EPA sued over failure to set, update pollution limits

Read the full story from Government Executive.

More than a dozen environmental groups are suing the federal Environmental Protection Agency over its failure to set water pollution limits for some industrial contaminants as well as its reluctance to update decades-old standards for others, arguing that the agency’s inaction amounts to a “free pass to pollute” for hundreds of chemical and fertilizer plants, oil refineries, plastics manufacturers and other industrial facilities.

Toxic chemical releases in 2021 remained below pre-pandemic levels sccording to new Toxics Release Inventory data

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its 2021 Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) National Analysis, which shows that environmental releases of TRI chemicals from facilities covered by the program remained below pre-pandemic levels and releases in 2021 are 10% lower than 2012 releases, even with an 8% increase from 2020 to 2021. Additionally, in 2021, facilities managed 89% of their TRI chemical waste through preferred practices such as recycling, energy recovery and treatment, while reporting that they released 11% of their TRI chemical waste into the environment.

The 2021 TRI National Analysis summarizes TRI chemical waste management activities, including releases, that occurred during calendar year 2021. More than 21,000 facilities submitted reports on 531 chemicals requiring TRI reporting that they released into the environment or otherwise managed as waste. EPA, states and Tribes receive TRI data from facilities in sectors such as manufacturing, mining, electric utilities and commercial hazardous waste management.

“It’s absolutely essential that people have access to information about the chemicals being used in their communities. By making this information publicly available, EPA is advancing its commitment to reduce pollution and give communities tools to help them make better informed decisions to protect people and the planet.”

Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Michal Freedhoff.

The 2021 Analysis features updated visualizations and analytical tools to make data more useful and accessible to communities, including the option to view data by region and watershed. EPA has also updated demographic information in the “Where You Live” mapping tool and in the Chemical Profiles section.

Readers can view facility locations with overlayed demographic data to identify potential exposure to TRI chemical releases in disadvantaged communities. Community groups, policymakers, and other stakeholders can use this data, along with other environmental data, to better understand which communities may experience a disproportionate pollution burden and take action at the local level.

In addition, this year the TRI National Analysis Sector Profiles highlights the plastic products manufacturing sector alongside the standard profiles for electric utilities, chemical manufacturing, federal facilities, and metal mining. This allows readers to learn about releases and waste management of TRI chemicals, as well as greenhouse gas emissions, from facilities in these sectors.

EPA is holding a public webinar on March 28, 2023, to give an overview of the 2021 TRI National Analysis. Register for the webinar.

Notable Trend in 2021

The National Analysis shows a 24% increase in the number of new pollution reduction activities facilities initiated from 2020 to 2021 — a strong rebound after the decrease seen from 2019 to 2020. These activities include facilities implementing strategies like replacing TRI chemicals with less hazardous alternatives or reducing the amount of scrap they produce. Through both existing programs and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, EPA offers grant opportunities to state and Tribal technical assistance providers to help prevent pollution.

Industry professionals can also look at TRI reporting on pollution prevention to learn about best practices implemented at facilities.

Ethylene Oxide Reporting

TRI reporting also shows a 45% decrease in ethylene oxide releases from 2012 to 2021, driven by decreased air emissions. Although there was a 15% increase in releases compared to 2020, quantities of ethylene oxide released in 2021 are lower than pre-pandemic quantities from 2019. EPA also expanded reporting requirements for ethylene oxide and other chemicals to include additional facilities. Reporting from these facilities will appear for the first time in next year’s National Analyses.

PFAS Reporting

For the second time, the TRI National Analysis includes reporting on perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) following the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. For Reporting Year 2021, 176 PFAS were reportable to TRI. Facilities reported managing 1.3 million pounds of these chemicals as waste. This is an increase from the 800,000 pounds in 2020 and is largely due to reporting on one PFAS, perfluorooctyl iodide, which EPA began requiring facilities to report in 2021. Most of the facilities that manage PFAS operate in the chemical manufacturing and hazardous waste management sectors. The hazardous waste management sector accounted for roughly 80% of the 108,334 pounds of PFAS released into the environment, primarily to regulated landfills.

Last December, EPA proposed a rule that would improve reporting on PFAS to TRI by eliminating an exemption that allows facilities to avoid reporting information on PFAS when those chemicals are used in small, or de minimis, concentrations. Because PFAS are used at low concentrations in many products, this rule would ensure covered industry sectors and federal facilities that make or use TRI-listed PFAS will no longer be able to rely on the de minimis exemption to avoid disclosing their PFAS releases and other waste management quantities for these chemicals.

A Congress member’s staff sought help from EPA’s East Palestine hotline after being stonewalled by state officials

Read the full story at Grid.

Call logs of train derailment hotline reveal confusion and unheeded early warnings from scientists about dioxin risk.

EPA watchdog knocks Trump officials over weakened assessment for toxic chemical

Read the full story in The Hill.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s internal watchdog on Tuesday knocked a Trump-era move in which political officials weakened an assessment on the dangers of a toxic chemical. 

The Office of the EPA’s Inspector General issued a new report that stated political appointees used a last-minute disagreement to take the “unprecedented” step of listing a range of values for the toxicity of a chemical known as PFBS instead of a definitive toxicity level.

It also said that anyone in charge of cleaning up PFBS contamination could have used a lower estimation of the chemical’s toxicity level as a result. It said that this could have caused the use of “less costly, but possibly insufficient” actions to mitigate a contamination problem.

However, the report notes that the assessment in question was only in effect for a few weeks, as it was later revoked by the Biden administration. 

Overall, the watchdog states that the move by political officials delayed the release of a toxicity assessment for PFBS and weakened the agency’s “commitments to scientific integrity and information quality.”

EPA Request for information: Inflation Reduction Act Environmental and Climate Justice Program

On February 9, 2023, EPA issued a Request for Information for public input on new and innovative strategies and approaches for competition design, community engagement, equitable distribution of financial resources, grantee eligibility for funding, capacity-building and outreach, and technical assistance.

EPA is seeking public input on multiple aspects of the ECJ Program including, but not limited to:

  • ECJ Program Design
  • Types of Projects to Fund
  • Reducing Application Barriers
  • Reporting and Oversight
  • Technical Assistance

Responses must be received by March 17, 2023.

She grew up under water boil advisories in Jackson. Now she’s bringing environmental justice to the EPA.

Read the full story at the 19th.

In her community outreach role for the EPA, Rosemary Enobakhare is working to prioritize communities in need while “shining a light” on issues affecting them most.

Environmental advocates express frustration over Biden regulation delays

Read the full story at The Hill.

Environmental advocates, generally strong supporters of the Biden administration, are expressing frustration at what they describe as too-lengthy delays for important regulations.  

Their frustration follows the administration’s recent release of its semiannual regulatory agenda, which pushed back timelines for a range of rules governing planet-warming emissions and other pollution coming from power plants, drinking water limits for toxic chemicals and stipulations for fossil fuel leasing on public lands.  

Depleted under Trump, a ‘traumatized’ EPA struggles with its mission

Read the full story from the New York Times.

The nation’s top environmental agency is still reeling from the exodus of more than 1,200 scientists and policy experts during the Trump administration. The chemicals chief said her staff can’t keep up with a mounting workload. The enforcement unit is prosecuting fewer polluters than at any time in the past two decades.

And now this: the stressed-out, stretched-thin Environmental Protection Agency is scrambling to write about a half dozen highly complex rules and regulations that are central to President Biden’s climate goals.

The new rules have to be enacted within the next 18 months — lightning speed in the regulatory world — or they could be overturned by a new Congress or administration.

The regulations are already delayed months past E.P.A.’s own self-imposed deadlines, raising concerns from supporters in Congress and environmental groups. “It’s very fair to say we are not where we hoped we’d be,” said Miles Keogh, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents most state and local air regulators.

As staffing at the E.P.A. thinned out, the workload only increased, both the agency and its critics say.

Tracking wildfire smoke: EPA researchers make better maps with drones

Read the full story from U.S. EPA.

Wildfires cause dangerous flames, inescapable gray soot, and clouds of smoke that can travel hundreds of miles. Wildfire smoke is a mix of gases and fine particles from everything burned by fire, including vegetation, buildings, and other materials. Breathing it in can cause coughing, trouble breathing normally, stinging eyes, and a scratchy throat – or worse. To help protect communities affected by wildfire smoke, EPA researchers take air quality measurements to better understand the chemistry of smoke and improve models used to predict where smoke from wildland fires will travel. Being in the path of the smoke plume is dangerous for everyone – including firefighters and the scientists who study the effects and spread of wildfire smoke.

Airplanes and helicopters are often used to track fires, but they’re costly and can’t fly in poor conditions. Flying over huge forest fires is also risky for the pilots and crew.

That’s where using an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) can help. A UAS can fly without having a person present in or on the device. Also known as drones, they are an emerging research tool that may provide a safer, more cost-effective, and more comprehensive approach than traditional, ground-based research methods. Drones can be equipped with cameras and sensors and zip through spots that helicopters can’t safely access.

EPA researchers have developed an air emission sensor and sampling instrument to use on a UAS and in other applications. The shoebox-sized equipment is called the Kolibri, which means “hummingbird” in several languages. It’s a lightweight system that weighs up to eight pounds and can record and send data in real time.

Strategic Research Action Plans Fiscal Years 2023-2026

Research in EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) provides solutions needed to meet today’s complex environmental and human health challenges. Research is organized around six highly integrated and transdisciplinary national research programs that are closely aligned with the Agency’s strategic goals and cross-Agency strategies. Each program is guided by a Strategic Research Action Plan (StRAP) developed by EPA with input from its many internal and external partners and stakeholders.

Read each program’s StRAP