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Climate: U.S. Supreme Court eyes greenhouse gas ruling

aggi_figure1By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The U.S. Supreme Court won’t question the EPA‘s fundamental finding that greenhouse gases are a big environmental threat, but the justices will decide how far the agency’s authority to regulate those gases extends.

At issue is the EPA’s ability to set emission limits on cars, factories and power plants — all key pieces in the Obama administration’s push to get a handle on global warming. Big business, of course, would like to see business-as-usual, and along with several states, legally challenged the EPA’s rule-making authority. Continue reading

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Environment: Safeway to pay fine for leaky freezers

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Keeping that ice cream frozen has an environmental cost.

Under settlement with EPA, company agrees to cut emissions of ozone-depleting chemicals

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Under a court-ordered settlement, Safeway will pay a $600,000 fine and upgrade equipment and management practices to cut emissions of ozone-depleting refrigerants by 100,000 pounds.

The improvements will come at a cost of $4.1 million, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which detailed the agreement in a Sept. 5 news release. The settlement affects 659 Safeway stores across the country — the largest number of facilities ever under the Clean Air Act’s regulations governing refrigeration equipment. Continue reading

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis co-sponsors bills to regulate fracking

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U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO).

BREATHE and FRESHER acts would close significant clean air and water loopholes

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Saying that the rapid expansion of fracking in Colorado has outpaced the ability of state regulators to monitor health and environmental impacts, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO.) is calling for federal legislation to protect the safety and the health of the communities where the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process is already taking place.

“New technologies have led to the rapid development of hydraulic fracturing in Colorado and Pennsylvania before community members could fully understand the potential health, safety, and quality of life implications of drilling in their neighborhood,” Polis said, explaining that two new related laws would make sure that fracking is not exempt from the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act simply because fracking was not prevalent when these laws were initially written. Continue reading

Environmental groups challenge EPA’s sulfur-dioxide emission exemptions for Southwest power plants

Fight over regional haze plans now at the federal appeals court level

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Conservation groups continue to fight for air pollution cleanup in the Southwest.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Clean Air Act loopholes in regional EPA-approved air quality plans are unacceptable, according to a coalition of environmental and community groups who last renewed their challenge to the regs in a Denver-based federal appeals court.

According to the groups, the plans allow coal-fired power plants in Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming to escape federal requirements to reduce their emissions of haze-causing pollutants. Of particular concern are exemptions for sulfur dioxide emissions, responsible for obscuring visibility and for significant human health impacts.

The exemptions are being challenged by HEAL Utah, National Parks Conservation Association, Powder River Basin Resource Council, and Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice. Continue reading

Draft report IDs key global warming threats

Activists say deep greenhouse gas cuts needed to avoid climate disaster

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Seasonal temperature anomalies by season in 2012.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A recent federal draft report on climate change has spurred renewed calls for deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to avert the most serious impacts from rising global temperatures.

The report, which is in a public comment phase, concludes that global warming is already affecting the U.S. Warmer temperatures will endanger food supplies, increase the risk of flooding and powerful hurricanes, and warm the country by as much as 10 degrees by 2100.

The report finds that global warming has already delivered hotter summers, more flooding and periods of extreme heat that “last longer than any living American has ever experienced.” Continue reading

Shell Oil notified of multiple violations in Arctic drilling program

The conical drilling unit Kulluk sits grounded 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2012. The Kulluk grounded after many efforts by tug vessel crews and Coast Guard crews to move the vessel to safe harbor during a winter storm. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Painter.

The conical drilling unit Kulluk sits grounded 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2012. The Kulluk grounded after many efforts by tug vessel crews and Coast Guard crews to move the vessel to safe harbor during a winter storm. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Painter.

Company responds to violations by asking for permission to emit more pollution

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Environmental groups say numerous and ongoing violations of the Clean Air Act stemming from Shell’s ongoing efforts to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean are yet another sign that the company isn’t prepared to operate in the pristine environment off the north coast of Alaska.

Most recently, the EPA issued notices of violation for failures to install required air pollution control technology, for failures to maintain and calibrate the equipment it is using and for violating emission standards set to protect human health and ambient air quality. Continue reading

Environment: EPA hits Wyoming refinery with $378,000 fine

EPA inspection finds multiple violations of environmental regulations

The Sinclair refinery in Sinclair, Wyoming. Photo via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Sloppy operations, maintenance and record-keeping have cost a Wyoming refinery $378,000 in fines, according to the EPA, which this week announced a Clean Air Act settlement with the Sinclair Wyoming Refining Company.

Along with the fine, Sinclair will update operating procedures, perform required training to workers, improve maintenance of equipment and perform integrity tests on pressure vessels and piping that will reduce the possibility of an accidental release of hazardous chemicals at its refinery in Sinclair, Wyoming.

Hazardous substances of concern used at the Sinclair refinery include large quantities of propane, butane, and flammable hydrocarbon mixtures. Under the Clean Air Act, facilities that utilize hazardous and flammable substances above specified thresholds must develop and submit a risk management plan to assist with emergency preparedness, chemical release prevention, and minimization of releases that occur.

In June 2010, an EPA inspection found that the facility had not adequately implemented those regulations.

“Sinclair has had several accidents and releases of hazardous substances over the past several years that relate to process equipment,” said Mike Gaydosh, director of EPA’s enforcement program in Denver. “This settlement will help ensure the company is operating in accordance with industry standards to protect the environment as well as residents of nearby communities.”

Among other things, the inspection showed that Sinclair failed to replace rusted out pipes and didn’t test and replace pressure relief valves at the facility. The company also was far behind on required inspections and maintenance procedures, according to the EPA.

The consent decree was lodged in U.S. District Court and is subject to a 30-day comment period and final approval by the court. A copy of the consent decree is available on the Department of Justice website at: http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.

Environment: Texas gas company hit with $200,000 fine after polluting air in southwest Colorado for 12 years

A natural gas drilling rig. Photo via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.

Cleanup slated at the Ignacio Gas Treating Plant on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A Texas-based energy company has been hit with a $207,150 Clean Air Act fine after polluting the air around Ignacio, Colorado for more than 10 years.

After working with the EPA to resolve the alleged violations, Texas-based Elm Ridge Exploration Company, LLC will clean up its act at the Ignacio Gas Treating Plant located on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. The company will also pay $67,850 in unpaid permit fees.

The plant has been in operation since 1999, accepting low-pressure raw and untreated natural gas from about 140 surrounding wells in the Ignacio Blanco Gas Field in La Plata County. The plan became a major source of nitrogen oxides and formaldehyde in 2000.

A 2010 inspection showed that the plant failed to show continuous compliance with various emissions standards and that the operators failed to obtain a required permit. Continue reading

Wyoming refineries to pay $3.8M pollution fines

Sinclair’s Casper refinery. Photo courtesy Sinclair.

Settlement with EPA includes mandatory pollution control upgrades

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —As part of a crackdown on polluting refineries, the EPA has reached a settlement with two subsidiaries of the Sinclair Oil Corporation in Wyoming alleged to have violated air pollution limits.

Under the agreement, Sinclair Casper Refining Co. and Sinclair Wyoming Refining Co. will pay stipulated penalties totaling $3,844,000 and spend approximately $10.5 million on additional pollution control equipment and other projects to resolve the allegations. Continue reading

State to retire the only air quality monitor in Summit County

Officials say there’s no good public health reason to continue testing

Smoky skies last Saturday spurred temporary concerns about air quality in Summit County, Colorado. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — While some jurisdictions in Colorado are stepping up air quality monitoring to assess potential threats from increased oil and gas drilling, state air quality regulators are considering retiring the only monitor in Summit County.

The Breckenridge site was installed a few decades ago, when pollution from wood smoke was still a big concern. Readings from the monitoring station haven’t come anywhere close to exceeding pollution limits in more than 10 years, and operating the monitor is costly, requiring manual removal of samples up to three times per week.

According to local health officials, the state has reported some issues with the current operator in terms of getting consistent data. At one point, the state approached Summit County about taking over the operation, but according to environmental health manager Dan Hendershott, that option is not in the cards, due to budget constraints. Continue reading

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