How Big of a Problem is Pollution?
Largely due to technological innovation and an increased social awareness, humans have made a much more significant and in some ways detrimental impact on the Earth. Many organizations and countries have begun to take a hard look at man-made impact on the earth and have responded by taking action in order to reduce this and protect the environment from pollution. There are many different types of pollution that need to be concerned with. 
In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency is the Federal agency that works to protect human health and the environment. The agency works in various ways and at all levels of the government in order to reduce the effects of different voluntary pollution. So far, they have helped pass major regulation regarding the pollution in the air, land, and water as well as regulations on hazardous waste.
Because of modern industrialization, air pollution is very commonly observed. This can happen when chemicals, small particles, or biological materials are found in the air. Several acts have been passed in response to this from 1955 to 1990. The most noted is the Clean Air Act of 1963, which addressed acid rain, toxic air pollution, ozone depletion, and more. Since then, many amendments have been placed to regulate other issues such as greenhouse gases which is are caused by air pollution.
The Environmental Protection Agency also looks at water pollution, particularly point and non-point. Point water pollution is caused by sources that are stationary, such as factories while non-point sources are less define and can include mining activities and agricultural runoff. The Clean Water Act was enacted to control and reduce water pollution. Other acts have been created in order to regulate drinking water and create water efficient products.
Land Pollution is another major concern that is caused by human activities. The largest problems come from improper use of the land, for example through mineral exploitation, improper use waste of hazardous materials, and industrialization of the land.
Currently one of the biggest environmental concerns is global warming, which has been demonstrated to largely be the result of human actions. This includes the increase of greenhouse gases, for example, through fossil fuel burning and other polluting technology.
Many different acts have been passed in attempt to remedy or at the very least reduce these pollution and environmental problems. Some of them include the National Environmental Policy, the Wilderness act, Solid Waste Disposal Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.
Other government agencies have also become proactive about reducing and managing pollution. For example, the U.S. Small Business Administration created the Pollution Control Program which offered loans through the SBA to businesses that are working to prevent, reduce, or control any form of pollution.

Toxic Flame Retardants Still in Many U.S. Couches

Toxic Flame Retardants Still in Many U.S. Couches


According to a recent study led by Duke University, many couches in the United States still contain carcinogenic materials.  One of the most common carcinogenic materials still found in couch foam is a chlorinated flame retardant called “Tris.”

Heath Stapleton, an associate professor of environmental chemistry for Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, states: “Tris was phased out from use in baby pajamas back in 1977 because of its health risks, but it still showed up in 41 percent of the couch foam samples we tested.” 

The flame retardant chemicals started to appear in couches during the late 1970s according to the American Home Furnishing Alliance.  More and more manufacturers began to implement chemicals in the couches’ foam in order to meet standards under the California Technical Bulletin 117 (TB 117).  The Bulletin required all residential furniture in California to keep from igniting during a 12-second exposure to an open flame, such as a lit cigarette. 

TB 117 has become the national standard over the years. 

During the study, researchers analyzed a total of 102 foam samples in couches that were purchased in the United States from 1985 to 2010.  It was found that 17 percent of the sample contained a flame-retardant called pentaBDE.  The substance is banned in 172 countries and 12 U.S. states, and the chemical was removed by all U.S. manufacturers in 2005. 

New flame retardants have been used in manufacturing in recent years, but there is very little or no health data on these retardants.  The chemicals have made it extremely difficult for researchers to identify the risks of certain consumer products. 

Stapleton stated: “Overall, we detected flame-retardant chemicals in 85 percent of the couches we tested and in 94 percent of those purchased after 2005.  More than half of all samples, regardless of the age of the couch, contained flame retardants that are potentially toxic or have undergone little or no independent testing for human health risks.” 

PentaBDE is shown to disrupt thyroid regulation, brain development, and the endocrine system as well.  The chemical has also been associated with lowered IQ levels and behavioral development in children. 

New industry standards and laws need to address the flame retardants used in couches because serious adverse health effects.  Laws need to address how industries label chemicals used in their manufacturing. 

Stapleton noted: “If a couch has a California TB 117 label, you can all but guarantee it contains chemical flame retardants.  But this is where labeling requirements get confusing:  the lack of a TB 117 label on a couch does not guarantee the absence of chemical flame retardants.  It’s not that cut-and-dried.”

Source: Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment

Climate Change

Climate Change

The Facts and Science behind Climate Change
Climate Change is a term used to refer to any significant changes found in measuring the climate that are the direct result of both natural factors and human activities These sustained changes can be in the temperature, wind, precipitation, levels of carbon dioxide, or other climate related measurements
Climate change is the result of both natural processes and human activities. However, human activities are responsible for a much higher portion of the change.

Indicators of Climate Change
There has been a significant amount of evidence pointing towards climate change being an actual phenomenon.
Increasing levels of carbon dioxide: Carbon dioxide measurements since 2005 have indicated a growing trend in its concentration in the atmosphere. Historically, the level had never exceeded 300 ppm till 1950, yet today the level exceeds 380 ppm.
Global surface temperatures have been gradually increasing over the last 130 years.
From 1976 till 2000, Artic sea ice levels decreased at a rate of approximately 11.5% per decade.
Since 2002 Greenland and Antartica’s Land ice sheets have been losing over 100 cubic kilometers of ice annually.
Since 2003, sea Level changes have been measured to increase approximately 1.7 mm annually due to the thermal expansion of the water as well as the melting of ice.

Causes of Climate Change
Greenhouse Gases
The majority of climate scientists agree that humans have aggregated the greenhouse effect, which is a major factor in climate change, particularly the current trend of global warming. The greenhouse effect results in warming when the earth’s atmosphere is able to trap more of the heat released from the sun.
The greenhouse effect is exacerbated by certain gases with long half-lives going into the atmosphere. While some gases provide negative feedback mechanisms, these long-lived gases do not react to the change in temperature, forcing the change. For example, while water vapor will increase with higher temperatures, it is more likely to precipitate into clouds and eventually rain. However, carbon dioxide does not do this and ends up further forcing climate change.
Other greenhouse gases besides water vapor include methane, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons. Note that all of these are produced in high quantities from human activities. Coal and oil burning have increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration significantly. This has also happened to a lesser extent with the process of clearing land for agriculture as well as other industries.

Solar Irradiance 
Another cause of climate change is solar irradiance. Unlike the human aggravation of the greenhouse effect, human activity is not responsible for solar irradiance. Solar variability has played a role in the earth’s climate, for example, the Little Ice Age between the 17th to 19th centuries. However, recent studies have suggested otherwise.
For example, the energy output of the sun has either remained constant or slightly increased since 1950. Furthermore, warming on the earth has not been consistent in all the layers of the atmosphere, but rather it has been concentrated in the lower parts while cooling has been observed in the higher areas.

PA Approves $26.5 Million in Community Recreation Conservation Grants

PA Approves $26.5 Million in Community Recreation Conservation Grants


On November 20, 2012, Governor Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania approved $26.5 million for 198 projects in Pennsylvania.  The projects will improve communities, create new recreation, and aid in the conservation of natural resources. 

Governor Corbett announced the funds at the Coleman Memorial Park in Lebanon.  He stated, “Our Parks are among the things that tie us all together—a place to meet for leisure, for entertainment, for recreation and for tourism.” 

The grants are part of the Community Conservation Partnership Program under the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).  Funding for the program comes from the Keystone Fund.  Portions of the Fund are raised through realty transfer taxes, fees and licenses for ATVs and snowmobiles, and the Environmental Stewardship Fund.  The Keystone Fund also receives federal funding. 

Corbett explained how investment from the Community Conservation Partnership Program will generate more private investment as well.  He stated, “This $26.5 million investment will leverage $43.2 million in local, county and private investments, giving every state dollar more power for the public good.”

Corbett made the announcement in Lebanon because the City of Lebanon is receiving a $225,000 grant for environmentally friendly projects.  The funds will be used to clear all asphalt at the city’s amphitheater.  Additionally, the funds will be used to collect storm water and irrigate the water to playing fields.  Other improvements, such as solar lighting, are made possible with the funds as well.

Some notable projects include the following:

·  rehabilitation of the Mohn Street Intergenerational park in Steelton Borough, Dauphin County

·  addition of over a mile of trail and a pedestrian bridge to connect the Doylestown Bike and Hike System to the Peace Valley Trail located in Bucks County

·  the addition of groomers snow blazers to help maintain about 20-miles of snowmobile trials in the counties of Crawford, Erie, and Warren

·  conservation and headwater protection for 140 acres in Richland Township, Allegheny County

·  $2.3 million for numerous Heritage Areas projects like key gap closures on the Delaware and Lehigh Trail and more

The grants will aid in 49 trail projects and 79 projects to develop or rehabilitate recreational activities, parks, or conservation areas.  The funds will help to protect about 3,238 acres of open space. 

A complete list of all the grants by county can be found on DCNR’s website.  You can also find lists of grants for previous years. 

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources


Largest Glass Container Manufacturer Pays $39.2 Million

Largest Glass Container Manufacturer Pays $39.2 Million

On December 3, 2012, the EPA and Department of Justice announced that Owens-Brockway Glass Container Inc based out of Ohio agreed to install new pollution control equipment in order to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and particulate matter (PM) by roughly 2,500 tons per year.  The company is required to pay a $1.45 million penalty for violating the Clean Air Act at five of its manufacturing plants.  

Owens-Brockway Glass Container Inc is the largest glass container manufacturer in the United States.

On top of the fines, Owens-Brockway will also spend an estimated $37.5 million in order to reduce NOx, SO2, and PM emissions.  The facilities involved in the settlement are located in Atlanta, Georgia; Clarion, Pennsylvania; Crenshaw, Pennsylvania; Muskogee, Oklahoma; and Waco, Texas.  

Under the terms of the settlement, Owens-Brockway is also required to spend $200,000 to reduce excess emissions around the plant in Atlanta as well.  The company will work with the Georgia Retrofit Program to reduce diesel emissions from school buses and fleet vehicles by placing controls on the vehicles or buying hybrid vehicles or vehicles that run on natural gas or propane.  

Ignacia S. Moreno, the assistant attorney general with the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, stated: “The settlement, the latest in a series of agreements with the glass manufacturing sector, addresses major sources of pollution at facilities located in four states and will mean cleaner air for the people living in those communities.”  

NOx, SO2, and PM are the three main pollutants that occur at glass plants.  NOx and SO2 increase ground-level amounts of ozone and cause acid rain.  The rain can hurt land and aquatic ecosystems, and the chemicals can irritate the lungs and worsen existing heart and lung conditions.  PM is made up of sharp microscopic particles that can enter the lungs and lead to breathing problems, coughing, decreased lung function, and even death in some cases.  

Cynthia Giles, the assistant administrator with the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliant Assurance, stated: “The pollution controls required by today’s settlement will significantly reduce emissions that can impact residents’ health and local environment in communities located near glass manufacturing plants.  These new pollution controls will improve air quality and protect communities from Georgia to Texas from emissions that can lead to respiratory illnesses, smog and acid rain.”  

Reducing emissions from glass manufacturing plants has been a priority in the EPA’s National Enforcement Initiatives from 2011 to 2013.  This case is the fourth settlement under the National Glass Manufacturing Plant Initiative.  

Source: Environmental Protection Agency

First Renewable Energy Lease Sales Announced for Outer Continental Shelf

First Renewable Energy Lease Sales Announced for Outer Continental Shelf


On November 30, 2012, the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced leasing for 278,000 acres of wind energy offshore of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Virginia. 

The Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, stated: “We are implementing the President’s all-of-the-above strategy by focusing on developing areas with the lowest potential conflicts and the greatest expected gains.  As we experience record domestic oil and gas development, we are moving forward at the same time with efforts to ensure that America continues to lead the world at developing the energy of the future.” 

The lease sales will occur next year.  They are the first competitive sales for wind energy on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).  The leases are for two wind energy areas off of the Atlantic coast that have high wind energy potential.  BOEM estimates that the wind farms off of Virginia and Massachusetts/Rhode Island will generate up to 4,000 megawatts of electricity—enough to power 1.4 million homes. 

The areas off of Rhode Island and Massachusetts are located about 9.2 nautical miles south of Rhode Island’s coastline and will cover about 164,750 acres.  The government will provide an auction for two lease, called the North Zone and South Zone leases. 

The area off of Virginia is located about 23.5 nautical miles offshore of southern Virginia and covers about 112,800 acres.  A single lease will be sold at auction. 

The Proposed Sales Notices will be listed in the Federal Register starting on December 3.  Interested parties can find information about the areas being leased, provisions of the lease, details about the auction, award guidelines, appeal procedures, and more. 

A 60-day comment period on the leased areas is available until February 1, 2013.  Comments that are postmarked before February 1, 2013 will be published in the Final Sale Notices. 

Tommy P. Beaudreau, the BOEM Director, stated: “Today’s announcement follows many months of hard work, stakeholder engagement and extensive collaboration with our federal, tribal, state and local government partners.”

Beaudreau praised the “Smart from the Start” strategy used during the leasing process.  He states the process involves “identifying the areas along the Atlantic Coast best suited for commercial wind energy development, while working with key stakeholders to address potential conflicts with other uses, including commercial fishing and vessel traffic, early in the process.” 

The specific time and day of the lease sale auctions will be listed in the Federal Register.  The Final Sale Notices and auctions will occur in 2013. 

Source: Department of the Interior

Two Importers Pay $300,000 for Clean Air Act Violations

Two Importers Pay $300,000 for Clean Air Act Violations

On November 13, 2012, the Department of Justice announced that the EPA reached an agreement with Yuan Cheng International Group Inc (YCIG) and NST Inc (NST).  Both of the companies are located in Montclair, California and import street motorcycles, recreational vehicles, and small engines.  

The companies admitted to allegations that they imported a total of 17,521 vehicles and engines from 2006 to 2011 that did not meet requirements under the Clean Air Act.  The vehicles and engines were never certified by the EPA and potentially leaked large amounts of emissions and large amounts of carbon monoxide.  

John Cheng and Jenny Yu, both executives for YCIG, agreed to pay a civil penalty of $50,000, and NST agreed earlier to pay $250,000. Both of the companies have stopped importing vehicles and engines, and both of the companies are now dissolved.  

Mr. Cheng and Ms. Yu have agreed to comply with the EPA before any possible future importing, distributing, or selling of any products under the Clean Air Act.  If either defendant decides to form a similar business, they must notify the EPA before they form the U.S. business entity.  

Mr. Cheng and Ms. Yu are also subject to additional penalties in the future.  They could pay up to 25,000 for each vehicle imported, and they could pay $5,000 per day if they do not notify the EPA of any future business transactions under the Clean Air Act.  

Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, stated: “By holding individuals personally accountable under the consent decree, this settlement shows not only that we will pursue companies who violate the law, but where appropriate, will take additional measures to ensure that individual executives who act on behalf of companies cannot repeat the same conduct under a new corporate identity.”

Source: U.S. Department of Justice

Roquette to Pay $4.1M for Clean Water Act Violation

Roquette to Pay $4.1M for Clean Water Act Violation

On November 13, 2012, the Department of Justice announced that Roquette America, Inc agreed to pay $4,100,000 million in penalties after it violated the Clean Water Act and its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.  The violations occurred in Keokuk, Iowa.  The settlement was announced by the Justice Department and EPA.  

The Justice Department reports that Roquette knew their wastewater treatment plant could not adequately address spills or handle a loading surge.  The company should have constructed more storage structures in case of surges of wastewater and routed spills to the treatment plant.  The company failed to take any measures and instead discharged the waste directly into Soap Creek and the Mississippi River.  

The wastewater facility violated its NPDES permit 1,174 times.  Additionally, there were at least 30 instances of illegal discharging into storm drains and one instance of directly discharging 250,000 of wastewater into the Mississippi River and Soap Creek.  The facility received multiple notices of violation from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources starting in 2000, but the company failed to take appropriate measures anyway.  

Apart from the penalty, Roquette is also ordered to conduct multiple surveys of discharge locations, modify sewers, make improvements to their wastewater treatment plant, and improve monitoring.  The additional requirements are estimated to cost the company $17 million.  The company is also required to undergo multiple audits of its treatment plant, its Storm Water Pollution Prevention Program, its NPDES permits, and more.  

EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks stated, “The magnitude of these violations warrants the magnitude of the penalty.  The Mississippi River is a vital waterway, used by millions of Americans for commerce, recreation and drinking water.  It is imperative that industrial facilities abide by their discharge permits to protect our valuable water resources.”

Source: U.S. Department of Justice

Australia Praised for Low-Carbon Economy Plans

Australia Praised for Low-Carbon Economy Plans


On November 19, 2012, the International Energy Agency (IEA) praised Australia for setting goals toward a low-carbon economy, but the IEA warns that such a plan will require a huge amount of economic and non-economic investment. 

IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven stated: “Australia has taken many positive steps since the last in-depth review in 2006.  The IEA strongly supports Australia’s continuing efforts to increase and improve low-carbon energy in the country.”

Australia is a huge producer of coal and natural gas and stands as the ninth-largest energy producer in the world.  Australia is only one of three countries part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that qualify as a net energy exporter.  Additionally, Australia has invested heavily in wind, solar, and geothermal resources, and projects have addressed biomass and ocean energy resources in recent years as well.

Australia has begun to convert to an economy with clean-energy, but the IEA states the shift will prove difficult. 

The IEA predicts the transition to a clean-energy economy will be extremely expensive even though Australia has a large amount of resources.  The country will need to invest largely in new technology and make sure there are enough qualified workers to conduct research, manufacture, and install new technologies.  The IEA recommends that the government in Australia promote education and training for the growing technology fields and even recruit workers from overseas. 

Apart from investing in new technologies, Australia has also made strong commitments to regulating the capture and storage of carbon.  The country has also introduced prices for certain amounts of released carbon. 

Van der Hoeven praised the pricing of carbon but stated more measures are necessary:  “The IEA views carbon pricing as a critical component of climate policy, and we hope its introduction in Australia will put an end to much uncertainty in the energy sector.  But even with a carbon price, Australia will need supplementary policies, like energy-efficiency policies to unlock low‐cost abatement and technology policies to help lower the long-term cost of new technologies, including renewable energy and carbon capture and storage.”

In light of all the clean-energy transitioning, the IEA did show concern over Australia’s stock of oil.  The IEA requires oil stocks to equal, at minimum, 90 days of imported oil.  Australia has taken steps to address its low stocks of oil, but the IEA has put increasing pressure on Australia to become compliant with stock level requirements. 

Source: International Energy Agency


Pump it Up: U.S. Increases Natural Gas Exports

Pump it Up: U.S. Increases Natural Gas Exports

The United States will start exporting more of its energy bounty, which is making gas and oil companies very happy, American manufacturers skeptical, and the majority of environmentalists enraged. 
Last month the United States Energy Department approved a second application to export natural gas from a facility along the Gulf Coast partially owned by ConocoPhillips. This approval comes two years after the Department of Energy granted the first natural gas export license to Cheniere Energy, which also operates a plant on the Gulf Coast. 
The two-year gap was the result of the Department of Justice waiting for studies on how gas exports would affect the economy. Would said exports drastically raise prices for consumers? Would they cause manufacturers to take jobs elsewhere? These studies are now over, and the majority of them revealed that an increase in exports would yield positive results for the economy. 
Presently there is every indication that the pace of export licenses will quicken. During a recent congressional hearing, an official for the Department of Energy told legislators that it took roughly two months to approve the most recent applications. 
The drive to export natural gas stems from the nation’s supply—we simply have too much of it. Thanks to the energy boom, U.S. natural gas prices have dropped significantly and the flow of gas from newly drilled wells has been shut off, as pumping costs more than the gas can be sold for. 
Prices in other regions of the world are nearly not as low. In Europe, for example, natural gas prices are three times higher than in the U.S. In Japan, they are nearly five times as high as domestic rates. These fluctuations offer a substantial incentive for energy companies to export their surpluses. 
The Department of Energy currently has 20 export applications pending, the majority coming from smaller firms. 
If exports are increased, gas prices may rise between 5 and 9 percent, with a corresponding 1 to 3 percent rise in utility bills for residential consumers. 
Source: EPA.gov