New Greenhouse Gas Emission Rules

In October, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new actions the agency will take to curb emissions from ozone-depleting (ODS) refrigerants and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), greenhouse gases used in refrigeration and air conditioning. The actions were created along with private and public sector leaders to help smooth the transition from ODS and HFCs to more climate friendly alternatives.

According to the EPA press release, the following actions were included in the announcement:

  • EPA proposed a rule that would improve the way refrigerant is sold, handled, recovered, and recycled. The proposal would strengthen the existing requirements for handling refrigerants and apply those rules to ozone-depleting and HFC refrigerants. EPA estimates that this rule would further reduce enough HFC emissions in 2025 to equal 7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

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EPA Strengthens Ozone Standards

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) updated the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone earlier this month. The ozone standard was updated from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb. Ozone is created when nitrogen oxides react with volatile organic compounds in the air. The EPA states that the strengthened standards will “reduce Americans’ exposure to ozone, improving public health protection, particularly for at risk groups including children, older adults, and people of all ages who have lung diseases such as asthma”.

After the examination of almost 2,300 studies on ozone, the EPA concluded that 75 ppb was not sufficient to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety. Ozone levels have decreased by 33% from 1980 to 2014, even with a growing economy. This can be attributed to advances in pollution control technology for vehicles and industry, along with emission reduction standards for vehicles, power plants, and fuels.

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Proposed Standards for Hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste

Early this month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released proposed Management Standards for Hazardous Waste Pharmaceuticals Rule. The proposed rule would apply to both healthcare facilities (including pharmacies) and reverse distributors. Previously, hazardous pharmaceutical waste at these facilities was managed under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), along with all other hazardous waste generators.

The EPA has given three reasons explaining why separate rules for pharmaceutical waste are necessary. “First, healthcare workers, whose primary focus is to provide care for patients, are not knowledgeable about the RCRA hazardous waste regulations, but are often involved in the implementation of the regulations. Second, a healthcare facility can have thousands of items in its formulary, making it difficult to ascertain which ones are hazardous wastes when disposed. Third, some active pharmaceutical ingredients are listed as acute hazardous wastes, which are regulated in small amounts.”

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Revisions to Underground Storage Tank Regulation

In late June, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the publication of a final rule regarding underground storage tank (UST) requirements. The goal of the rule is to improve leak prevention and detection, reducing groundwater contamination.

“These changes will better protect people’s health and benefit the environment in communities across the country by improving prevention and detection of underground storage tank releases,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. “Extensive and meaningful collaboration with our underground storage tank partners and stakeholders was vital to the development of the new regulations. The revised requirements will also help ensure consistency in implementing the tanks program among states and on tribal lands,” Stanislaus added.

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Obama Releases the Final Clean Power Plan

On Monday, the Obama administration announced the final Clean Power Plan, a historic action on climate change. The plan is estimated to reduce carbon pollution from the U.S. by 870 million tons by 2030, a 32% decrease from 2005 levels. The plan targets power plants, the country’s largest emitter of carbon pollution.

The plan works by creating partnerships with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), states, tribes, and U.S. territories. The EPA will set the goals and the states and tribes will choose how they want to meet these goals. The EPA has established interim and final carbon dioxide emission performance rates for fossil fuel-fired electric steam generating units (coal and oil-fired power plants) and for natural gas-fired combined cycle generating units. The interim and final goals are established in three forms:

  • A rate-based state goal measured in pounds per megawatt hour (lb/MWh);
  • A mass-based state goal measured in total short tons of CO2;
  • A mass-based state goal with a new source complement measured in total short tons of CO2.

In addition to reducing carbon pollution, by 2030, the plan is expected to produce a 90% decrease in sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants and a 72% decrease in nitrogen oxide emissions.

“We’re proud to finalize our historic Clean Power Plan. It will give our kids and grandkids the cleaner, safer future they deserve. The United States is leading by example today, showing the world that climate action is an incredible economic opportunity to build a stronger foundation for growth,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “The valuable feedback we received means the final Clean Power Plan is more ambitious yet more achievable, so states can customize plans to achieve their goals in ways that make sense for their communities, businesses and utilities.”

To view the final rule, fact sheets, and other details on the plan, click here.

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EPA Releases Report on the Benefits of Global Action on Climate Change

In late June of this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a peer-reviewed report on the economic, health, and environmental benefits to the United States of global climate action. The report, “Climate Change in the United States: Benefits of Global Action”, compares two future scenarios, one with significant global action and one without.

The future with significant action scenario assumes that global warming is limited to 3.6 degrees F, whereas the scenario without action assumes a rise of 9 degrees F. The report quantitatively compares the differences in health, infrastructure, and ecosystem impacts under the two scenarios and then provides costs of inaction and benefits of action.

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OSHA Clarifies Compliance Dates for HCS 2012 Labeling

In March of 2012, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) finalized the revised version of the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS).  The HCS is now aligned with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS).  This has provided a common and coherent approach to classifying chemicals and communicating hazard information on labels and safety data sheets.

Earlier in June, OSHA clarified the requirements of the standard that pertain to labeling existing stock. The HCS 2012 will allow distributors of hazardous chemicals to continue to ship chemicals with HCS 1994 labels until December 1, 2015. There has been some confusion among distributors because June 1, 2015 is the deadline for newly packaged and labeled products to comply with HCS 2012.

The National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD) issued a press release welcoming OSHA’s clarification. “The agency’s guidance issued late last week allays many of the concerns our members have regarding compliance with the new OSHA requirements, most importantly, that they may continue to ship previously packaged and labeled products,” said NACD President Eric R. Byer.

Manufacturers and importers of hazardous chemicals, however, may only continue to use the HCS 1994 labels after June 1st, 2015 “under certain limited circumstances”. They must be able to demonstrate that they have “exercised reasonable diligence and made good faith efforts to obtain and integrate the information”.

According to OSHA, reasonable diligence and good faith efforts include any and all efforts to:

  • Obtain classification information and SDSs from upstream suppliers;
  • Find hazard information from alternative sources (e.g., chemical registries); and,
  • Classify the data themselves.

For each hazardous chemical shipped by a manufacturer or importer after June 1 that does not comply with HCS 2012, the Certified Safety and Health Official (CSHO) shall consider whether the manufacturer or importer:

  • Developed and documented the process used to gather the necessary classification information from its upstream suppliers and the current status of such efforts;
  • Developed and documented efforts to find hazard information from alternative sources (e.g., chemical registries);
  • Provided a written account of its continued communications with upstream suppliers, including dated copies of all relevant written communication;
  • Provided a written account of continued communications with its distributors, including dated copies of all relevant written communication with its distributors informing them why it has been unable to comply with HCS 2012; and,
  • Developed the course of action it will follow to make the necessary changes to SDSs and labels once the information becomes available.

To view the OSHA Interim Enforcement Guidance, click here.

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EPA Finalizes the Clean Water Rule to Protect Streams and Wetlands

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with the Army Corps of Engineers, finalized the Clean Water Rule last week to ensure that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined and predictably determined. The rule will provide protection to two million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands that were not clearly designated under the previous version of the Clean Water Act.

These waters will now be protected from pollution and degradation. Additionally, the EPA has stated that the changes to the rule will make permitting less costly, easier, and faster for businesses and industry by clearing up confusion over which waters are actually protected. The rule, however, does not create any new permitting requirements for agriculture and maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions.

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Always-On Devices are Wasting Billions in Electricity

Environmental Protection magazine has reported that the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a report this month that found approximately $19 billion of electricity is used every year in the U.S. by devices and equipment when consumers are not actively using them. That amount of electricity is equal to the output of 50 power plants and costs each U.S. household anywhere from $165 – $440 per year, depending on utility rates.

The report, “Home Idle Load: Devices Wasting Huge Amounts of Electricity When Not in Active Use”, is the first large-scale study of idle load use. The study combined data from electric utility smart meters in 70,000 northern California residences with field measurements concentrating on idle loads. The field measurements included devices in off or standby mode that still consumed power, devices in sleep mode, and devices left fully on, but inactive.

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EPA Introduces Safer Choice Label

In March, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed a new label for household cleaners and other household products. The Safer Choice label aims to make it easier for a consumer to find products that are safer and more environmentally friendly. The label is new, but the program has been around for the past 15 years under the name “Design for the Environment”, or the “DfE” label.

Over the past year, the EPA has been collecting ideas from product manufacturers, environmental and health advocates, and consumers to design the new label. More than 2,000 existing products qualify to carry the new label and now include not only products for the home, but also for businesses, schools, hotels, offices, and sport venues.

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