equipment because he has to get a pre-construction permit first, he tells you that it is unacceptable and he threatens to call the state senator or the governor. He wants to “bypass” this lengthy permitting process because customers are clamoring for his products. He has orders to fill. He has to make his numbers. 

Situations like this happen a lot more frequently than you think. The production folks somehow get the idea that the sole purpose of the regulatory agency is to assist them in meeting their production quotas. To the contrary, the agency people are there to implement state and federal laws that say you cannot install any new air emission sources without first getting a pre-construction permit. That’s the law of the land.

If your VP calls up the governor’s office and tries to do an end run on the permitting process, two things will likely happen. First, he will get turned down.  The governor’s office will most likely tell your VP to pay an extra fee to get on the “fast permitting track”. Most agencies have that program. He will still have to wait and get his construction permit.

Second, you will have made an enemy in the permit writer once he  finds out that you try to bypass him. Put yourself in the permit writer’s shoes. How would you feel if some one goes over your head to your boss?

The best way to get a permit in a timely manner is to be upfront with the agency. Provide everything the agency needs to process your permit in a timely manner. Try to do it right the first time. Do not play cat-and-mouse game with the permit writer. Be courteous. Be professional. Remember – the permit is simply doing his job – just like you are. He is not your enemy. But if you treat him like one, he will become one. 

On last point. If you hire a consultant to get a permit for you, make sure that the consultant has a good working relationship with the agency and your consultant gets along with the permit writer. You do NOT want an arrogant  consultant representing you before the agency.

When do you need an air permit?

Oh No...This is a question asked by many people in industry. In almost every state, you are required to obtain a state operating permit if you have an air emission source unlessthat source is specifically exempt by state regulations. An emission source would be any equipment or facility that is capable of emitting air contaminants to the atmosphere.

Different states have different exemptions. For example, in Illinois you are exempt from getting an air permit if your coating operation uses less than 5000 gallons of coating material including thinners (Illinois Title 35, subtitle B, chapter I, section 201.146(g)). If you have a print shop and you use less than 750 gallons of paint a year, you are exempt as well.

In southern California, the Air Quality Management District (AQMD)’s Rule 219 lists all the emission sources that are exempt from getting an air permit. For example, Rule 219(h) exempts printing operations that emit less than 3 lbs of VOC per day or 66 lbs of VOC per calendar month.

By the way, in every state and under the Clean Air Act, you must obtain a construction permit before you are allowed to install any air emission sources.  Sometime they call it a pre-construction permit. If you have purchased a new piece of equipment that is an emission source, you are not allowed to bolt it to the ground or wire it up. You can unwrap it and have it sit on the shop floor while you are waiting for your construction permit to be approved. Many companies have been fined by EPA for installing equipment without a construction permit. The agency may even order you to uninstall the emission source and pay a fine and apply for a construction permit.

This is often a bone of contention between the environmental staff (you) and production staff (them). The production folks may take 3 years to decide on a new piece of equipment. Once they have purchased it, they want to install it and run it right away. This is where you say to them: “No, you can’t do that. We have to apply for a construction permit first and that may take a month or two.”  If they were smart, they would have told you about the new equipment a month earlier before they take delivery of it so that you could start the permitting process.

That would be the ideal situation.

If you need the construction permit in a big hurry, you can pay the agency a fee to get on the “fast track”.

What is your potential to emit?

factory floor1The term “Potential to Emit” under the Clean Air Act is defined under 40 CFR 70.2 as “the maximum capacity of a stationary source to emit any air pollutant under its physical and operational design”. You use the PTE to calculate your expected air emission when you are applying for a permit.

For example, if you have a piece of equipment that is designed to operate 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, you will have to calculate your air emission based on these maximum of hours. The agency is going to assume you will be running that equipment 24/7 every day of the week.  Now if the equipment requires an hour of down time for maintenance, you can then use 23 hours per day for your PTE.

If you have a paint booth and you need so many hours per day to switch paints and set it up, you can deduct those hours when calculating your PTE. These are operational designs.

If you voluntarily restrict your operating hours in order to apply for a FESOP (federally enforceable state operating permit), you can use your reduced hours to calculate your PTE. In this case, your voluntary restriction on your operating hours is enforceable by EPA (hence federally enforceable). If you exceed those hours, EPA can take enforcement action against you even though you are operating under a state operating permit. So be very careful when you apply for a FESOP. Make sure you can meet your own operational restrictions.

Surviving in lean times for environmental managers

istock_000002766388xsmallI came across an excellent articleon this topic written by my friend Richard MacLean. It was published in the 2009 summer issue of The Environmental Quality Management Journal. Richard touched on a number of corporate staff reduction issues and offered some common sense recommendations. It is a must read for all environmental managers.

The best part of his article was hisCase Study. Here is a recap. A corporate EHS director was facing an order from senior management to cut staff by 25% across the board. The across the board cut is a somewhat cowardly way of doing it as Richard intimated and I fully concur. The director – with Richard’s help – was able to make a case for a LARGER budget to an influential corporate attorney and garnered her support. She went to bat for the director before the management board and needless to say there was a happy ending.

As someone who has worked in the corporate world for many years, I can attest to the wisdom in the approach described in the Case Study. As an environmental manager, you ALWAYS want to have the corporate legal department on your side. ALWAYS.

It is really not that hard to do even though you may not have a Harvard law degree. Why? Because environmental managers deal with liability every day. Attorneys understand liability. Senior management fear liability. So if you have those attroneys on your side, senior management will start to fear you too.

To be successful, you have to do your homework and be MORE knowledgable about environmental issues than your attorney colleagues. That’s not too hard to do either because many corporate attorneys are not environmental attorneys. But they do know liability! It is their job to minimize corporate liability. So get to know these folks. Do not be afraid of them. Do not let them treat you like a “janitor in a suit”. Take them to the plants. Keep them updated on any on-going environmental issues.

When you are traveling with them, stay at the SAME expensive hotels as they do. Hell – If that hotel is good enough for them, it is good enough for you. The reason you must stay at the same hotel is that it will give you more time to offer them environmental advice. Some call it bonding. That was my excuse and my boss (a vice president) never once questioned my expensive hotel bills. Take them out to expensive dinners on your expense account. They love that. A side note: First year law school teaches law students how to spot expensive restaurants in any town.

In more ways than one, survival in the corporate world is like jungle survival. If you look and act weak, you will be eaten or cut. Try to maintain a certain level of mystique about your work. The Vice President of Manufacturing does not need to know or understand everything you do. No more than you need to know in excruciating details how he makes his widget. All he has to know is that you are helping his plants stay in compliance or save money AND you are the go-to person when something bad happens with the environmental agencies or when he needs an environmental permit in a hurry.

A true story: A newly promoted vice president once asked me to give him an engineering book on waste water treatment design because he wanted to be an expert on it overnight. Those were his exact words and he was a fool. And he did make a fool of himself the next day at the management board meeting. He had one of those MBA degrees.

On a slightly political note: My friend Richard stated in his article that “the George W. Bush era only deepened the assumption that environmental concerns were “under control” and represented a low business priority”. There are no truer words written than those. But then Richard ended his otherwise excellent article by saying that the (regulatory) “demands will only become more difficult in the future, especially if the Obama administration fulfills its promise to enact additional environmental mandates.”

Well – could it be that the Obama administration is simply trying to reverse 8 long years of neglect and delusion? What do you think, readers?