EPA sets new ozone standard but faces challenges


Got smog? EPA wants to cut ozone, but will face a challenge on new standard.

Environmentalists say new rule is to weak; industry asks Congress to step into the fray

Staff Report

The EPA’s new smog-fighting ozone standard is likely headed down the same path as the agency’s other recent initiatives to improve the environment.

Like the recently updated wetlands rule and the Clean Power Plan, the new ozone limit was immediately criticized from all sides. Environmental advocates said the agency ignored its own experts when it set the new limit at 70 parts per billion. Industry claims the new rule will cut profits and cost jobs. Continue reading

EPA updates pollution regs for oil refineries

More monitoring and data transparency required

"ExxonMobil Baton Rouge" by Adbar - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ExxonMobil_Baton_Rouge.jpg#/media/File:ExxonMobil_Baton_Rouge.jpg

“ExxonMobil Baton Rouge” by Adbar via Wikipedia and a Creative Commons license.

Staff Report

Oil refineries will have to do a better job of limiting pollutants that cause cancer and respiratory ailments under updated EPA regulations that require fenceline monitoring and more transparent data on emissions.

The regulations cover controls for flares, pressure relief devices, storage tanks, and delayed coker operations. The EPA expects that the rule will result in a reduction of 5,200 tons per year of toxic air pollutants, and 50,000 tons per year of volatile organic compounds, chemical precursors to ozone.

The agency also estimates the new standards will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from refineries by about 660,000 tons per year at 150 refineries around the country with little impact to the cost of petroleum products. Continue reading

Study says changes in air traffic patterns could cut fuel costs and greenhouse gas emissions


Airlines could save money and cut emissions by adjusting the rhythm of transatlantic flights. @bberwyn photo.

Changing flight intervals could save $10 million per year

By Bob Berwyn

Tweaking flight paths across the Atlantic could yield huge savings in fuel costs and help cut airline greenhouse gas emissions.

“If the lateral separation between the aircraft can be reduced, they can be spaced closer and remain more in line with their optimum flight paths. Overall, this would produce fuel economy as most aircraft save fuel at higher cruise altitudes,” said Antonio Trani, director of Virginia Tech’s Air Transportation Systems Laboratory and a professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Trani and fellow researchers reached their conclusions after studying flight information and fuel consumption for air traffic in the North Atlantic oceanic airspace. The research is part of the Future Air Navigation System started in the 1990s that focused on communication between aircraft and air traffic control services, conducted for the Federal Aviation Agency. Continue reading

Environment: Study quantifies volcano pollution


Plumes of smoke and flames rise from an eruption at Bárðarbunga volcano, Iceland, in 2014. The amount of sulphur dioxide emitted in the six-month eruption was treble that given off by all of Europe’s industry. Credit Dr. John Stevenson

12,000 tons of sulphur dioxide per day …

Staff Report

Researchers in the UK have helped show how volcanoes can affect air quality by quantifying emissions from last year’s eruption of Iceland’s Bárðarbunga volcano.

“The eruption discharged lava at a rate of more than 200 cubic metres per second, which is equivalent to filling five Olympic-sized swimming pools in a minute,” said Dr Anja Schmidt from the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, who led the study. Continue reading

Environment: Study helps quantify plastic pollution from household cosmetic and cleaning products

Microbeads are bad juju for world’s waterways and oceans

 This image captured by an electron microscope shows polyethylene microbeads widely used in shower gel. Photo courtesy Thompson/Bakir/Plymouth University.

This image captured by an electron microscope shows polyethylene microbeads widely used in shower gel. Photo courtesy Thompson/Bakir/Plymouth University.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Simple, everyday uses of some cosmetics and cleaning products releases huge amounts of plastic micropollution into the environment, potentially at levels harmful to marine life.

Scientists at Plymouth University recently tried to quantify the well-known environmental problem by studying brands of facial scrubs that listed plastics among their ingredients. They used vacuum filtration to sort out the plastic particles and analyzed the debris with electron microscopes, finding that each 150ml of the products could contain between 137,000 and 2.8 million microparticles. Continue reading

Petition seeks new mining regulations to prevent future disasters like the Animas River spill


Drainage from the abandoned Pennsylvannia Mine in Summit County, Colorado, has been poisoning Peru Creek and the Snake River for decades, @bberwyn photo.

Common sense tweaks would require more monitoring as well as reclamation

Staff Report

FRISCO — Congress, under fierce lobbying pressure from the mining industry, may not have the political wherewithal to make meaningful changes to mining laws.

But public land agencies could tweak their regulations to reduce the chances of another event like the spill from the Gold King Mine that tainted the Animas and San Juan rivers earlier this month.

A coalition of community and environmental groups hopes to spur those changes at the Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture with a formal petition under the Administrative Procedures Act. The petition seeks four key changes to mining rules that would go a long way toward averting future toxic spills.

The rules changes would:

  • Limit the lifetime of a mine permit,
  • Impose enforceable reclamation deadlines and groundwater monitoring requirements on mines
  • Require regular monitoring and inspections,
  • And limit the number of years that a mine can remain inactive.

Continue reading

New documents show EPA tried to warn Colorado about blowout potential at Gold King Mine

New records show the agency was keenly aware of potential blowout danger at the mine


The portal of sorrow at the Gold King Mine. Photo courtesy EPA.

*Story corrected Aug. 22 at 12:02 a.m. in paragraph 5. Colorado and Utah attorneys general are taking aim at the EPA, not the Colorado and Utah governors.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The EPA knew there was potential for a dangerous blowout at the Gold King Mine at least since the summer of 2014, when the agency issued a Task Order Statement of Work.

In the July 25, 2014, order, the EPA wrote that conditions at the “Gold King Mine present an endangerement to human health and the environment and meet the criteria for initiating a removal action …”

Just more than a year later, the mine spilled about 3 million gallons of water tainted with arsenic, zinc, manganese, cadmium and lead. Concentrations of some pollutants spiked to many times the level deemed toxic for fish and other aquatic life.

New information about what the EPA was doing when its contractors accidentally breached a rubble dam to trigger the spill are detailed in documents the agency publicly released last week.

The EPA published the documents in an effort to respond “to concerns and to evaluate impacts to water and sediment that may have been contaminated by the Gold King Mine release,” according to this agency web page.  the Denver Post reported that the Republican attorneys general of Colorado and Utah — apparently on a politically motivated EPA witch hunt — alleged that the EPA has withheld information about the mine.

“Given the experience with the August 5, 2015 blow out from pressurized water at the Gold King Mine, additional work is needed to ensure there are no more blockages holding back water which could contribute to future surges of contaminated water. The EPA and State responders have begun these efforts, but they have not yet been completed,” the agency wrote.

The work that was being done when the water surged out of the mine was aimed at relieving pressure buildup from historic construction operations at the interconnected mines by the previous mining operator. Among other things, the contractors working for the EPA were trying to improve site access, stabilize the mine structure and control water and metals.

The work order also describes previous work done by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, including trying to stabilize the existing opening to allow mine water drainage

The work order states that the existing conveyance channel shall be protected and maintained during the work.

“If it becomes necessary to remove these drainage features, then suitable measures must be installed to control flows during the work. A replacement conveyance system is required to be installed after the portal and underground work are completed,” according to the work order.

In a key passage, the work order describes what the EPA had in mind with future work:

“It is proposed to re-open the Gold King Mine portal and workings to investigate the conditions to assess the on-going releases. This will require the incremental de-watering and removal of such blockages to prevent blowouts. The work is intended to take place in September-October, 2014. In addition, the secondary purpose of the work is to attempt to identify and characterize specific water flows into the mine and evaluate potential means to mitigate those flows if possible.”

A key focus of the work was to repair the portal in order to try and control what the EPA knew to be a potentially disastrous surge of polluted water:

“In addition, specify the anticipated approach for removing overburden, debris and re-establishing a safe structure that can be used for entry and egress and secured when not in use. This includes installing a portal gate with a secured locking system …

“Measures will be taken to control water and metal precipitate sludge and sediment that are impounded behind any blockage at the portal or in the mine. This will include the treatment of surge water discharge as necessary to prevent an uncontrolled release and impact to surface water.”

The EPA also knew that the water at the Gold King Mine would have to be treated at some point:

“A temporary water retention and sludge management pond must be prepared and operated, as necessary, on site to manage mine water and sludge removed from the adit. This will be used to manage impounded mine water and base flows and metal precipitate sludge from the mine workings during theconstruction activities.”

The second key document released by the EPA is a May 2015 Action/Work Plan which names ENVIRONMENTAL RESTORATION, LLC as the contractor. The plan outlines the scope of work and the operational approach.

In a background section, the agency once again detailed historic conditions at the mine that likely primed the site for the toxic surge on Aug. 5 this year, clearly recognizing the potential for a disastrous blowout:

The Gold King Mine has not had maintenance of the mine working since 1991, and the workings have been inaccessible since 1995 when the mine portal collapsed. This condition has likely caused impounding of water behind the collapse. In addition, other collapses within the workings may have occurred creating additional water impounding conditions. Conditions may exist that could result in a blow-out of the blockages and cause a release of large volumes of contaminated mine waters and sediment from inside the mine, which contain concentrated heavy metals.

The Scope of Work section says that the contractor was to remove material covering the adit, which is probably what was being done when the mine spilled its guts.

Read all the EPA’s posted documents here: http://www2.epa.gov/goldkingmine/epa-posts-gold-king-mine-file-documents

EPA Action/Work Plan


Gold King Mine Task Order Statement of Work


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