Category Archives: environment

IS THIS THE FINAL GOODBYE TO MY CHILDHOOD?

By Saloni Wadhwa, September 25th, 2017

On a bright Sunday afternoon, a long time ago, a young girl, about 10 years old, jogged along a quiet street with a robust and large Labrador retriever leading her. Her father walked behind laughing merrily at the duo’s silly antics. “Scruffy!” she yelled in desperation, praying that her arm wouldn’t pop out of its socket with the leash strapped on to it. The large dog halted and started sniffing a patch of green grass, just as he always did. She quickly handed the leash to her father and slipped her hand into his warm, loving one. The little girl loved this routine; especially the cool shade that the trees on the street provided her. She loved the perfect arch that the trees made, creating a tunnel of lush green in a myriad of hues. The spectacle of the Gulmohar tree during summer engulfed by fiery red flowers which would later fall, creating a “red” carpet, of sorts was indeed a sight to behold!

That perfect story was my childhood. I grew up in a quiet, peaceful city called Mysore (Mysuru now). Mysore: with its awe-inspiring Chamundi Hills, its historic architecture in the form of the Mysore Palace, and its renowned zoo: the Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens, is a world-famous heritage city. The city has always had an old-world charm to it. It is a mix of the colonial world with the architecture of the Rajas of India. It is surrounded by National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries and is very close to the famous Western Ghats. Among all of the things that I admired about this city, the one thing that I prized was its weather. Of course, like any normal city, there was monsoon, summer, winter, autumn and spring. However, none of these seasons had extremes and thus we always enjoyed a pleasant climate all through the year.

Fast forward to today: I have read articles almost every summer of “The Highest Temperature” being recorded through the history of summers. I have seen the KRS Dam Reservoir: Mysore, the nearby Mandya and Bangalore’s major source of water, plunging into oblivion due to delayed monsoons. So much so, that the headlines in local newspapers were pictures of an omelet being made directly on the scalding tar roads of the city! Most importantly, I too have personally felt the changes: I have seen the extremes that I prided Mysore for never having. With all of these changes that are slowly and subtly occurring, I wonder if it is our fault. My beautiful tunnel of trees, one that I cherished as a child, and one that I knew had the supernatural ability to secure and protect me, the one that was the reason my parents bought our house, “Blossom” now just remains a pocket of trees outside my house. All of the other trees have vanished; brutally chopped because they were causing problems with overhead communication signals. The birds that flocked my street and filled the air with their musical sounds have been silenced. Scruffy does not pause to sniff anymore. The street increasingly looks barren, as do other parts of the city. Does development mean a goodbye to nature? Can development not occur sustainably, hand-in-hand with the environment? And most importantly, is this the end of my childhood?

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Energy Policy Now Podcast: Where Coal Mining Brings Environmental Benefits

September 19, 2017

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Can tightly regulated coal mining help undo decades worth of environmental damage caused by the coal industry?  A Pennsylvania DEP official, and a mining executive, discuss efforts to remediate water and land in the state’s Anthracite coal region.

Pennsylvania’s economy has long been tied to its coal industry.  In the 19th century the state’s pioneering coal companies fueled America’s industrial revolution, and thousands of mining sites opened over the decades that followed.  Yet, over a century later, many of Pennsylvania’s coal mines have closed as the resource’s primacy has waned.

John Stefanko, Deputy Secretary for the Office of Active and Abandoned Mine Operations at Pennsylvania’s DEP, and Greg Driscoll, Chief Executive of Blaschak Coal Company, look at the environmental damage that remains after mines have been abandoned, and on cooperation between today’s coal industry, and regulators, to clean up some of that damage.  The focus is on the Anthracite coal industry of Northeastern Pennsylvania, where the remains of a once large coal industry attempts to find profits, while bearing costs for cleaning up the damage of past decades.

John Stefanko is Deputy Secretary for the Office of Active and Abandoned Mine Operations at Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection. 

Greg Driscoll is President and Chief Executive Officer of Blaschak Coal company in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania.

The Energy Policy Now podcast, now in its second season, offers insights from Penn experts on the energy industry and its relationship to environment and society.

Hurricane Harvey – More exposures in the mix than just water and wind!

The full damage and devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey is not yet known and will likely be felt for months to come. While the most pressing issues facing Insureds at this time are the devastating impacts of water and/or wind damage, we all learned some unfortunate lessons from Hurricane Sandy and Katrina specifically caused during storm surges and/or flooding (and after the water recedes) which lead to unexpected clean-up costs and/or pollution legal liability issues (including but not limited to):

  • Historic/Pre-Existing Contamination – Properties having historical or pre-existing contamination could be disturbed and, subsequently, carry pollutants to multiple locations resulting in the cross-contamination of various parts of the property and/or neighboring properties.
  • Landfill Containment Breaches – Heavy water infiltration can cause landslides carrying with it pollutants and/or contaminated waste water into nearby waterways or sensitive third-party receptor areas.
  • Floating Drums of Chemicals and Storage Tanks – Drums containing hazardous waste and storage tanks containing oils and other chemicals could be raised afloat and damaged during transport from their original locations, thereby distributing pollutants downstream.
  • Sewerage Authorities System Back-ups – Sewerage authorities have limited storage and processing capacity, therefore, large unanticipated volumes of water could result in the overflow and/or release of raw untreated sewage.
  • Mold Damage – Mold can grow at alarming rates given proper moisture, temperature range and food source (cellulose-based substrate) following a saturation event.

While property policies may include some pollution-related coverage, it’s imperative that insureds, if they have environmental insurance policies, place their carriers on notice, carefully follow the environmental claim reporting instructions and fully understand any “emergency response” coverage provisions and policy nuances.

It’s prudent for insureds to report their environmental claim to their carriers immediately. If cost estimates for remedial activities are available, they should be sent to the carrier for approval. When submitting proposals, request that the carrier approve the costs as “reasonable and necessary” pending a coverage determination.

 

This piece was originally posted as an op-ed for the Willis Towers Watson Wire. That article can be found here.

 

35611dba53fbc67f528efedc5630ec43Anthony Wagar

Anthony is a Executive Vice President and the National Sales Leader for Willis Towers Watson’s Environmental practice based in New York. He has close to 20 years of experience from a regulatory, underwriting and brokerage perspective. He blogs on matters relating to environmental risk, exposures and insurance.

The Mushroom Farming Industry: Transforming Environmental Risks into Positive Environmental and Economic Outcomes

By Max Laufer
September 5th, 2017

A little known fact about Pennsylvania is that it is the single largest source of edible mushrooms in the United States.1 The vast majority of mushroom production in Pennsylvania is concentrated in the 759 square mile 1 Chester County in the southeast of the state. Chester County alone has over 60 mushroom farms 2 harvesting over 400 million pounds of mushrooms per year, nearly 50% of the entire U.S. supply.3 Mushroom production is Pennsylvania’s second largest industry in its agricultural sector 3 and shows no signs of slowing down as demand for mushrooms in the U.S. continues to increase.4

Mushroom production has substantially less negative environmental impact than other agricultural industries and, as such, receives little to no criticism from the concerned public. In Chester County, PA, however, mushroom farming happens on a larger scale than anywhere else in the country and thus its aggregate negative environmental impact is greater than one might expect. Therefore, it is important to analyze the impact that exists and devise approaches toward decreasing it. This report will first look at the practice of mushroom farming and the ways it can affect the environment. Secondly, the report will propose specific solutions for mitigating the environmental impacts, while also considering the economic demands of the agricultural industry.

Mitigating Environmental Risks: At what Economic Cost?

Typical discourse about mitigating the environmental impacts of farming centers on minimizing both economic and environmental risk. Much discussion, for instance, has taken place about the imposing of certain economic sanctions on corporations that engage in practices that result in a substantial amount of carbon emissions. These discussions occur on the basis of environmentalists’ hopes for decreasing the frequency of use of said practices. Traditional discourse about the balancing of economic and environmental success, however, is not necessarily applicable to the mushroom industry. In fact, one’s environmental concerns need not be compromised in ensuring a balance of positive environmental and economic outcomes,. What is fascinating about the mushroom farming industry is that its harmful environmental impact actually holds the potential to be transformed into both positive environmental and economic outcomes.

Environmental Risks of Mushroom Farming

Environmental concerns over mushroom farming are almost entirely centered around the refining and disposing of its by-products. This potential environmental harm manifests itself in a couple of ways. The process of growing mushrooms entails the fungal bodies converting compost into nutrients. Carbon from said compost undergoes a conversion process initiated by the mushrooms into useable carbohydrates.5 Such a process results in a by-product known as “spent compost.”5 Spent compost is not intrinsically harmful to the environment (and, in fact, can be highly useful: a concept that will be expounded upon later). There are two aspects of spent compost that have the potential to affect environmental harm, each multifaceted in and of themselves. The first concern is that mushrooms are often commercially grown in recycled organic matter containing pesticides. The problem with this is not related to the pesticides themselves, per se, but rather with the methods of disposal of spent compost containing said pesticides. Or, perhaps, the fact that it is disposed of at all. When spent compost containing pesticides is disposed of instead of being reused for other purposes (a concept that will also be explained later in greater detail), it can pose a significant environmental threat. This threat primarily manifests itself in the form of runoff.5 Runoff from disposed spent mushroom compost can contaminate local water supplies and natural, water-based ecosystems.5

Aside from the issue of pesticide pollution, spent compost also potentially harbors harmful viruses and diseases. These diseases pose risks parallel to those caused by pesticides. They have the potential to contaminate water supplies and disrupt ecosystems. The risk of spent mushroom compost containing diseases can be easily decreased through a pasteurization process.6 Pasteurizing mushroom compost also maximizes its potential for reutilization,6 which one might predict would decrease the tendency of mushroom farmers to dispose of it in the first place.

The disposal of spent mushroom compost can pose numerous environmental risks. It does not, however, have to be disposed of. In fact, it can also be reused in several ways. Spent compost has water-retaining properties as well as the potential to retain nitrate levels of its water due to the presence of high amounts of carbon.5 As such, spent compost has the potential to be highly useful as an addition to soil for commercial farming. Further, there is also promising research that shows the efficacy of spent mushroom compost for increasing the quality of turfgrass. According to a study conducted by the Department of Plant Science at Penn State, spent mushroom compost “can improve the structure of clay soils, reduce surface crusting and compaction, promote drainage, increase microbial activity, and provide nutrients to turfgrasses.”7 Spent compost also has the potential to be reused for further mushroom harvesting. According to research also done at Penn State, “phosphorous availability may be a limiting factor” in terms of the reusability of supposedly spent compost.5 Their research has shown, however, that phosphorous availability can be increased in the substrate “by controlling the ionic activity of calcium and potassium.”5 Through this process, there lies a potential for spent mushroom compost to not actually be as “spent” as previously thought in regards to its ability to be reused for its original purpose.

If spent mushroom compost is not truly spent, however, then why is it so often disposed of? The answer appears to be simpler than one might assume. There is not widespread knowledge of the potential reusability of spent compost. According to the same research implicated earlier, mushroom farmers “must try to educate not only the community but also all possible users about the value of post mushroom substrate.”5 Ultimately, the problem appears not to be that the spent compost itself lacks uses, rather that its uses are not at all adequately considered. More widespread reuse of spent compost would not only be positive for the environment by reducing rates of environmentally harmful disposal, but it could also benefit the mushroom industry in a very positive way. In addition to producing and selling mushrooms, the mushroom industry now also has a farming substrate with remarkable potential for use in various industries. Ignoring the fact that reusing the spent compost would substantially mitigate the environmental risks associated with it, spent compost also poses a fascinating economic opportunity for the mushroom industry. The mushroom industry has the potential to repurpose its by-products for commercial sale while simultaneously mitigating the environmental risks associated with said by-product’s disposal. Investing in consumer education could prove to hold substantial economic benefits for the mushroom industry and environmental benefits for Chester County and other areas where the industry flourishes.

It is apparent that spent mushroom compost can be reused for a variety of purposes. Further, however, it is also important to note that disposal is not necessarily a terrible option if creating demand for spent mushroom compost fails. In order to minimize the environmental harm of the disposal process, though, two steps would have to be taken. The first and most obvious step would be to eliminate the use of growing substrate containing pesticides. Doing this would result in a rather innocuous by-product rather than one that poses risk of runoff. In fact, spent mushroom compost itself appears to pose no environmental risk if it does not contain pesticides (and if it has undergone a process about to be elaborated on). According to research at Penn State, the spent compost simply “decomposes to an unobjectionable soil.”5

The second step that would have to be taken to reduce environmental harm resulting from spent mushroom compost disposal would be to put in place a pasteurization process. This process involves heating the substrate to a temperature high enough to eliminate harmful bacteria and diseases.6 The primary reason why the pasteurization process is not widespread despite its apparent efficacy in minimizing environmental risks is, simply put, the cost associated with it.6 The process is not legally required and thus little incentive exists for commercial mushroom farmers to implement it.

Two potential solutions to this quandary exist: the first is for environmental regulatory agencies to legally require a pasteurization process. This, however, would likely have a negative economic impact. It would increase the costs associated with mushroom farming, potentially making the endeavor less profitable and/or driving up the price of mushrooms. Given that mushroom farming plays an integral role in the economy of Chester County, such policies might appear untenable to those fiscally-minded. Another solution, and one with less potential economic impact, would be establishing tax incentives for implementing a pasteurization process. Such a tax incentive would inevitably shift some amount of a tax burden onto taxpayers or on other industries to compensate, though it would have benefits that would not exist if a legal requirement for pasteurization was put into place. It would give mushroom farmers more ownership over their process, while still increasing pasteurization rates in the industry. Increasing pasteurization rates, of course, is highly important in regards to controlling the spread of disease resulting from disposal of spent compost. While it is unclear exactly what the economic impacts of the aforementioned policy recommendations would be, they are certainly steps worth taking if environmental risk is wished to be minimized. Economic risks from the aforementioned policies, however, would not have to be assumed if demand for spent compost meets the supply. This would, of course, be the optimal solution to the problem. What is clear, however, is that there are ways to mitigate environmental risk even if the demand never meets the supply. As such, the aforementioned policies are important considerations.

It is remarkable how much potential exists for the process of mushroom farming to be refined and realigned with common environmental goals while also providing new possible economic opportunities. By using organic material containing less pesticides, implementing a pasteurization process for spent compost, and encouraging more widespread reuse of spent compost, environmental risks can be nearly completely mitigated. Economic benefits may lie in the potential for repurposing spent compost for commercial sale. The primary barrier to overcome to realize this potential is the lack of industry knowledge about the reusability of spent compost. If such a barrier cannot be crossed, however, policy changes exist that hold the potential to still substantially mitigate environmental harm. Disposing of spent compost has little environmental risk if the mushroom industry operates under regulations either requiring or incentivizing pasteurization and lower pesticide use.

 

About the Author:

Max Laufer is a rising sophomore at Haverford College. Max was one of the co-founders of the Ideas for Action 14-18 program at Wharton. Max is passionate about problem solving and how young people can affect positive environmental change.

 

Bibliography:

  1. The One Tiny Region That Produces Nearly Half of U.S. Mushrooms – Modern Farmer. (2014). Modern Farmer. Retrieved 13 April 2017, from http://modernfarmer.com/2014/05/welcome-mushroom-country-population-nearly-half-u-s-mushrooms/
  2. Facts About Chester County | Chester County, PA – Official Website. (2017). org. Retrieved 13 April 2017, from http://chesco.org/892/Facts-About-Chester-County
  3. NSTATE, w. (2017). Economy of Pennsylvania including Pennsylvania Agriculture and Manufacturing from NETSTATE.COM. com. Retrieved 13 April 2017, from http://www.netstate.com/economy/pa_economy.htm
  4. Mitchell, D. (2015). Mushroom demand grows across board | The Packer. Thepacker.com. Retrieved 13 April 2017, from http://www.thepacker.com/fruit-vegetable-news/marketing-profiles/Mushroom-demand-grows-across-board-288830551.html
  5. Impact of the Mushroom Industry on the Environment (Mushrooms). (2017). Mushrooms (Penn State Extension). Retrieved 19 August 2017, from http://extension.psu.edu/plants/vegetable-fruit/mushrooms/mushroom-substrate/impact-of-the-mushroom-industry-on-the-environment
  6. (2017). Pasteurization of Mushroom Substrate and other Solids. Retrieved 19 August 2017, from http://www.academicjournals.org/article/article1380281604_Kurtzman.pdf
  7. Using Spent Mushroom Substrate (mushroom soil) as a Soil Amendment to Improve Turf (Center for Turfgrass Science). (2017). Center for Turfgrass Science (Penn State University). Retrieved 19 August 2017, from http://plantscience.psu.edu/research/centers/turf/extension/factsheets/mushroom-soil

Where Technology and Service Meet, Innovation Will Follow

By Sergio Corbo, SVP Marketing & Communications and Chief Marketing Officer, Veolia North America

Technology is not inherently innovative, but in combination with service it has the ability to generate truly innovative solutions. At Veolia, our services shape a more sustainable world. However, by combining those services with technology, our partners are able to solve their environmental challenges more swiftly and efficiently.

Consider the case of a municipal water utility. Cities, counties and municipalities across North America rely on hundreds of miles of underground pipes to deliver reliable wastewater services to their customers. Those same pipes also play a role in preventing wastewater from seeping into the environment and being released into public waterways. Advanced flow-monitoring technology can help these system operators identify when a leak is about to happen, and if it happens, where it is located. This simplifies the process of mobilizing employees, saving the city money and mitigating damage to precious natural resources.

It is this type of application, at the intersection of technology and service, that helps our organization prepare customers for the sustainability challenges of the future.

This relationship works in reverse as well: SourceOne Energy, a subsidiary of Veolia North America, offers its customers a web-based energy management system called EMsys that collects, manages and reports energy information from sub-meters, building management systems and utility invoices. By combining this data with our team of energy analysts, account managers and IT professionals — as well as our global Energy O&M and Energy Advisory Services — we can help our clients develop comprehensive programs that optimize their energy usage while accelerating cost recovery and base forecasting.

Cities and commercial customers are not the only ones that can benefit from the integration of technology and service. Our environmental specialists and field experts also use specially designed software to log and safely handle the various hazardous materials they collect from their customers. This ensures a smoother experience for our partners upon collection, and easy government reporting through our Customer Information Management Solutions secure web portal.

All of this data is great, but it’s only as good as the people using it to deploy the necessary sustainable solutions. As consumer pressures force businesses to become more socially responsible, technology that aids in more effective and cost-efficient service delivery will prove to be more of an asset than ever.

Don’t Let Funding for Our Water System Become a Pipe Dream

By Bill DiCroce, President & CEO, Veolia North America

During the campaign, President Trump frequently described a $1 trillion plan in infrastructure investments to fix crumbling roads, bridges, and airports while creating good-paying jobs. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao also recently outlined several priorities for an upgrade to the country’s infrastructure, suggesting the administration may announce a plan sooner rather than later.

Given the Trump administration’s intention to deliver its first full-year budget to Congress this week, and with apparent plans to deal with infrastructure in a separate bill, we in the water industry want to underscore how important it is to include water and wastewater initiatives in both conversations.

Water issues once seemed a distant concern to Americans, but today we are grappling with myriad crises — from chronic droughts in the West to fast-growing metropolises in the Sunbelt unable to meet surging demand and clean drinking water challenges. Perhaps more important, as our water mains, pipes and overall systems grow older — many were first built in the early 20th century — the bill for replacing or repairing them could approach $270 billion, according to the latest estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Our ability to provide safe, reliable and cost-effective water and sewer services is vital to the U.S. economy. Clean water is a valuable national asset that can attract new investment in manufacturing, research and development and can help differentiate the U.S. in the world economy. How we manage our water resources is of great strategic importance to every citizen. This investment in our infrastructure is vital to growth, and the federal government needs to play a key role in making those investments.

The president has previously said he may favor tripling the funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, a loan assistance authority for addressing wastewater needs that has proven vital to jump-starting key projects. He has also shown support for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, a federal-state partnership to help ensure safe drinking water.

These are both strong starting points — as is this month’s announcement that the EPA’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program will provide $1 billion in credit to finance over $2 billion in water infrastructure investments — but a longer-term, more comprehensive infrastructure bill is necessary to repair and replace America’s many aging water and wastewater systems.

Investment is also needed for training. About one-third of the current water workforce is eligible for retirement, a phenomenon that will slow our efforts to modernize infrastructure and could lead to dangerous quality control issues. State and local governments must work with the private sector, trade schools, community colleges and universities to close this emerging skills gap.

Not only are these jobs important for our water quality and safety, they’re economic drivers. According to a study from the Value of Water Coalition, for every $1 million earmarked for water projects, upwards of 15 jobs are created, either to support water infrastructure design and construction directly, or in related industries.

And here’s the thing about water-related jobs — they can’t be exported or outsourced overseas. These employees work right here, in cities and towns across America.

While healthcare, tax reform and the budget dominate the congressional agenda, we believe it is critical that they find the time to take up water-related issues. Creating incentive programs such as tax credits to facilitate water reuse projects, co-digestion and resource recovery would strengthen already existing sustainability efforts.

Supporting private investment in water and wastewater infrastructure would go a long way to supplement any legislation passed by Congress. Finding the right regulatory balance would encourage innovation by providing incentives for new private investment in green infrastructure and energy derived from the wastewater treatment process.

The American water industry — both the public and private sector — delivers safe, clean water to homes, schools, farms and businesses in cities and towns across the U.S. each day. But the burgeoning infrastructure crisis casts doubt on our collective ability to deliver.

It’s time for all of us to come together — private companies and local officials, state and federal governments — to make water part of our national infrastructure renewal.

 

This piece was originally posted as an op-ed for The Hill. That article can be found here.

Latest Episode of the Kleinman Center’s Energy Policy Now Podcast, Featuring Andrew Light

Submitted by Andy Stone, Communications Manager, Kleinman Center for Energy Policy

The new episode is a conversation with a former State Department climate negotiator who was involved in the Paris climate deal.  He discusses the current White House debate around Paris, and the implications for global climate cooperation if the U.S. backs out.

The Trump administration has offered conflicting messages on its intention to remain a party to the 2015 Paris Climate Accord.  The question of U.S. involvement reaches a climax this week as senior advisers to the President hash out the administration’s path forward, with potentially far reaching implications for the climate deal, and for the United States’ role as a steady leader in global diplomacy.

In the latest episode of the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy’s Energy Policy Now podcast, former State Department climate negotiator Andrew Light discusses the battle in the White House over Paris, and the fate of the accord without U.S. leadership.  Light, a recent visiting scholar to the Kleinman Center, examines whether it will be possible for the U.S. to meaningfully “maintain its seat at the table” of climate dialogue even as it pulls back from global climate efforts.

Light also provides insights into the negotiations leading to the Paris climate deal, and the unique political environment in the U.S. and abroad that made the agreement possible.  Light is a Distinguished Senior Fellow in the Global Climate Program at the World Resources Institute and Director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at George Mason University.

Simple Solution, Big Impact: #UsedCups

Submitted by IGEL Corporate Advisory Board Member Rubicon Global

Rubicon

As Earth Day approaches on April 22, multinational corporations, governments, nonprofits and NGOs – as well as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals – continue working fast and furiously to tackle monumental challenges. It’s clear we must establish a more circular economy for the long term well-being of not only the plant, but also business and even society as a whole.

There are big challenges ahead, and in many ways Earth Day serves as a reminder of this. But what can one individual, one organization, even one country do to make a dent in these monumental challenges? At Rubicon, we’ve learned that in order to really make a difference we need to start by doing something manageable and specific. For us, it’s keeping waste out of landfills.

Did you know reuse and recycling is currently the top action society can do today to simultaneously improve the environment, the economy, sustainable manufacturing and to prevent waste from going into oceans?

We know that Americans throw away 25 billion Styrofoam coffee cups and 58 billion paper cups annually. These cups are not recycled, most are not recyclable, and yet we keep using them over and over because many aren’t aware of the environmental impact.

What if this year in honor of Earth Day we keep it simple and simply remember to save #UsedCups?

Think about what you drink out of every day, at home, at work and on the go. Do you opt for the reusable coffee mug or a single-use disposable cup? If you must choose single-use, do you recycle or compost it afterward? These are questions very few people think about on a daily basis, but if people did, they could have a profound positive impact on the environment.

So help us change this bad habit that we’ve developed as a society. We invite you to join us in raising awareness about cup-use and get others to do the same this Earth Day.

Post about your beautiful reusable cups on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with #UsedCups between now and April 19th and be entered to win two 3-day passes to Sweetwater 420 Fest in Atlanta or an Apple Watch Series 2.

Every reusable beverage container counts. Reusable water bottles, ceramic coffee mugs, perhaps even a sippy cup. Every cup reused or recycled is one less cup in the landfill, so go ahead, show us your #UsedCups!

 

Learn more about the #UsedCups campaign, and follow Rubicon on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

U.S. Environmental Regulatory Trends: Past, Present and Future

By Larry Cahill, CPEA, Wharton IGEL Alumni Advisory Group member

“The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.”  Thomas Jefferson

 

Thomas Jefferson was a very smart man.  Perhaps though, his view of the purpose of government has been lost over time.  Recently there has been much discussion on the economic damages inflicted by the federal government related to the regulatory burden that industry faces in the United States.  Although these discussions are not solely limited to environmental regulatory burdens, many do believe that the pendulum has swung too far in controlling industrial operations and their air, water, and waste discharges.  I am not one of those individuals.  Yes, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland no longer catches fire.  And Pittsburgh’s success as a city is no longer defined by the smoke being emitted from the stacks of its steel industry plants.  And the hidden Love Canal surprises are hopefully behind us.  Yet, there continues to be noteworthy cases of major environmental incidents and non-compliances across the nation. The 2015 Volkswagen “clean diesel” scandal is only one of many.  Did you know that every single year for the past 20 years the U.S. Department of Justice has charged some 200 to 300 individuals with committing environmental crimes?  That might not seem like many but in total these are criminal charges against over 5,000 individuals, not simply civil charges for exceeding permit limits or discharge standards.

One could logically ask the question – Where does the U.S. stand today with regard to environmental regulations and enforcement as the country experiences a new presidential administration with an uncertain regulatory philosophy and strategy?  Are we indeed better off and is it time to take the foot off the gas or is there still much work that needs to be done?  Recent regulatory and enforcement data released by the U.S. EPA help us to better understand where we are presently as a country and where we might be headed.

Environmental Laws: The Historical Setting

The First Earth Day occurred on April 22, 1970 in the midst of a nationwide college campus strike protesting the Vietnam War.  Protests in the streets all over the land.  Hmmm… Sound familiar?  That year of 1970 became a springboard for the passing of major federal environmental laws in the U.S.  As shown in Table 1, in the next two decades, some 12 critically important environmental, health and safety laws were passed.  Interestingly enough, eleven of the twelve were authorized and signed by Republican presidents; a legacy that is sometimes forgotten or ignored.  Each law, of course, required the creation of regulations to accomplish the stated goals.  And indeed that has occurred.

TABLE 1:  Major U.S. Federal Environmental Legislation (1969-1986)

No.

Year Title

Signing President

1. 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Nixon (R)
2. 1970 Clean Air Act (CAA) Nixon (R)
3. 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) Nixon (R)
4. 1972 Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) Nixon (R)
5. 1972 Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Nixon (R)
6. 1972 Noise Control Act (NCA) Nixon (R)
7. 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA) Nixon (R)
8. 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Ford (R)
9. 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Ford (R)
10. 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Ford (R)
11. 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) Carter (D)
12. 1986 Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) Reagan (R)

 

Environmental Regulations: The Current Setting

All federal regulations, including those created by the EPA, are codified in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), published annually by the Government Printing Office.  That is, each year the CFR is released to the public and it contains all current and updated regulations effective on July 1st of that year.  The individual volumes for each year are usually available in January or February of the following year.  The EPA is responsible for the 37 volumes of Title 40 of that Code.  By early 2017 the EPA had released the 2016 CFRs effective July 1, 2016.  The total page count for EPA’s Title 40 regulations in 2016 was 27,074, the most on record. (See Figure 1) Combined with OSHA’s 3,096 pages in Title 29 there were, for the first time, over 30,000 pages in total, with EPA regulations accounting for 90% of that total.

In taking a closer look at the data, some interesting additional facts emerge.  For example:

  • Recent Growth.  There was an approximately 800 page, or 3%, increase in the number of pages in Title 40 in 2016.  This increase was almost twice as large as the total page count in 1972, the first year of regulatory codification.
  • Distribution by Media.  Approximately 66% of the pages in Title 40 are devoted to Clean Air Act regulations.  This represents roughly 17,750 pages, meaning that the Clean Air Act alone has almost six times as many pages of regulations than all of OSHA’s Title 29 Code.
FIGURE 1: Growth of U.S. EPA Regulations (1972-2016)

Fig1

  • Comparison with the U.S. Tax Code.  By comparison, the 30 thousand pages of EHS regulations is only about 40% of the total page count of ~75,000 pages in the federal tax code.
  • Comparison with the Dow.  Interestingly, if one does the calculations for the 1972-2016 period, there is a 95% statistical correlation between the growth of environmental regulations and the growth of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA).  Granted this is some outside-the-box thinking, but could this mean that regulatory growth is good for the economy!?

Will Environmental Regulations Continue to Grow?

Will the growth of federal environmental regulations continue or has it peaked?  One way to anticipate the answer to the regulatory growth question is to take a look at the Agency’s Semi-Annual Regulatory Agenda, which was last released on November 17, 2016 (as part of the Executive Branch’s Unified Agenda) in the Federal Register.  This is a spring and fall requirement for all regulatory agencies[i].  In November the EPA listed 203 additional regulations (not pages, but individual regulations) that either had been recently promulgated (but not yet codified) or were under development.

Eventually, all of these new regulations will be added to Title 40, continuing the growth, unless there is a concerted effort to halt the regulatory development process; more on that later in this chapter.  It is very interesting to note, as depicted in Figure 2, that each of EPA’s Semi-Annual Regulatory Agendas from 1999 to 2011 listed somewhere between 350 and 450 regulations under development, a consistency that is stunning.  This means that for over a decade, there were always around 400 regulations under development on the docket.  Interestingly, there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of regulations listed to roughly 200 from years 2012 to 2016.  Maybe the regulatory pipeline is beginning to empty.

FIGURE 2: EPA Semi-Annual Regulatory Agenda Trends

Fig2

Yes, there are still regulatory gaps

In spite of the fact that there are now over 27 thousand pages of federal environmental regulations, there remain some additional risks and vulnerabilities that have yet to be addressed appropriately at the federal level.  Three of those that have surfaced on environmental audits of industrial facilities over the past 30 years are:

  • Water Storage Tanks. For large firewater and other water supply above-ground storage tanks, there is no requirement for tank integrity testing or secondary containment protections.  These tanks are often located adjacent to electrical substations and transformers in utility areas where a tank breach could short out the entire electrical system of the site and possibly the surrounding community.  And history tells us that large volumes of unexpected water releases can do considerable damage to facility equipment.  In 2011 a tsunami disabled the backup generators at the Fukushima, Japan nuclear power plant resulting in a meltdown of three nuclear reactors.  One global consumer products company has recognized this water storage issue as an unacceptable risk and has developed a corporate standard that requires secondary containment for all above ground storage tanks worldwide.
  • Hazardous Waste Storage.  Hazardous waste stored at 90-day accumulation areas require only that drums and containers be labeled, physically intact, and inspected weekly.  Surprisingly there is no federal requirement that containers be placed on an impervious surface incorporating secondary containment protections.  Thus, a pretty much unlimited amount of containers and drums holding hazardous waste can be stored directly on the ground for up to 3 months at these locations. Several states, including Massachusetts, have recognized this as a gap and require additional protections such as secondary containment for accumulations areas.
  • Accidental Discharges of Hazardous Substances.  Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) Planning requirements promulgated under Section 112.7 of the Clean Water Act regulations are designed to prevent the accidental release of only oil-containing substances into the nation’s waters.  Facilities subject to the regulations must develop an SPCC Plan that is certified by a Professional Engineer and must provide appropriate containment and/or diversionary structures or equipment to prevent a discharge of oil. New Jersey is one state that has recognized that regulating only oil in this way is a gap and has promulgated Discharge Prevention, Containment and Countermeasure (DPCC) regulations that cover not only oil but numerous other hazardous substances.

There are certainly other gaps as well and also existing regulations that require additional clarification.  A great example of the need for clarification are the “weekly”, “monthly”, and “annual” requirements found in many environmental regulations.  Be assured that there have been many lively discussions among site staff, regulators and auditors over whether “annual” means every 12 months or once a year.  There is a big difference in the two interpretations.

U.S. EPA Enforcement Activity Remains Substantial

The EPA has had a substantial enforcement program throughout its history.  EPA’s current Enforcement budget is approximately 10% of its total $8.1 billion budget and, for comparison purposes, is 35% more than the entire budget of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  On December 19th, the EPA released its enforcement results for fiscal year 2016, which ended on September 30, 2016.[ii]  Included in those results were data on administrative, civil judicial penalties, and criminal fines assessed.

As shown in Figure 3, EPA issued $5.8 billion in civil and criminal penalties in FY2016, the most ever in history.  However, the great majority of the penalties issued were due to a $5.6 billion settlement with BP Exploration & Production for Clean Water Act violations stemming from the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout and subsequent oil spill.  Note further that the 2013 penalty amount of approximately $2.6 billion was impacted significantly by billion dollar penalties against Transocean and BP, again for the Deepwater Horizon incident.

FIGURE 3: U.S. EPA Enforcement Penalty Trends

Fig3

Notwithstanding the two Deepwater Horizon enforcement actions in 2013 and 2016, on average, over the past ten years the EPA has issued approximately $200 million in civil and criminal monetary penalties each year.  This should be viewed together with the over 5,000 individuals that have been charged with environmental crimes by the DOJ over the past 20 years.  These numbers are not inconsequential.  And with almost a billion dollars being spent annually by EPA on enforcement, environmental noncompliance remains a serious issue, unmatched by any other country.  As EPA has stated in its FY 2013 OECA National Program Manager Guidance, we will “aggressively go after pollution problems that make a difference in communities.  EPA will use vigorous civil and criminal enforcement that targets the most serious water, air and chemical hazards, as well as advance environmental justice by protecting vulnerable communities”.[iii]

The Cautionary Tale of December 2016

So where does that leave us?  Should there be a continuing emphasis on environmental regulatory compliance and enforcement or should we indeed take the foot off the gas as some would propose.  Well, if the fortnight in the middle of December 2016 tells us anything, this is not the time to ease up.  Take note of the following headlines taken from that very short period:

  • DuPont agrees to pay $50 million in natural resource damages to resolve claims stemming from the release of mercury in the 1930’s and 1940’s from its Waynesboro, VA plant (December 16th).
  • Michigan’s Attorney General brings more criminal charges over the Flint, Michigan water crisis, including felony charges against two former state appointees and two former city officials (December 20th).
  • Volkswagen reaches $1 billion deal with the USDOJ and California in the ongoing diesel emissions scandal (December 21st).
  • A federal jury finds DuPont liable for $2 million in compensatory damages for an individual’s cancer stemming from the dumping of Teflon manufacturing chemicals (C8) into the Ohio River. An additional 3,500 cases are pending (December 21st).
  • Shell Oil will pay $22 million to the city of Clovis, California for chemical (TCP) found in drinking water supply (December 27th).

Frankly, it’s hard to believe that all five of these incidents occurred over a two-week period in the last month of 2016.  They suggest that the U.S. is nowhere near where it needs to be with respect to the environment.  Continuing oversight is needed and both public and private sector institutions need to be held accountable for meeting, if not exceeding, regulatory requirements.

What Might Change

During the 2016 presidential campaign and now with the new Trump Administration in place concern has been expressed over the regulatory burden placed on U.S. industry and the regulated community in general.    It should be noted that this concern is nothing new.  For example, on January 18, 2011 President Obama issued Executive Order 13563, “Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review”.  The Order required a government-wide review of existing rules “to remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive.  It’s a review that will help bring order to regulations that have become a patchwork of overlapping rules…”[iv]  In response to President Obama’s Executive Order, EPA created the Regulatory Development and Retrospective Review Tracker (Reg DaRRT), which provides information on the status of EPA’s priority rulemakings, as well as information on the status of retrospective reviews of existing regulations.  One positive outcome of the Executive Order was the July 31, 2013 issuance of a final EPA rule on solvent-contaminated wipes that reduced the regulatory burden on tens of thousands of facilities using these wipes routinely.

What is different today is the approach that is being proposed by the current Administration.  President Trump has said numerous times that his goal is to eliminate as many as 75% of all existing federal regulations.  The first step in that effort was the January 30, 2017 issuance of an Executive Order: “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs.”  This Order calls for every “one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination with the goal of zero incremental costs.”  As with most Executive Orders further guidance will be required and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget is required to develop that guidance.  In fact, on February 2, 2017 the White House issued guidance stating that the Order would only apply to “significant” regulations, as defined in Executive Order: “Regulatory Planning and Review”, issued by the Clinton Administration in 1993.  Significant regulations are those imposing an annual economic cost ≥$100 million.  The Director must also identify the total amount of incremental costs that will be allowed for each agency for each fiscal year.

This “one in, two out” approach, if enacted as stated, obviously will have significant impacts on federal rulemaking within all agencies including the EPA.  As stated previously, the EPA in its November 2016 Semi-Annual Regulatory Agenda listed 203 new regulations under development or review.  Will this mean that if all of these regulations are put forward that over 400 other, existing regulations must be eliminated?  As arbitrary as this sounds, the answer today is yes.

Another potential impact caused by the Executive Order would come from the new chemical requirements in the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act signed into law on June 22, 2016.  The Act requires that the EPA evaluate and communicate the risks of existing chemicals from the current inventory of 83,000 chemicals in use in the U.S.  The first 10 chemicals were identified on November 29, 2016 and include asbestos, carbon tetrachloride, methylene chloride, and trichloroethylene.  If an assessment determines that a chemical poses an unreasonable risk the Agency must mitigate that risk within two years.  Further, for each risk evaluation completed, another must be initiated with at least 20 ongoing evaluations being conducted by the end of 2019.  Does this mean that any resultant rule addressing mitigations for a particular high-risk chemical cannot be promulgated unless two other unrelated rules are eliminated?  This seems rather arbitrary as well.  Perhaps in this and other cases the “significant regulation” threshold will have a moderating impact and the effects will not be as severe as expected.

Another regulatory reform initiative taking place but receiving considerably less attention is the use of the Congressional Review Act enacted in 1996, which allows lawmakers to take certain actions for those laws enacted during the waning days of an administration.  The Congress has already used this power to rescind EPA’s Stream Protection Rule promulgated in December 2016, which sought to protect the nation’s waterways from debris generated by coal surface mining activities.  Congress is also attempting to rescind the EPA’s revised Accidental Release Prevention Requirements contained in its Risk Management Program final rule issued on January 13, 2017.  A bill to rescind the rule has been introduced in the House as of this writing.  Historically, the Congressional Review Act has been used sparingly but this has not been the case in early 2017.

In sum, there is strong evidence that significant regulatory reform is ahead driven by a Republican Congress and Presidency.  One can only hope that logic will prevail and that protection of human health and the environment will continue as a fundamental goal for the nation.

Why the EPA’s Mission Remains Critically Important

With good reason President Nixon created the EPA in 1970.  The Agency’s basic mission is to protect human health and the environment.  This is accomplished with an $8 billion budget and 15,000 full time equivalent staff.  Although it often is not evident in our daily lives, we have all been impacted in a positive way by the Agency’s efforts and programs.  Consider if you will the scope of the Agency’s oversight and responsibilities:

  • Nationwide Facility Coverage.  Over 800,000 facilities in the U.S. generate air emissions, wastewater, and hazardous waste at a level sufficient to require regulatory oversight through mechanisms such as Title V air permits, NPDES wastewater discharge permits, and/or hazardous waste generation and disposal requirements.  That’s an average of 16,000 facilities per state where there is regulatory oversight and controls over the release of pollutants.
  • Hazardous Waste Generation.  There are over 26,000 large quantity hazardous waste generators in the U.S., generating over 33 million tons of hazardous waste annually.  These generators are required to manage the wastes properly and report to the EPA every other year on their activities.
  • Toxic Releases.  There are over 22,000 facilities in the U.S. that release listed toxic chemicals at a sufficient level to require reporting under the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) requirements of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.  Over 3.3 billion pounds of toxics were released nationally in 2015.  TRI reporting has resulted in a better understanding of pollutants in our environment and has driven a reduction over time of releases.
  • Superfund Sites.  As a result of the 1980 passage of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) some 1,188 “Superfund” sites have been cleaned up as of November 30, 2016.  However, there remain 1,337 National Priorities List (NPL) Superfund sites yet to be cleaned up.
  • Toxic Chemicals.  There are 85,000 chemicals inventoried and regulated under the Toxics Substances Control Act.  These include materials containing asbestos and PCB’s, which were considered “miracle” products when first produced.  Very few of the inventoried chemicals have undergone meaningful risk assessments to determine hazards posed to human health or the environment.  The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act signed into law on June 22, 2016 contains provisions to assure that these assessments are conducted.

It is important to note that, save for the Superfund sites, all of the chemicals, wastes, releases, and discharges discussed above are being managed in compliance with existing environmental regulations.  Do we really want to eliminate 75% of these regulations resulting in fewer controls over discharges and releases?

Closure

The future of environmental regulation in the U.S. is cloudy indeed.  It is really too soon to tell exactly what might be the impact of President Trump’s Executive Order and other pending regulatory reform initiatives.  It would be prudent to keep a close watch…

 

[i] The Regulatory Flexibility Act and Executive Order 12,866 require Spring and Fall Regulatory Agendas.

[ii] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Fiscal Year 2016 EPA Enforcement and Compliance Annual Results,” Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, December 19, 2016.

[iii] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, FY 2013 Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA), National Program Manager (NPM) Guidance, April 30, 2012, p. 6.

[iv] Obama, Barak, “Toward a 21st-Century Regulatory System”, Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2011.

Kleinman Cetner’s Energy Now Podcast – The Many Fronts of Trump’s Environmental Deregulation Effort

Submitted by Andy Stone, Communications Manager, Kleinman Center for Energy Policy

President Trump is moving forward with his campaign pledge to roll back environmental protections, most notably with his late March executive order instructing EPA administrator Scott Pruitt to withdraw the Clean Power Plan.  In the latest episode of the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy’s podcast series, Energy Policy Now, Penn law professor Cary Coglianese takes a look at the multiple legal and political tools the Trump administration is using to reduce protections, including executive orders, defunding of agencies with environmental oversight, and use of the previously obscure Congressional Review Act.   Coglianese lays out the challenges each strategy will face, and the potential for regulations to be rolled back or to endure.

 

Closely tied to the issue of climate change is the economic outlook of the electric utility industry, which is increasingly tasked with the role of enabling the transition to clean power, yet will face lower electricity demand as a result.  In a second new episode, former Pennsylvania Consumer Advocate Sonny Popowsky takes a look at the challenge that distributed energy presents to electric utilities’ profitability.  Popowsky, who is an advisory board member of the Kleinman Center, also explores the costs to consumers that could result from efforts to balance the growth of rooftop solar, energy efficiency and related technologies with the need to maintain a power grid that equitably serves all.