May 28, 2014 by Victor Flatt

The EPA Addresses Residual Risk for Hazardous Air Emissions at Refineries

On May 14, 2014, the EPA proposed new rules to control “residual risk” from hazardous air emissions (such as from benzene) at the nation’s petroleum refineries.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to calculate whether or not residual risk to human health exists after the agency has put Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) in place to control hazardous air emissions.  Studies have long shown residual risk to the public after MACT was put in place at refineries, and this finding forms the legal basis for this rule.  In particular, the EPA proposes addressing more fugitive emissions, addressing emissions controlled during changes in facility operation, and putting new requirements on storage vessels.

The last EPA rulemaking on residual risk from refineries occurred during the George W. Bush administration (initiated in 2002), and that proposal was controversial in at least three respects.  First, it wasn’t clear that the amount of exposure being measured was accurate, since there were few actual monitors in place.  Second, there was significant disagreement with the EPA’s decision at that time to only reduce residual risk to one excess death in 10,000, though this was legally upheld, and third, the proposed requirements to …

Dec. 12, 2013 by Victor Flatt

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in EME Homer City Generation v. EPA.  At issue in the case was the ability of EPA to regulate cross-state pollution, or pollution generated in some states that is carried over to others downwind. Eight “downwind” states, primarily in the Northeast, filed a brief in support of the Court’s review of a previous decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which struck down the rule EPA implemented to regulate cross-state pollution.

The rule stems from the “Good Neighbor” provisions of the Clean Air Act, which calls on EPA’s good judgment to address the issue of one state unfairly polluting another. More than 90% of ozone levels in Connecticut stem from out of state pollution sources, contributing to the soaring levels of asthma and respiratory illness in the area. In order to mitigate this kind …

July 22, 2013 by Victor Flatt

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari, or review of  EME Homer City Generation v. EPA, 696 F.3d 7 (D.C. Cir. 2012), reh’g en banc denied, 2013 WL 656247 (D.C. Cir. Jan. 24, 2013). This is a welcome development, as the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals got many things wrong in its tossing out of the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSPAR), the follow-up to the previously invalidated Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) which regulated potential cross-state air pollution. For example, although an oil refinery one state may meet its own air quality, but not in state nearby where it might be polluting neighboring cities. CSPAR would hold states accountable for their pollution of their neighbors, which the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out last year.

This case was brought to the D.C. Circuit on consolidated challenges …

Sept. 2, 2011 by Victor Flatt

Today’s decision of the Obama administration to withdraw new ozone rules is not only bad policy, it is also illegal. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to revisit its National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) every five years to ensure that they are adequate to protect the public health and safety. In 2006, the Bush Administration revisited the rules as required, but proposed a new standard of .75 P.P.M., which was far above the unanimous recommendations of the scientists who said somewhere between .60 and .70 P.P.M. was necessary to protect the public health. A lawsuit followed, and in response the Obama administration re-opened the rulemaking. This delayed a legal decision which most assuredly would have over-turned the 2008 final rules.

The Obama EPA proposed the more rigorous standards that could be supported by the science of 2006. In truth, new …

Jan. 6, 2011 by Victor Flatt

On Dec. 30, the EPA announced that it was partially disapproving the Texas State Implementation Plan (SIP) that would not allow it to issue PSD permits for greenhouse gases that were now “subject to regulation.” Continuing its resistance to all things EPA, Texas filed a request for an emergency stay of the disapproval in the DC Circuit. This follows Texas’s request for an emergency stay on the rulemaking which declared GHGs subject to regulation under PSD in the DC Circuit, and later in the Fifth Circuit, both of which were denied.

This time, however, perhaps because it was a holiday, the DC Circuit (without ruling on the merits) entered a temporary stay until the issue could be considered more fully today, January 6. Texas and its supporters are arguing that the EPA should get reversed on this one because it might have violated procedural notice and …

Nov. 17, 2010 by Victor Flatt

Last week the EPA released its “PSD and Title V Permitting Guidance For Greenhouse Gases.” This Guidance was designed to give the states direction in how to implement permitting requirements for new sources for other criteria pollutants that also produce greenhouse gases on January 2, 2011, and new sources of greenhouse gases following in May, 2011, under the Clean Air Act’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration Program.

The Guidance does an excellent job of summarizing and explaining how the EPA’s current PSD permitting program works (it is the best succinct and correct explanation I have seen), and explains how the procedure applies with the addition of greenhouse gases to the list. Importantly, it reaffirms the current five-step standard for determining what is “Best Available Control Technology” under the PSD program. The Guidance first advises permitting authorities in making an applicability determination based on whether there is …

Aug. 4, 2010 by Victor Flatt

Cross-posted from Flatt Out Environmental.

As expected, the EPA's "tailoring rule," under which it proposes to regulate stationary sources of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act (CAA) only if they produce over 75,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent forcing per year, has been challenged in court by numerous organizations. These include industry, several states (the usual suspects including Texas), and more surprisingly several environmental organizations.

The crux of industry and state challenges to the tailoring rule is that it is illegal pure and simple. Specifically, the challenges note that the CAA requires that when the EPA regulates stationary sources under the CAA, that it do so for sources that emit over either 100 or 250 tons per year. Of course, industry doesn't really want all of these smaller sources regulated, but they want to make it virtually impossible for EPA to regulate at …

July 8, 2010 by Victor Flatt

On Tuesday, the EPA released its long awaited rule to replace the Bush era Clean Air Interstate Rule, invalidated by the DC Circuit in 2008’s North Carolina v. EPA. There are many things that could have been different or improved, but given the EPA’s need to get a rule out quickly to replace the existing rule, they have done a good job of addressing the flaws of the earlier rule and getting something in place.

The main problem with the previous CAIR was that in allowing full interstate trading of SOx and NOx, it was in violation of the CAA requirements in Section 110, that a state’s State Implementation Plan ensure that no other state’s attainment and maintenance is violated, and Section 126, which requires the EPA and states to control individual sources that cause a violation in another state.

In the new …

June 4, 2010 by Victor Flatt

In the little-followed but hugely important “joint federalism” system through which our environmental laws are implemented, a seismic change may be afoot that could vastly improve environmental compliance and environmental quality in the future.

Last week, Al Armendariz, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region VI, indicated that unless significant changes are made by July 1, 2010, the EPA will take over Texas’s Clean Air Act program because of failures to follow the requirements of the Clean Air Act. The EPA last week already took control of an important Title V permit in Corpus Christi, and noted specific and severe deficiencies in 39 other Texas permits, indicating that it would take over them as well. This is significant in and of itself since it shows that the EPA is willing to use its over-filing powers as much as necessary to try and correct permit …

May 21, 2010 by Victor Flatt

BP CEO Tony Hayward has been careful to say his company will pay for the "clean-up" from the oil spill -- meaning, not the damages. But if past disasters are any guide, the clean-up will be just a small fraction of the damages from the spill (the deaths, the damage of the oil to natural resources and the humans that depend on them, and more). Many media have commented that Hawyard is a “jerk”, but the who-pays-for-the-damages problem isn't really about Hayward and BP. Rather, it points out a weakness with our health and safety laws not unique to this case – they do not always demand and require that industry pay for the harm it causes society.

Hayward, in fact, has been answering in the only way that he legally can while still representing the shareholders of the corporation. Why? The law (specifically the Oil Pollution Act …

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