Home > Uncategorized > Low Hanging Fruit in Pollution Control Remains Unregulated

Low Hanging Fruit in Pollution Control Remains Unregulated

 DEP Stalled on Updating Regulatory Standards In Light on New Science

Bayway refinery - Linden, NJ. 19th Century technology.

The current narrative on environmental regulation goes something like this:

Back in the bad old days, we had all these obvious unregulated major industrial “point sources” of gross pollution that were easy to regulate. But now, we have picked all that low hanging fruit, regulated industrial point sources, and have a much harder problem controlling a large number of dispersed small “non-point” sources that are difficult to regulate. Any stricter regulation would be a hugely costly exercise in diminishing returns. We need to do something different and go “beyond regulation” and towards a “third way” , “green purchasing”, “corporate responsibility”, or “sustainability”.

That story is a pile of crap. Here’s why.

Going back at least 20 years, during the Florio Administration, DEP consultants submitted reports documenting that as much as 50% of air pollution emissions from a typical industrial facility were emitted by “unregulated sources” or were unregulated “fugitive emissions”.

That means that existing DEP regulations and air permits MISSED HALF THE POLLUTION!

But instead of closing loopholes on emission sources and ratcheting down on unregulated fugitive emissions, DEP did nothing to regulate these pollution emissions (and industry did little to invest in upgrades to very old technology and leaky facilities beyond what was required by flawed DEP regulations).

Fast forward until 2007, just 5 years ago, and read those same findings repeated, in a Report on the Facility-Wide Permit (FWP) pilot program:

  • Under an existing air pollution control permit, a facility was allowed to emit 2000 pounds per year of trichloroethylene (TCE), a hazardous air pollutant from a degreasing unit. The materials accounting data developed by the facility revealed actual TCE releases of 94,000 pounds per year, with the majority being reported as fugitive emissions. The facility ultimately implemented P2 measures that allowed for the removal of the degreasing unit.
  • One facility treated a wide range of volatile organic compound (VOC) air emissions using a dual carbon bed adsorption system. While one carbon bed was being used to treat the air emissions, the other bed was being steamed cleaned. The VOCs driven off by the steam cleaning were condensed and sent to a publicly owned treatment works (POTW). The materials accounting data developed by the facility, corroborated by sampling data, showed VOC levels between 25 and100, 000 micro-grams per liter (ug/l) when the waste stream entered the sewer but less than 2 ug/l at the POTW. This led to the discovery that most of the VOCs that should have been treated at the POTW were actually being released back into the air via an open catch basin. Unable to implement P2 measures, the facility greatly reduced the discharge of VOCs by installing an additional air pollution control device. 
  • Because the development of materials accounting on a facility basis leads to a better understanding of production processes, it enables permitting staff to entertain options that are not obvious under traditional permitting guidelines. One specific example of this is that of a facility that produced vinyl chloride monomer. This facility had an existing air pollution control permit that included an annual production limit. During the FWP development, the facility approached the Department about the possibility of removing this limit. The Department and the facility worked together to conduct a facility-wide risk assessment for all sources of vinyl chloride monomer releases. Using the results of the risk assessment, the Department and the facility agreed that increases would be allowed in annual production providing that there was a concomitant reduction in air releases as measured by utilizing the pounds of release per unit of product efficiency limits unique to FWPs. This allowed the facility to increase production while maintaining process efficiency and avoiding additional air pollution.
  • An unanticipated benefit of combining the multi-media, process-level materials accounting data contained in the P2 Plan to permit limits and compliance data was the ability to identify discrepancies in data, unregulated emissions, and multi-media transfers of pollutants. Once these issues were identified, it was necessary to determine how to address them within the regulatory framework. 

Because the FWP model requires a review of permitting data on a multi-media level in conjunction with the P2 materials accounting data, the model provides greater transparency with regards to a facility’s operations and potential impacts on the surrounding community. The model is able to uncover permitting discrepancies, unpermitted sources, environmental and human health risk issues, and areas where cross-media shifts of pollution occur.It was the ability to permit a facility as a whole instead of permitting a single piece of equipment or a single discharge point that was the true success of the program. The incorporation of P2 materials accounting data into the FWP model provided the Department and the facility with a clear understanding of the sources and impacts of pollution at the facility from a multi media standpoint.


Recommendations

Much of what was determined to be beneficial in the FWP model can be incorporated into existing single-media programs. Specifically the Department could:

  • Integrate P2 multi-media materials accounting procedures where appropriate in permitting programs to ensure better accountability and data collection.
  • Identify facilities where cross media shifts of pollutants can be reduced or eliminated.
  • Use the FWP model with facilities that are out of compliance with permit conditions as the means to come into compliance.
  • The Department should investigate the possibility of utilizing the “ratcheting down”authority contained in the P2 Act. 

Despite these recommendations and significant benefits of Pollution Prevention, the DEP is now considering to abolish the programs (consistent with the federal rollback policy of Executive Order #2). Per the DEP internal “stakeholder” group:

The meeting was held to follow up on one issue that arose during the first stakeholder meeting, namely, trying to determine the usefulness of the Community Right to Know (CRTK) inventory data, the Release and Pollution Prevention Report (RPPR) materials accounting data and the Pollution Prevention (P2) data to other programs within NJDEP, and potential impacts to these programs if the Department decided to do away with these programs and only rely on the Federal counterparts to these programs. 

We recently found very similar problems in DEP oversight and air pollution permits based on a scientific study in Paterson with respect to emissions of hazardous air pollutants. DEP lacked an accurate inventory of pollution sources, emissions, and there were unregulated emissions.

Ooops! Holy Moly I almost forgot to mention another even more significant regulatory finding DEP made in 2005 – the decision to regulate CO2 and greenhouse gases as “air pollutants” under the NJ Air Pollution Control Act:

2. Formal Determination and Justification

The Department determines, based on the evidence outlined herein, that regulating carbon dioxide (CO2) as an air contaminant is in the best interest of human health, welfare, and the environment. This statement shall fulfill the Department’s requirement to advise the public of its determination and justification for this determination, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 26:2C-9.2i.

The Department’s determination is based on compelling scientific evidence of existing and projected adverse impacts due to climate change on the environment, ecosystems, wildlife, human health, and enjoyment of property in the State. The Department also bases this determination in part on the expected impacts of climate change on the formation of ground-level ozone. Increases in average temperature and related extreme heat events will increase the formation of ground-level ozone and further undermine the State’s attempts to meet national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for NOx, with attendant increases in adverse human health and environmental impacts, as well as State compliance costs.

So, what has DEP done since 2005 with this regulatory authority over greenhouse gas emissions and other striking findings and recommendations that show very specifically how to improve regulation, reduce pollution emissions, increase transparency to the public, and better identify adverse impacts to the surrounding community?

Nothing – Nada – Zilch – Zero!

What have the legislature, the media, and environmental groups done to focus on these same issues and glaring flaws in DEP regulatory oversight?

You tell me.

But in the meantime, stop drinking the Kool-Aid and Get Real.

The polluters are still running wild and poisoning people and destroying the planet.

And the regulators are still blind and handcuffed by politics and the power of the polluters.

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