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January 2010 Archives

January 7, 2010

EPA States that Plan to Permit Natural Gas Drilling in New York City Watershed Poses Risks to Water Supply

On December 31, 2009, EPA stated that a draft state plan to permit natural gas drilling within the watershed that supplies drinking water to New York City poses risks to the “long-term maintenance of a high-quality unfiltered water supply” for 9 million people. EPA expressed its concerns in written comments to DEC, which in September 2009 issued a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for natural gas drilling by hydrologic fracturing and other extraction methods in the Marcellus Shale formation.

The Marcellus formation extends from Ohio and West Virginia northeast into Pennsylvania and southern New York , where it lies beneath the entire Catskill-Delaware system of the City’s watershed. The formation’s 18,700 square miles in New York include all 1,585 square miles of the Catskill-Delaware system.

While acknowledging mitigation proposals in the state’s draft, EPA still expressed “serious reservations” on whether gas drilling would be consistent with the watershed protection regimen that allows the City to avoid costly construction of a filtration plant.

In July 2007, EPA gave the City a 10-year extension to a long-standing filtration avoidance determination based on agreements reached with the state, the City, and upstate watershed towns. EPA further expressed concerns about drilling risks to water quality throughout the state, not just in New York City’s drinking water. Urging better water quality oversight, EPA renewed its 2008 offer to join with the state and City in an enhanced, coordinated approach for the watershed. The agency also urged the state to consult with Indian Nations in New York, noting that “representatives of virtually every Indian Nation expressed serious opposition to hydrofracturing” at a November 2009 annual meeting with EPA. In addition to the coordinated federal-state- city oversight process, EPA also recommended that DEC join with the state Health Department in evaluating drilling impacts.

January 11, 2010

EPA Proposes New Health Standards for Ground Level Ozone

On January 6, 2010, EPA proposed strict health standards for smog. Smog, also known as ground-level ozone, is linked to a number of serious health problems, ranging from aggravation of asthma to increased risk of premature death in people with heart or lung disease.

The agency is proposing to replace the standards set by the previous administration, which many believe were not protective enough of human health. The agency is proposing to set the “primary” standard, which protects public health, at a level between 0.060 and 0.070 parts per million (ppm) measured over eight hours. Children are at the greatest risk from ozone, because their lungs are still developing, they are most likely to be active outdoors, and they are more likely than adults to have asthma. Adults with asthma or other lung diseases, and older adults are also sensitive to ozone. EPA is also proposing to set a separate “secondary” standard to protect the environment, especially plants and trees. This seasonal standard is designed to protect plants and trees from damage occurring from repeated ozone exposure, which can reduce tree growth, damage leaves, and increase susceptibility to disease.

In September 2009, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced that EPA would reconsider the existing ozone standards, set at 0.075 ppm in March 2008. As part of its reconsideration, EPA conducted a review of the science that guided the 2008 decision, including more than 1,700 scientific studies and public comments from the 2008 rulemaking process. EPA also reviewed the findings of the independent Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, which recommended standards in the ranges proposed.

Depending on the level of the final standard, the proposal would yield health benefits between $13 billion and $100 billion. This proposal would help reduce premature deaths, aggravated asthma, bronchitis cases, hospital and emergency room visits and days when people miss work or school because of ozone-related symptoms. Estimated costs of implementing this proposal range from $19 billion to $90 billion.

Ground-level ozone forms when emissions from industrial facilities, power plants, landfills and motor vehicles react in the sun. EPA will take public comment for 60 days after the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register.

January 15, 2010

Upstate Hospitals Agree to Stop Discharging Pharmaceutical Waste Into New York City Watershed

On January 12, 1009, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced that five upstate New York hospitals and nursing homes agreed to end the practice of discharging pharmaceutical waste in the watershed that supplies drinking water to New York City.

The agreements resolve investigations by the Inspector General for the watershed into the facilities’ pharmaceutical waste management practices. The Inspector General position was created in 1998 as part of a watershed protection agreement reached with EPA.

The investigations, which began in January 2009 with letters to 15 health care institutions within the watershed, sought to ensure compliance with state law requirements implementing the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Water Pollution Control Act.

The settlements cover O’Connor Hospital and Countryside Care Center, both in Delhi, New York; Margaretville Memorial Hospital and Mountainside Residential Care Center, both in Margaretville, New York; and Putnam Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, in Holmes, New York. Delhi and Margaretville are within the watershed’s Catskill-Delaware system west of the Hudson River, while Holmes is located within the smaller and more densely populated Croton system east of the Hudson.

According to the Attorney General’s office, to date, only trace amounts of pharmaceuticals have been found in city drinking water. According to the settlement documents, low concentrations of some pharmaceuticals have been found in watershed streams, and even lower concentrations of fewer pharmaceuticals have been found in reservoirs. The settlements address the practice of flushing unused pharmaceuticals — including painkillers, antibiotics, antidepressants, hormones, and other waste drugs — into waterways feeding the city water supply.

Under the settlements, the health care institutions must immediately cease all discharges of pharmaceutical wastes into the watershed and instead use authorized waste management facilities capable of safely treating the pharmaceuticals. In addition to meeting regulatory requirements, the institutions must also set up pharmaceutical take-back programs for collection and proper disposal of pharmaceutical wastes from area households. The settlements also include payment of fines, fees, and investigative costs for RCRA and CWA violations, ranging from $3,500 to $12,000.

Included in the waste management protocols under the settlements are not only unused medications, but chemicals and wastes from diagnostic procedures and such “universal wastes” as batteries and fluorescent light bulbs.

January 20, 2010

Public Service Commission Approves $20.9 Million in Funding for Renewable Portfolio Standard Program

On January 19, 2010, the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) approved approximately $20.9 million in interim funding for the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) program for the period January 1, 2010 through June 30, 2010. The money will fund incentives for solar photovoltaic (solar PV), anaerobic digester, fuel cell and small wind installations under the Customer-Sited Tier (CST) of the RPS program. Funding authorization for eligible new projects under the CST expired on December 31, 2009.

In addition to approving the interim funding, the PSC re-authorized the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to solicit new applications for RPS funding, to be allocated as follows: $12 million for solar PV; $6 million for anaerobic digester biogas systems; $1.8 million for fuel cells; $0.3 million for small wind installations; and $0.83 million for program administration, evaluation, measurement and verification.

As part of the mid-course review of the RPS program, the PSC in December 2009 expanded the RPS goal to increase the proportion of renewable generation to 30% of projected electricity consumption by 2015, authorized a renewable resource solicitation of approximately $200 million, provided new funding up to $30 million annually for larger-scale downstate solar PV, anaerobic digester and fuel cell projects to assure a level of geographic balance in the RPS program, and among other things, requested staff of the Department of Public Service to report back on Customer-Sited Tier initiatives to be considered in early 2010.

January 22, 2010

Cement Manufacturer With Plant in New York Agrees to Comprehensive Clean Air Act Settlement

On January 21, 2010, DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis announced a comprehensive Clean Air Act settlement with Lafarge North America, Inc. and two of its subsidiaries that is expected to reduce harmful air emissions by more than 35,000 tons per year from 13 cement plants in 13 states, including the company’s facility in Ravena, which is located in Albany County.

A consent decree filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois will require Lafarge and its affiliates to install and implement control technologies to reduce emissions at their cement plants at an expected cost of up to $170 million. Lafarge’s actions under the agreement are expected to reduce annual emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) by more than 9,000 tons and sulfur dioxide (SO2) by more than 26,000 tons per year. The U.S. Department of Justice, EPA, New York and 12 other states joined in the settlement.

To meet their obligations under EPA’s New Source Review program under the consent decree, Lafarge and its affiliates will significantly cut emissions from cement kilns within their system by installing modern emission controls on a number of kilns that previously had little or no controls for NOx and SO2.

For the years 2004-06, the plant annually emitted an average of 5,218 tons of NOx and 11,792 tons of SO2. Under the settlement, the Ravena plant will have to further control emissions or have to be rebuilt as a modern, lower-emitting plant. After implementation of the settlement, Lafarge’s annual emissions will be approximately 3,250 for NOx and 2,000 for SO2.

Lafarge and its affiliates will pay a $5,075,000 civil penalty, with approximately two-thirds going to the federal government and one-third to the states. New York’s share is approximately $490,000.

Governor Paterson Proposes 12.4% Cut in State Spending on Environmental and Energy Programs

On January 19, 2010, Governor David A. Paterson proposed a state budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year that would reduce overall state spending on environmental and energy programs by 12.4 percent from the current fiscal year. The $134 billion state budget for the fiscal year that starts April 1 would provide $1.5 billion for environmental and energy programs, a $214 million decrease from the current fiscal year. DEC would be funded at $1.1 billion, a 12.9 percent reduction from the current year, under the proposed budget.

The budget also would reduce funding for the state Environmental Protection Fund by $79 million. The fund, which would receive $143 million, provides state funding for municipal waste reduction and recycling, water quality, land acquisition, and parks. It is primarily supported by a tax on real estate transfers.

According to the Governor, the proposed reductions are partly due to an across-the-board hiring freeze at all state agencies and across-the-board reductions in the purchase of supplies, materials, contractual services, and equipment at all state agencies.

Governor Paterson also proposed a 3 percent tax on the severing of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale or Utica Shale formations using horizontal wells. The tax is not expected to generate any revenues in FY 2010-11, but would generate an estimated $1 million in FY 2011-12.

EPA and GE Release Reports Identifying Problems With First Phase of Project to Dredge PCBs From the Upper Hudson River

On January 21, 2010, EPA and General Electric Co. (GE) released separate reports identifying problems with the first phase of a project to dredge PCBs from the upper Hudson River.

The EPA report, which makes a series of recommendations for the second phase of the project, found that PCB contamination is greater than originally expected. The report also found that debris sometimes blocked dredge buckets from closing tightly, causing water and sediment to leak back into the river. The report said the maximum allowable amount of PCBs in the water column, 500 parts per million, was exceeded three times during the first phase of the project. The EPA report comes four months after the agency found the level of PCBs in a sample taken from the Hudson River exceeded federal drinking water standards, which it attributed to heavy rains in the area. The EPA report, along with the GE report, will form the basis for a peer review of the first phase of the project, which ended in October and involved about 10 percent of the total dredging. The second phase of the project will take about five years to complete and will involve the remaining 90 percent of dredging work.

In its report, GE concluded that Phase 1 work did not meet the engineering performance standards established by EPA. According to the report, “the dredging released nearly 25 times more PCBs to the Upper Hudson River than anticipated by EPA. Moreover, it spread PCBs, previously buried, across the surface of the river bottom where they are mobile and available to the food chain. This resulted in a five-fold increase in the concentrations of PCBs in Upper Hudson fish in 2009. As a result of dredging, PCB levels in air exceeded EPA’s air quality standard 105 times, and the federal drinking water standard of 500 parts per trillion was exceeded 10 times.” GE said the pace of dredging did not meet EPA’s productivity standards, and therefore it is unlikely that Phase 2 can be completed in five years. In addition, the GE report said the engineering standards were fundamentally in conflict with each other.

GE, which released about 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the river from two manufacturing plants, is responsible for the dredging work under CERCLA. In all, about 1.8 million cubic yards of sediment and 113,000 kilograms of PCBs will be removed from the river in two phases at an estimated total cost of $700 million.

About January 2010

This page contains all entries posted to Envirosphere in January 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2009 is the previous archive.

February 2010 is the next archive.

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