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Posts from the "Air Quality" Category

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The DOGGR Days of Summer: DOGGR Seeks Public Comment on Proposed Fracking Regulations

Early drilling operations in Baldwin Hills (photo courtesy of L.A. Times, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2008/10/theres-been-muc.html)

Early drilling operations in Baldwin Hills (photo courtesy of L.A. Times, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2008/10/theres-been-muc.html)

It’s that time of year again.

Time for the Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), the agency tasked with regulating the Oil & Gas industry, to once again skip the home to one of the largest urban oil fields in the U.S. on its listening tour.

The occasion? DOGGR is seeking public comment on the latest version of the proposed regulations (released mid-June) regarding the use of unconventional well stimulation practices in oil and gas production.

Let me see if I can put what that entails into English.

With last year’s signing into law of Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), the highly imperfect but significant first step forward in regulating unconventional oil and gas drilling practices in California, DOGGR was officially tasked with taking on some of the very regulatory functions it had shied away from for years. These included defining a range of unconventional drilling practices (and related terms) and adopting rules and regulations specific to those practices that operators must be able to comply with to receive a permit to drill. The regulations, the bill specifies, are to be completed by January 1, 2015.

In addition to requiring operators seek specific permits for fracking and other unconventional practices — a first in the history of drilling in California — SB 4 orders the State to conduct an environmental impact report (EIR) pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), analyzing the effects of hydraulic fracturing statewide by July 15, 2015 (DOGGR’s broad Notice of Preparation under CEQA can be found here).

This is also a first, as fracking operations have generally gotten around being subjected to CEQA reviews.

That doesn’t make SB 4′s approach perfect — it appears fracking can continue unabated, even while testing to determine whether it is safe is still underway (especially with the defeat of SB 1132 in May). But, it is still a major step forward, considering that, as recently as 2011, Governor Jerry Brown fired Elena Miller (who reviewed drilling permits at DOGGR) and Derek Chernow (acting director of the DoC), for slowing down the permitting process and suggesting that fracking operations should be subjected to CEQA.

The different deadlines for the completion of the regulations and the EIR are one of the many things activists point to as a being problematic. Why, for example, would the state require that regulations for drilling practices be put in place before studies examining the safety of those very practices are completed? And, will future drilling operations be subjected to project-specific CEQA reviews (and therefore a public process)? Much will depend on what comes out of the EIR.

Other problems quickly surfaced in the first set of draft regulations for public comment that DOGGR released last November, two months after the bill was signed into law. Read more…

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Exide’s Third Application for Permit to Handle Hazardous Waste Found Deficient

"God Bless America"? Really, Exide? Folks might feel a little more blessed if they weren't showered in lead and arsenic. I'm just sayin'... Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“God Bless America”? Folks might feel a little more “blessed” if Exide didn’t shower them in lead and arsenic. I’m just sayin’… Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Just after I got word yesterday that the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) had determined that Exide Technologies’ third application for a formal permit to handle hazardous waste at their lead-acid battery recycling facility in Vernon was deficient, an email popped into my inbox from State Senator Ricardo Lara’s office.

Lara’s press release touted yesterday’s advancement of his bill, SB 712, from the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee. The bill requires that Exide, which has operated in Vernon for 14 years with an interim permit from the DTSC, achieve compliance with federal and state hazardous waste laws by December 31, 2015 or be shut down.

The need for such a bill seemed strange — did we really need a bill to ask a corporation to comply with laws already on the books?

According to Lara, yes.

In the bill first presented before the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality this past January, he notes that, “There appear to be no repercussions for a facility that does not have a current and up-to-date permit [to handle hazardous waste] in place. In fact, there seem to be advantages to the facility by having the process continued for as long as possible under an interim or previous permit because a new permit is likely to require more stringent conditions and/or mitigation measures.”

It’s hard to argue with that reasoning.

Exide took over operations at the Vernon site from Gould-National Battery (GNB) in 2000, but apparently didn’t begin to draft an application for a formal permit until 2006. Meanwhile, they had already been fined by the DTSC in 2003 and 2004 for improper storage of the batteries, a lead-contaminated drainage channel, and failing to clean up public areas (sidewalks, etc.).

And, while their draft permit application seemingly went nowhere until it was submitted in 2011, Exide continued to violate air quality and other standards, even being charged with “contribut[ing] through deposition approximately 424 lbs. of lead in both 2004 and 2005, and 712 lbs. of lead in 2006 to the watershed.” Read more…

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Exide Cited for String of Lead Emissions Violations by EPA

"God Bless America"? Really, Exide? Folks might feel a little more blessed if they weren't showered in lead and arsenic. I'm just sayin'... Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Folks might feel a little more blessed if they weren’t regularly showered in lead and arsenic. I’m just sayin’…  Exide Vernon Facility, Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

I receive my fair share of press releases regarding environmental happenings and community events, but few are more morbidly amusing than Exide Technologies’ efforts to paint itself as the good guy every time it is slammed with a massive violation.

The most recent one from the embattled Vernon lead-acid battery recycler is in response to an Environmental Protection Agency notice that Exide was in violation of lead emissions standards more than 30 times since September of last year and that it may be forced to pay fines of up to $37,500 per day/violation or be potentially subject to criminal penalties, should there be continued willful violations (below). [NOV Exide 05-22-2014 w Company Letter by jedskimkpcc]

A normal person might find the string of violations troubling, particularly since the plant ceased normal recycling operations in mid-March and the only on-site activity has been related to maintenance or upgrades to equipment. [Apparently, the maintenance efforts managed to kick up so much lead dust that the facility was a source of excessive lead emissions every single day between March 22nd and April 19th.]

Not Exide.

Taking a subtle dig at the EPA in its response to the report, the press statement noted that Exide was “dedicated [to] investing the time and money needed to improve the Vernon facility so it can resume recycling more than 9 million batteries per year while complying with the strictest emissions standards in the nation.”

As always, at the bottom of the statement, the company reminds readers of the “important role” Exide has played in “fostering California’s green economy and promoting environmental sustainability,” as one of only two west coast plants that recycles car batteries.

True as it may be that lead-acid battery recycling is incredibly important — approximately 97% of battery lead gets recycled — Exide’s claims to be preventing materials from being “disposed of in harmful ways or shipped overseas where regulations are lacking” ring a little hollow considering its recent track record. Read more…

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Some Thoughts on Near Roadway Air Pollution and L.A.’s Future

From Rob McConnell's presentation: air pollution spikes at freeways

From Rob McConnell’s presentation: air pollution spikes at freeways. Pollution levels drop quickly away from freeways.

I attended a forum event yesterday, entitled “The Collision of Best Intentions: Public Health, Smart Growth, and Land Use Planning.” Speakers focused  on “NRAP” – an acronym I wasn’t familiar with. NRAP stands for Near Roadway Air Pollution. It’s the study of pollution risks near freeways and other high-volume roads.

I confess that I have been only vaguely aware of NRAP. Years ago, I had heard about studies that show health issues correlate to areas close to freeways. I vaguely recall some efforts to keep schools at a tolerable distance from freeways. I am still not all that up to speed on this issue, so apologies if I have characterized anything incorrectly in this article.

The fundamental question that this conference explored was, basically: In the light of air pollution issues, is urban densification good for overall health? There are a number of corollary issues: On congested-polluted streets, is bicycling or walking healthy? Is Transit-Oriented-Development, or, more generally, infill development bad for our health?

For me, a car-free bike activist, these questions go to my fundamental core. Of course bicycling and walking are good! For me, for my community, my planet. I think that there’s a body of research that backs me up. Cyclists live longer than non-cyclists. Health benefits of cycling outweigh risks by 20:1, according to a London study. Inactivity is dangerous, in the long run. There’s also research showing that car occupants are exposed to unhealthy air quality inside cars, so, even if bicycling exposes me to roadway air pollution, I don’t think I am at any greater exposure than other folks using the road. And cyclists and pedestrians are on the edge of that pollution cloud, not in the thick of it the way drivers are.

I suspect that a lot of people make poorly informed decisions based on perceived risk. The most common example is that of the person who drives to their destination because they afraid of flying. Flying is, statistically mile-for-mile, way safer than driving.

I haven’t seen a clear study on this, but I tend to think that a similar ill-informed trade-off takes place with driving and bicycling. Replacing a perceived-dangerous ~10mph bicycle trip with a perceived-safe 50+mph car trip may well put a well-intentioned person at greater risk. Not bicycling in a polluted city, while instead driving in a polluted city doesn’t make good sense to me. My hunch is that it’s a similarly false trade-off, like driving instead of flying.

Back to yesterday’s forum.

From Rob McConnell's presentation: Asthma is worse closer to major roads.

From Rob McConnell’s presentation: Asthma is worse closer to major roads.

USC’s Rob McConnell presented on research that found clear relationships between proximity to freeways and rates of asthma and obesity. Apparently, historically, there was a general understanding that regional air pollution made asthma worse, but didn’t cause it. The current understanding is that roadway pollution causes asthma. Watch a similar talk by Rob McConnell here. McConnell also reviewed research linking NRAP with increased obesity.

These very real heath risks led researchers to investigate solutions. UCI’s Doug Houston spoke about a review of various structural tinkering to mitigate roadway pollution. Researchers have looked to soundwalls, sealed windows, taller building, vegetation, indoor air filtration, and more. Though those measures help, none of them quite solves the problem.

Read more…

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“I’m a Teacher, I’m Pregnant…I’m Worried”: Residents Fume Over Lead Contamination of Soil in their Neighborhoods

"I'm a teacher, I'm pregnant...I'm worried," a woman tells DTSC officials at a meeting regarding Exide's lead emissions. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“I’m a teacher, I’m pregnant…I’m worried,” a woman in hazmat gear tells DTSC officials at a meeting regarding Exide’s lead emissions. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“If you don’t shut it down, we’re going to shut you down!” shouted a woman dressed in hazmat gear (above, with skull on her back).

She had just angrily paraded in front of the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) officials, representatives of the Department of Public Health (DPH), and the moderator with her daughter, proclaiming that children should not have to wear protective gear to play outside.

One of the women standing with her moved towards a DTSC official waving a lemon from her yard and telling him to go ahead and make lemonade out of it.

The nun sitting near me appeared to say a silent Hail Mary and make the sign of the cross.

A young woman watching me scribble all this down furiously asked if I was press. She worked for Exide, she said.

“I bet you’re popular tonight,” I said.

The meeting at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights to update the community on embattled Vernon battery recycler Exide‘s lead and arsenic emissions was packed to the brim with residents of Boyle Heights, Maywood, Vernon, Lynwood, and surrounding areas. All of whom wanted answers about the lead found at all of the 39 homes where soil was tested at depths of between zero and six inches for contaminants, and none of whom were happy.

The confirmation that the homes and schools tested both north and south of the Exide facility had levels of lead in the soil that exceeded 80 parts per million — levels high enough to trigger further testing — while daunting, was probably not surprising to most. Read more…

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Sen. Steinberg Proposes Carbon Tax on Gas Instead of Cap-and-Trade

Estimated effect of a carbon tax on sources of United States electrical generation Source: US Energy Information Administration via wikimedia.

Estimated effect of a carbon tax on sources of United States electrical generation Source: US Energy Information Administration via wikimedia.

CA Senator Darrell Steinberg proposed a change yesterday to California’s nascent cap-and-trade program that would replace next year’s cap on fuel emissions with a per-gallon carbon tax. Steinberg called it a “broader, more stable, and more flexible” way to reduce emissions from fuels than cap-and-trade.

His proposal would apply the revenue raised from the tax towards tax relief for poor and middle-income Californians, who would feel the greatest pinch from higher gas prices. That could help defuse anger at having to pay more at the pump, while still discouraging demand for gas. “Under either [program], consumers will pay more at the pump. That’s necessary,” said Steinberg. “If carbon pricing doesn’t sting, we won’t change our habits.”

CA Senate President Pro Temp Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. Photo: Sacramento Bee

CA Senate President Pro Temp Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. Photo: Sacramento Bee

Reactions to Steinberg’s proposal so far have been mixed. The Western States Petroleum Association prefers it as “a transparent alternative” to cap-and-trade, and the Environmental Defense Fund criticized what it sees as a mid-stream switch that could “compromise” CA’s emission reduction strategies.

Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, said ”we strongly believe that California is creating an excellent cap-and-trade program that is, and will work, effectively. Yet a carbon tax is an extremely clear and straightforward, and ultimately more predictable, way to approach the fuels sector.”

“If this had been offered as a serious proposal seven years ago, we would have thought it was heaven-sent,” he added. “I don’t think it makes sense to reject it outright. It’s certainly worth having the discussion” about cap-and-trade vs. a carbon tax.

John White of the Clean Power Campaign, a coalition of public interest groups working for clean fuels, says his organization has no official stance yet on the proposal. However, he said, “This is a good conversation to have. A carbon tax is a different way to do the same thing. The point of collection is also at the pump, but with cap-and-trade there’s no clear signal except for a higher price, and no predictability of what that price would be.”

Read more…

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Vernon Battery Recycling Plant Sues to Overturn New Air Quality Rule

"God Bless America"? Really, Exide? Folks might feel a little more blessed if they weren't showered in lead and arsenic. I'm just sayin'... Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“God Bless America”? Folks might feel a little more blessed if they weren’t showered in lead and arsenic. I’m just sayin’… Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Exide Technologies – the embattled battery recycling facility in Vernon — has been given a lot of breaks over the years, but apparently they feel they haven’t had it easy enough.

Last Friday, they filed a lawsuit in the Los Angeles Superior Court asking a judge to set aside the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s (SCAQMD’s) recent amendments to Rule 1420.1. They were particularly concerned about their ability to comply with new rules governing arsenic emissions.

Specifically, new amendments to rule 1420.1 establish requirements for the reduction of arsenic emissions and other key toxic air contaminant emissions, set requirements for ambient air concentration limits for arsenic, as well as hourly emission limits of arsenic, benzene, and 1,3-butadiene (all known carcinogens), and contain additional administrative, monitoring, and source testing requirements for stack emissions at lead-acid battery recycling facilities.

The Governing Board of SCAQMD voted 10 – 0 in favor of these amendments this past January 10th in response to concerns over Exide’s repeated violations of emissions limits and the potential damage the exposure to the toxins could cause for more than 100,000 residents of Boyle Heights and surrounding communities.

The ruling came the same week that Exide both sent put out a press release boasting of a 95% drop in arsenic emissions and compliance with other air contaminant rule limits and was forced to cut production because it had once again exceeded lead emissions – the third such violation within 12 months.

Interestingly, Quemetco (located in the City of Industry), the other battery recycler affected by these amendments, has not contested the stricter regulations. Read more…

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Governing Board of the AQMD Adopts Amendment Imposing Stricter Emissions Controls on Lead-Acid Battery Recyclers

Concerned citizens, representatives of elected officials, steelworkers, and Exide spokespeople packed the last public hearing on Exide before the AQMD governing board. (webcast screenshot)

Concerned citizens, representatives of elected officials, steelworkers, and Exide spokespeople packed today’s hearing before the AQMD governing board. (webcast screenshot)

Se me murió mi señora, se me murió mi cuñado… yo no quiero que muera más gente. Esto es lo que pido de ustedes.”

“I have lost my wife and my brother-in-law… I don’t want more people to die. This is what I ask of you.”

The statement came from a visibly unwell Maywood resident named Marcelo Hernández.

Hernández was one of the many concerned citizens from Maywood, Vernon, Bell, Cudahy, Huntington Park, Boyle Heights, and surrounding communities who attributed their cancers, asthma, learning disabilities, auto-immune diseases, and other chronic health problems to Exide’s history of excessive toxic emissions.

They, together with a number of representatives of elected officials and non-profit organizations, had traveled to Diamond Bar today to ask the Governing Board of the AQMD to both vote in favor of an amendment directed at curbing emissions from lead-acid battery recycling plants and shut the the plant down.

Some did it more humorously, with one man saying he was willing to take his clothes off to demonstrate just how ill his body was (Board Chair Dr. William Burke politely declined). Others pointed at the 14 emissions and notification violations Exide has had over the past 10 months — including the most recent one just last week which forced the plant to curb production yesterday — and asked if it was fair that they should have to endure those toxins on top of all the other pollution their communities already had to absorb. Almost all implored the Board to think about the health of the children and other vulnerable populations.

It appears they needn’t have worried. Read more…

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Are Oil Fields Poisoning the Air Around USC? Residents Hope for Answers at Hearing Tonight

The oil field run by the Allenco Energy Co. sits nestled behind high walls along 23rd St. (Google map screen shot)

The oil field run by the Allenco Energy Co. sits nestled behind high walls along 23rd St. It is that blackened block just north of the athletic track at center. (Google map screen shot)

Standing at the gas pump, I was overcome with a sudden wave of dizziness and a blinding headache.

Because I only drive my car two or three times a year, putting gas in my tank is one of those typical LA past-times I am usually able to avoid. But on those rare occasions I do have to stop at a gas station, I am always shocked at the speed and intensity with which the gas fumes knock me on my arse.

“We really still have questions about the harm that can be done by fossil fuels…?” I asked my woozy self as I put the nozzle back in the pump.

My thoughts drifted to the active oil wells near USC (pictured above).

If I could barely stand to put three gallons in my tank, I wondered, how on earth were people dealing with living next door to a 2-acre oil field? Especially one where production had jumped by 400% to over 21,139 barrels in 2010 from 4,178 the year before?

As you might imagine, it hasn’t been that much fun for them.

Over the past three years, residents have lodged 251 complaints with the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) about horrible odors, nausea, dizziness, headaches, nosebleeds, and respiratory ailments that they believe can be attributed to Allenco Energy Co.’s oil extraction activities.

And, lest anyone think their claims might have been exaggerated, several EPA officials that toured the facilities just this past October (in response to the complaints) reported being afflicted with “sore throats, coughing and severe headaches that lingered for hours,” according to Jared Blumenfeld, EPA Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. Read more…

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The SCAQMD Hearing Board Will Receive Public Testimony on the Exide Battery Recycling Plant on December 14th. That Means You.

"God Bless America"? Really, Exide? Folks might feel a little more blessed if they weren't showered in lead and arsenic. I'm just sayin'... Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Really, Exide? Folks might feel a little more blessed if they weren’t regularly showered with lead and arsenic. I’m just sayin’… Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

While I sympathize with any of the good people of Irwindale that may have experienced heartburn, nosebleeds, or inflamed asthma because of a stinky Sriracha factory, I do have to wonder a bit about our priorities.

The last I checked, spicy-smelling air is neither fatal (egregrious asthma attacks aside) nor likely to induce neurological or other developmental problems in children.

Yet, a malodorous spice factory can be shut down within weeks of complaints being filed. This, despite the judge acknowledging that there was a “lack of credible evidence” that any health issues could ascribed to the odor and that the only real crime was that the odor appeared to be “extremely annoying, irritating and offensive to the senses, warranting consideration as a public nuisance.”

Meanwhile, the Exide battery recycling plant, which regularly exceeded lead emissions limits throughout 2011 (and again several times this year) and had higher-than-average arsenic emissions during 2013, remains open for business.

Nevermind that a few hundred thousand people living in Boyle Heights, Maywood, and Huntington Park may have experienced heightened and prolonged exposure to dangerous toxins.

In fact, just this past June, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin was so unmoved by documentation of Exide’s history of emissions violations that he felt obliged to declare that the plant did not pose “an imminent and substantial” threat to the community.

His ruling was in response to Exide’s petition to resume their operations after being forced to temporarily suspend them when the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) was able to show that, beyond exceeding levels of hazardous emissions (including arsenic), Exide’s underground pipelines — which carry up to 310,000 gallons of contaminant-laden waste water a day — were degraded and in violation of California standards.

The corporation, Lavin said in his ruling, would be in danger of “irreparable harm” were hearings to drag on while experts quibbled over the extent to which the public was at genuine risk from plant emissions.

Exide has been operating full-speed-ahead since then, minus a few glitches here and there, of course, because of…wait for it…excessive emissions.

Thankfully, the SCAQMD, fed up with Exide’s violations and rejecting their risk-reduction plan, is continuing to push back. Read more…