Regulation

New GAO report on drinking water

Drinking Water: EPA Program to Protect Underground Sources from Injection of Fluids Associated with Oil and Gas Production Needs Improvement, GAO-14-555: Published: Jun 27, 2014. Publicly Released: Jul 28, 2014.

What GAO Found

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) role in the Underground Injection Control (UIC) class II program is to oversee and enforce fluid injection into wells associated with oil and gas production, known as class II wells. EPA has approved 39 states to manage their own class II programs, and EPA regions are responsible for managing the programs in remaining states. EPA regions and states use a mix of resources to manage class II programs, including EPA grant funding, state funding, and federal and state personnel. EPA’s UIC grant funding has remained at about $11 million for at least the past 10 years.

Class II programs from the eight selected states that GAO reviewed have safeguards, such as construction requirements for injection wells, to protect against contamination of underground sources of drinking water. Programs in two states are managed by EPA and rely on EPA safeguards, while the remaining six programs are state managed and have their own safeguards that EPA deemed effective at preventing such contamination. Overall, EPA and state program officials reported that these safeguards are protective, resulting in few known incidents of contamination. However, the safeguards do not address emerging underground injection risks, such as seismic activity and overly high pressure in geologic formations leading to surface outbreaks of fluids. EPA officials said they manage these risks on a state-by-state basis, and some states have additional safeguards to address them. EPA has tasked its UIC Technical Workgroup with reviewing induced seismicity associated with injection wells and possible safeguards, but it does not plan reviews of other emerging risks, such as high pressure in formations. Without reviews of these risks, class II programs may not have the information necessary to fully protect underground drinking water.

EPA is not consistently conducting two key oversight and enforcement activities for class II programs. First, EPA does not consistently conduct annual on-site state program evaluations as directed in guidance because, according to some EPA officials, the agency does not have the resources to do so. The agency has not, however, evaluated its guidance, which dates from the 1980s, to determine which activities are essential for effective oversight. Without such an evaluation, EPA does not know what oversight activities are most effective or necessary. Second, to enforce state class II requirements, under current agency regulations, EPA must approve and incorporate state program requirements and any changes to them into federal regulations through a rulemaking. EPA has not incorporated all such requirements and changes into federal regulations and, as a result, may not be able to enforce all state program requirements. Some EPA officials said that incorporating changes into federal regulations through the rulemaking process is burdensome and time-consuming. EPA has not, however, evaluated alternatives for a more efficient process to approve and incorporate state program requirements and changes into regulations. Without incorporating these requirements and changes into federal regulations, EPA cannot enforce them if a state does not take action or requests EPA’s assistance to take action.

EPA collects a large amount of data on each class II program, but the data are not reliable (i.e., complete or comparable) to report at a national level. EPA is working on a national database that will allow it to report UIC results at a national level, but the database will not be fully implemented for at least 2 to 3 years.

Why GAO Did This Study

Every day in the United States, at least 2 billion gallons of fluids are injected into over 172,000 wells to enhance oil and gas production, or to dispose of fluids brought to the surface during the extraction of oil and gas resources. These wells are subject to regulation to protect drinking water sources under EPA’s UIC class II program and approved state class II programs. Because much of the population relies on underground sources for drinking water, these wells have raised concerns about the safety of the nation’s drinking water.

GAO was asked to review EPA’s oversight of the class II program. This report examines (1) EPA and state roles, responsibilities, and resources for the program, (2) safeguards to protect drinking water, (3) EPA oversight and enforcement of class II programs, and (4) the reliability of program data for reporting. GAO reviewed federal and state laws and regulations. GAO interviewed EPA and state officials and reviewed class II programs from a nongeneralizable sample of eight states selected on the basis of shale oil and gas regions and the highest number of class II wells.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that, among other things, EPA review emerging risks related to class II program safeguards and ensure that it can effectively oversee and efficiently enforce class II programs. EPA agreed with all but the enforcement recommendation. GAO continues to believe that EPA should take actions to ensure it can enforce state class II regulations, as discussed in the report.

For more information, contact Jose A. Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.

States Against E.P.A. Rule on Carbon Pollution Would Gain, Study Finds

Read the full story in the New York Times.

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma are among the most vocal Republican skeptics of the science that burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming, but a new study to be released Thursday found that their states would be among the biggest economic winners under a regulation proposed by President Obama to fight climate change.

The study, conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Rhodium Group, both research organizations, concluded that the regulation would cut demand for electricity from coal — the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution — but create robust new demand for natural gas, which has just half the carbon footprint of coal. It found that the demand for natural gas would, in turn, drive job creation, corporate revenue and government royalties in states that produce it, which, in addition to Oklahoma and Texas, include Arkansas and Louisiana.

Under Water: The EPA’s Struggle to Combat Pollution

Read the full story at ProPublica.

For years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been frustrated in its efforts to pursue hundreds of cases of water pollution — repeatedly tied up in legal fights about exactly what bodies of water it has the authority to monitor and protect. Efforts in Congress to clarify the EPA’s powers have been defeated. And two Supreme Court decisions have done little to decide the question.

Most recently, in April, the EPA itself declared what waters were subject to its oversight — developing a joint rule with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that sought to end the debate and empower the EPA to press hundreds of enforcements actions against alleged polluters across the country.

The new rule, for instance, explicitly defines several terms — tributary, floodplain and wetland — and makes clear that those waters are subject to its authority.

But the EPA’s effort has been met with immense opposition from farmers who say the agency is overreaching. An expansive online campaign organized and financed by the American Farm Bureau Federation has asserted that the new rule will give the EPA jurisdiction over farmers’ irrigation ditches, watering ponds and even puddles of rain.

EPA Proposes Updates to Reduce Methane, Other Harmful Pollution from New Landfills

As part of the President’s Climate Action Plan – Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing updates to its air standards for new municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills. These updates would require certain landfills to capture additional landfill gas, which would reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and help further reduce pollution that harms public health. The agency also is seeking broad public feedback on how and whether to update guidelines for existing landfills.

Non-hazardous waste from homes, business and institutions ends up in municipal solid waste landfills, where it decomposes and breaks down to form landfill gas, which includes carbon dioxide, a number of air toxics and methane. Methane has a global warming potential 25 times that of carbon dioxide.

“Reducing methane emissions is a powerful way to take action on climate change,” said Administrator Gina McCarthy. “This latest step from the President’s methane strategy builds on our progress to date and takes steps to cut emissions from landfills through common-sense standards.”

Today’s proposal would require new MSW landfills subject to the rule to begin controlling landfill gas at a lower emissions threshold than currently required. Under the proposal, landfills would capture two-thirds of their methane and air toxics emissions by 2023 – 13 percent more than required under current rules. EPA estimates the net nationwide annual costs of complying with the additional requirements in the proposed rule would be $471,000 in 2023.

Today, methane accounts for nearly 9 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane in the country, accounting for 18 percent of methane emissions in 2012. Regulatory and voluntary programs, including the agency’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program, have helped reduce emissions from landfills by 30 percent from 1990 to 2012. However, without additional actions, methane emissions are projected to increase through 2030.

Also today, EPA issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) seeking broad public input on whether and how to update current emissions guidelines for existing landfills to further reduce their emissions, including methane. The agency is considering updating those guidelines based on a several factors, including significant changes that have occurred in the landfill industry since the original guidelines were issued in 1996. Nearly 1,000 MSW landfills in the U.S. currently are subject to either the 1996 emission guidelines for existing landfills or the 1996 NSPS for new landfills.

EPA will take public comment on the proposed performance standards updates and the ANPR for 60 days after they are published in the Federal Register. If a hearing is requested, it will be held on August 12, 2014 in Washington, D.C.

Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014 sets 85% carbon emissions reduction goal by 2050, strongest in the United States

Read the full post in the Climate Law Blog.

On June 19, 2014 both houses of the Rhode Island legislature passed the Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014, which addresses climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience, and establishes greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets of 10% below 1990 levels by 2020, 45% by 2035, and 85% by 2050. The bill also provides many guidelines for meeting these targets, such as a focus on improving efficiency in order to reduce its need for “energy from out-of-state sources.” It also calls for “intentional community effort that networks existing capacities in state agencies” and declares a need to establish “new capacities, purposes, goals, indicators, and reporting requirements for climate change mitigation and adaptation in public agencies.” The Resilient RI Act was supported by Governor Lincoln Chafee, a number of state agencies, and academic institutions including Brown University.

Without Much Straining, Minnesota Reins In Its Utilities’ Carbon Emissions

Read the full story in the New York Times.

When city leaders and state legislators agreed last year to fund roughly half the $1 billion cost of a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings, they attached the usual strings for such projects: It had to be architecturally iconic, employ steel made from Minnesota iron ore and offer at least a few cheap seats.

It also had to be energy efficient, from lighting to building materials to the sources of its power. In this state, that is not unusual. Minnesota has mandated sharp reductions in energy use in every new state-financed building for more than a decade, and in renovated buildings for more than five years.

While other states and critics of the Obama administration have howled about complying with its proposed rule slashing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, Minnesota has been reining in its utilities’ carbon pollution for decades — not painlessly, but without breaking much of a sweat, either.

Today, Minnesota gets more of its power from wind than all but four other states, and the amount of coal burned at power plants has dropped by more than a third from its 2003 peak. And while electricity consumption per person has been slowly falling nationwide for the last five years, Minnesota’s decline is steeper than the average.

Wasting water in California will now cost you $500

Read the full story at Grist.

Here’s a list of things that could now get you fined up to $500 a day in California, where a multi-year drought is sucking reservoirs and snowpacks dry:

  • Spraying so much water on your lawn or garden that excess water flows onto non-planted areas, walkways, parking lots, or neighboring property.
  • Washing your car with a hose that doesn’t have an automatic shut-off device.
  • Spraying water on a driveway, a sidewalk, asphalt, or any other hard surface.
  • Using fresh water in a water fountain — unless the water recirculates.

Those stern emergency regulations were adopted Tuesday by a unanimous vote of the State Water Resources Control Board – part of an effort to crack down on the profligate use of water during critically lean times.

EPA’s Clean Power Plan: States’ Tools for Reducing Costs & Increasing Benefits to Consumers

Download the document.

States are well positioned to implement the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, according to a new study conducted by Analysis Group Senior Advisor Susan Tierney and Vice Presidents Paul Hibbard and Andrea Okie. The report, “EPA’s Clean Power Plan: States’ Tools for Reducing Costs & Increasing Benefits to Consumers,”is based on a careful analysis of states that already have experience regulating carbon pollution. It finds that those states’ economies have seen net increases in economic output and jobs. “Several states have already put a price on carbon dioxide pollution, and their economies are doing fine. The bottom line: the economy can handle – and actually benefit from – these rules,” said Dr. Tierney.

The EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan would regulate carbon emissions from existing fossil-fueled power plants using EPA’s existing authority under the Clean Air Act. The draft rules, due to be finalized next year, allow a variety of market-based and other approaches states can choose from to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

The Analysis Group team analyzed the carbon-control rules already in place in several states to see what insights they might hold for the success of the national rule. The report was based on states’ existing track records, rather than projecting costs and benefits that might be expected under the Clean Power Plan. The report, funded by the Energy Foundation and the Merck Family Fund, was released at the summer conference of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) in Dallas, Texas.

EU — Higher recycling targets to drive transition to a Circular Economy with new jobs and sustainable growth

Read the press release from the European Commission.

Today the Commission adopted proposals to turn Europe into a more circular economy and boost recycling in the Member States. Achieving the new waste targets would create 580 000 new jobs compared to today’s performance, while making Europe more competitive and reducing demand for costly scarce resources. The proposals also mean lower environmental impacts and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The plans ask Europeans to recycle 70 % of municipal waste and 80 % of packaging waste by 2030, and ban burying recyclable waste in landfill as of 2025. A target is also included for reducing marine litter along with food waste reduction objectives…

See also:

  • Questions and answers on the Commission Communication “Towards a Circular Economy” MEMO/14/450
  • Environment/industrial policy: Live and work in better buildings IP/14/764
  • Questions and answers on sustainable buildings MEMO/14/451
  • Employment: Commission outlines measures to maximise job opportunities in the green economy IP/14/765MEMO/14/446
  • Green Action Plan for SMEs: turning environmental challenges into business opportunities IP/14/766
  • Green Action Plan for SMEs: Combining a lasting recovery with a resource-efficient European economy MEMO/14/452

Further information:

Use EPA’s ECHO tool to discover which companies in your community comply with environmental regulations

From the ECHO web site.

ECHO provides integrated compliance and enforcement information for about 800,000 regulated facilities nationwide. Its features range from simple to advanced, catering to users who want to conduct broad analyses as well as those who need to perform complex searches. Specifically, ECHO allows you to find and download information on:

  • Permit data
  • Inspection dates and findings
  • Violations
  • Enforcement actions
  • Penalties assessed

EPA designed ECHO to help you quickly conduct specific tasks. Tasks are grouped into four primary categories, each of which you can access by clicking on a tile on the home page:

  • Search Community — perform a location-based quick search. Enter an address, city, state, or zip code to retrieve a list of regulated facilities within the specific geographic area. Summary-level data are presented initially, but detailed facility data are only a click away.
  • Explore Facilities – conduct a targeted search for facilities based on detailed criteria such as type of search (e.g., enforcement and compliance activity). Summary data are initially presented in a default view that you can further customize. You can also download data sets and analyze detailed facility reports. Additionally, you can search enforcement and compliance data or find EPA enforcement cases.
  • Create Maps – access data visualization tools that allow you to view and interact with published maps or create your own.
  • Analyze Trends – display  trends in compliance and enforcement data through dashboards, maps, and charts, as well as access other EPA tools designed to identify pollution sources, including:
    • Greenhouse gases
    • Wastewater discharges
    • Toxic chemicals

To learn more about finding compliance information using ECHO, take a look at the advanced searching guide, Become an ECHO Pro.