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EPA Floats Proposed New Enforcement Initiatives for 2017 – 2019

The US EPA has proposed its National Enforcement Initiatives (“NEI”) for calendar years 2017 through 2019. US EPA develops a set of NEI every three years, focusing federal resources on industries with noncompliance issues on a regional or national scale, where federal attention can make a difference. EPA’s latest proposal would add several new areas of concern to the list of NEIs. These include:

1.   Protecting Communities from Exposure to Toxic Air Emissions.

EPA is considering expanding the current air toxics initiative to include emissions from additional sources and industries, and has focused on two potential areas of concern:

•  Organic Liquid Storage Tanks: EPA notes that through advanced monitoring, including optical remote sensing techniques, EPA has observed that volatile organic compound (VOC) and hazardous air pollutant (HAP) emissions from storage tanks often greatly exceed the permitted or estimated levels. Sometimes, this is the result of inadequate maintenance of the tanks and associated emissions controls, design flaws, or the expansion of production volumes without corresponding increases in emissions control.
•  Hazardous Waste Air Emissions: Hazardous waste can result in toxic air emissions, and, if improperly handled, can also present a potential for increased fire or explosion risk due to their high corrosivity and ignitability. Such catastrophic events not only create a safety risk for workers and the surrounding community, they also create the potential for significant releases of toxic air pollutants. EPA believes that widespread violations of the air emission requirements under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) are a significant contributing cause of these problems. Violations observed include the improper use of monitoring and control devices by facilities, resulting in releases of emissions from RCRA regulated units. Of particular concern are the toxic air emissions that result from the handling of hazardous waste at treatment, storage, and disposal facilities (TSDFs) and large quantity generators (LQGs) that are not properly controlling hazardous waste releases to the air as required by regulation.

2.   Keeping Industrial Pollutants Out of the Nation’s Waters.

EPA notes that certain industrial sectors contribute a disproportionate amount of water pollution over discharge limits. EPA’s propsoed NEI would focus on the sectors with the most violations:

•  mining
•  chemical manufacturing
•  food processing
•  primary metals manufacturing

3.   Reducing the Risks and Impacts of Industrial Accidents and Releases.

According to EPA, approximately 150 “catastrophic” accidents occur per year among the universe of regulated facilities. These accidents pose a risk to neighboring communities and workers because they result in fatalities, injuries, significant property damage, evacuations, sheltering in place, or environmental damage. Approximately 2,000 facilities are currently considered “high-risk” because of their proximity to densely populated areas, the quantity and number of extremely hazardous substances they use, or their history of significant accidents. EPA believes that most of these accidents are preventable if the necessary precautions are taken. The potential NEI would focus on improved training of personnel, equipment maintenance, and inspections at those facilities and chemicals that pose the greatest risks.

The agency is seeking comment through October 14, 2015 on whether, along with the new priorities, it should keep or expand the current NEIs:

•  air pollution from power plants and other largest sources
•  toxic air pollution
•  pollution from land-based natural gas extraction
•  pollution from mineral processing operations
•  raw sewage and contaminated stormwater
•  •animal waste pollution in water

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