U.S. EPA Releases One-Week Internal Review on the Colorado Mine Blowout, Concludes the Incident Was “Inevitable”

Bandza_Alexander_COLORBy Alexander J. Bandza

Colorado Gold Mine Release

Earlier this week, the U.S. EPA released its “Internal Review of the A
ugust 5, 2015 Gold King Mine Blowout,” which provides the EPA Internal Review Team’s “one week rapid assessment” of the events and potential factors contributing to the Colorado mine adit blowout earlier this month.  The Review sets out a series of conclusions and recommendations, many of which lay the foundation for absolving the U.S. EPA of any wrongdoing here while proposing extensive recommendations for the future.

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2015 World Water Week

GraysonBy E. Lynn Grayson

The 2015 World Water Week, August 23-28, is the annual focal point for global water issues. Sponsored by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), the 2015 theme is Water for Development. World leaders, as well as experts, practitioners, business innovators, and other professionals from a range of sectors and countries will meet to network, exchange ideas, foster new thinking, and develop solutions to the most pressing water-related challenges.

In the world today, 750 million people still lack access to safe water. World Water Week participants will address how water is vital to sustainable development and how we can be smarter about using this very critical resource more wisely. 

A series of sessions will take place, many available to the public and available online, addressing such topics as: building urban sewerage infrastructure; creating water and climate resilient cities; the case for solar water pumps; a water secure world; and impact of subsidies on efficient water technology uptake with agriculture. Another topic to be addressed, of particular interest to U.S. participants, is the California drought and actions being taken to address the impacts and consequences of these climate changes.

In preparation for 2015 World Water Week, earlier this month SIWI issued its special report titled "Water for Development-Charting a Water Wise Path," providing important input for the annual meeting on water and development issues.

A press release issued yesterday provides an overview of meetings, programs, and activities planned this week. You can also follow World Water Week via Twitter at #WWWeek and @siwi_water or on Facebook at World Water Week in Stockholm.


Canada Takes Action to Ban Microbeads

GraysonBy E. Lynn Grayson

The Canadian government recently took action to ban microbeads, very small particles found in a variety of consumer and personal care products that may pose adverse environmental impacts in rivers, lakes, and oceans after they are washed down the drain.

Microbeads

Specifically, the Canadian government proposes to designate microbeads as toxic substances and to develop regulations that would prohibit the manufacture, import, and sale of consumer and personal care products containing microbeads.

A thorough scientific review that included an analysis of over 140 scientific papers, as well as consultations with experts, revealed that the presence of microbeads in the environment may have long-term effects on biological diversity and ecosystems. A summary of key findings include:

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OSHA Proposes 10-Fold Reduction in Beryllium Workplace Exposure Limit

Torrence_Allison_COLORBy Allison A. Torrence

On August 7, 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a proposed rule in the federal register that would reduce exposure limits for occupational exposure to beryllium. Beryllium is a strong but lightweight metal (it is stronger than steel, but lighter than aluminum) used primarily in the aerospace and defense industries and is classified as a strategic and critical material by the U.S. Department of Defense. OSHA estimates that approximately 35,000 workers are potentially exposed to beryllium in approximately 4,088 establishments in the United States.

Beryllium exposure is an occupational health concern because inhalation or contact with beryllium particles can cause an immune response that results in beryllium sensitization. Individuals with beryllium sensitization can develop a disease of the lungs called chronic beryllium disease (CBD) if they inhale airborne beryllium after becoming sensitized. OSHA states that beryllium exposure has also been linked to other adverse health effects such as acute beryllium disease and lung cancer.

OSHA’s current eight-hour permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium is 2.0 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The current PEL was set over 40 years ago – in 1971. OSHA’s proposed rule would reduce the eight-hour PEL to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter and require additional protections such as personal protective equipment, medical exams, other medical surveillance and training. OSHA estimates that the new rule could prevent almost 100 deaths and 50 serious illnesses each year.

OSHA’s press release on the proposed rule is available here and the full text of the proposed rule is published in the federal register. Comments on the proposed rule must be submitted to OSHA before November 5, 2015.


Colorado Gold Mine Release Triggers Litigation Threat Against U.S. EPA

Siros_Steven_COLORBy Steven M. Siros

 

Colorado Gold Mine Release

On August 5, 2015, contractors working for U.S. EPA at the Gold King Mine near Durango, Colorado, triggered the release of more than 3,000,000 gallons of highly contaminated water into the Animas river.  More specifically, U.S. EPA contractors were in the process of conducting an investigation of the Gold King Mine to assess on-going water releases from the mine. While excavating materials around the entrance to the mine, loose material gave way allowing water from the closed mine to spill into the nearby river.  As of Sunday afternoon, the mine continued to discharge approximately 500 gallons per minute although U.S. EPA notes that the polluted water is being contained and treated in two ponds near the site.

The release has resulted in a visible plume that extends almost 80 miles down the Animas River.  According to preliminary water quality tests, arsenic levels in the Animas River are more than 300 times normal levels and lead had peaked at 3,500 times normal levels.  U.S. EPA is working cooperatively with Region 6 and Region 9 and the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and the Southern Ute tribe to address the contamination in the Animas river.  The Navajo Nation, however, has declared an emergency and shut down its drinking water systems that rely upon water from the Animus river.  Navajo President Russell Begaye has already indicated that the Navajo Nation intends to sue U.S. EPA for damage to the Navajo Nation’s natural resources.  In addition, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has declared a disaster emergency for the Animas river which makes $500,000 from Colorado's Disaster Emergency Fund eligible to be used to remediate the contamination.  

It is unknown at this time what long-term impacts this release might have on the Animas river which ultimately discharges into the San Juan and Colorado rivers.  U.S. EPA has acknowledged that metals are likely to settle down to the bottom of the river bed and long-term monitoring will be required.    


State Department Approves Two Cross-Border Pipelines

PipelinePresidential permits are required for cross-border pipeline projects, and the State Department recently approved transferring ownership of two existing cross-border pipelines.

Cross-border pipelines have been the subject of much controversy, primarily related to the highly-publicized Keystone pipeline. Despite a flurry of legislative activity earlier this year, the fate of the Keystone pipeline that would expand Canadian oil distribution to the U.S. remains uncertain.

The State Department approved the transfer of ownership of the Express Pipeline to Spectra Energy Partners. This pipeline runs from Hardisty, Alberta, Canada to Casper, Wyoming. The permit allows Spectra to connect, operate, and maintain the existing pipeline facilities at the U.S.-Canada border to transport crude oil.

The State Department also approved the transfer of ownership of a pipeline running from El Paso, Texas to the Rio Grand River on the U.S.-Mexico border to Magellan Pipeline Company. The permit allows Magellan to connect, operate, and maintain existing pipeline facilities at the U.S.-Mexico border to transport liquid petroleum products.

In addition to the Keystone pipeline controversy, cross-border pipelines in general are the subject of significant public and regulatory scrutiny. Another recent example is the Alberta Clipper pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin, where the State Department was accused of accelerating pipeline approval from Enbridge Energy—facts now at issue in litigation filed by a coalition of environmental groups opposed to the pipeline.


Nominate Corporate Environmental Lawyer for the ABA Journal’s 2015 Blawg 100!

Thank you very much for your support of our blog, Corporate Environmental Lawyer, over the past five years.  We hope that you have found our efforts to bring you updates and insights on critical environmental, health & safety developments to be helpful and informative.  Highlights this year include a revamp of the blog featuring a new look and responsive format for better access on mobile devices and a week-long special Earth Day series.

If you enjoy reading our blog and/or follow our blog on Twitter, please consider nominating it for inclusion on the American Bar Association Journal’s annual list of the 100 best legal blogs (“blawgs”), the Blawg 100.  The nomination process is simple and takes less than five minutes:

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The deadline for nominations is Friday, August 16, 2015.  We appreciate your support of the Corporate Environmental Lawyer


Stephen Armstrong to Moderate Panel at 16th National Brownfields Training Conference

Essig_Genevieve_COLOR By Genevieve J. Essig

On September 3, 2015, Stephen Armstrong will moderate a mid-day panel titled “New Approaches to Marketing and Redeveloping Surplus Properties” at the 16th National Brownfields Training Conference, to be held at the Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Ave., from September 2-4. The panel description provides:

More and more, managers of environmentally impaired surplus properties are looking beyond ‘bottom line’ issues like price and liability concerns to other values when searching for prospective purchasers of their properties. Such values can include, but not be limited to, community and local government acceptance of the prospective purchaser’s plans for redevelopment, the potential for the redevelopment to generate jobs or otherwise benefit the local economy, and environmental considerations. This panel session will focus on innovative approaches to assist managers in the search to identify potential purchasers whose plans for these properties will meet these criteria, including an approach developed by the Association for Redevelopment Initiatives (ARI).

The panel will feature the following speakers:

  • Bruce Rasher, RACER Trust
  • Chad Meyer, NorthPoint Development
  • Jim Schaeffer, BP
  • Leonard von Rommel, Brownfield Renewal

Registration and additional information is available here.


EPA’s Safer Choice Program Awards

GraysonBy E. Lynn Grayson

EPA’s Safer Choice program (formerly Design for the Environment) recognizes products that meet stringent ingredient and product level criteria. Safer Choice products do not contain  carcinogens or reproductive or developmental toxins. The program helps consumers and commercial buyers identify and select products with safer chemical ingredients without sacrificing quality or performance.

EPA Safer Choice

According to EPA, there are over 2,000 products that currently qualify for the Safer Choice label. This summer, EPA’s new Safer Choice labels began appearing on consumer products such as household soaps and cleaners. To qualify for the Safer Choice label, a product must meet stringent human and environmental health criteria.

In the first  year of the Safer Choice Partner of the Year awards, the Chicago/Region V area has more winners than any other part of the country. Local award winners include: AkzoNobel/Chicago; ISSA, The Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association/Northbrook; Jelmar, LLC/Skokie; Loyola University Chicago, Institute of Environmental Sustainability/Chicago; and Stepan Company/Northfield. Nationwide, 21 entities won EPA Safer Choice Partner of the Year awards. EPA confirms there are nearly 500 formulator-manufacturer partners that make more than 2,000 products for retail and institutional customers.

More information about the Safer Choice program is available at http://www2.epa.gov/saferchoice.


EPA Finalizes 2015 Revisions to the 1988 RCRA Underground Storage Tank Regulations

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Bandza_Alexander_COLORBy Alexander J. Bandza

Last week, on July 15, 2015, the US EPA revised the 1988 underground storage tank (UST) regulation and the 1988 state program approval (SPA) regulation.  Some of these changes had their roots in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which set out additional requirements in states that received federal RCRA Subtitle I money from EPA.  Part of the impetus for this regulation was to apply these changes to Indian country and all states.  Other changes relate to revising the regulations in light of technological changes and challenges that have surfaced over the years.  The effective date of the regulations is October 13, 2015.  Some of the key changes are set out below.

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