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Environmental Enforcement Roundup: Indianapolis Sewer Agreement; EPA Nixes Calfornia Air Plan; Asbestos Fine

Environmental Leader’s daily roundup of key environmental enforcement news


EPA Agrees to Modify Indianapolis Sewer Agreement

The Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the state of Indiana have reached an agreement with the city of Indianapolis on important modifications to a 2006 consent decree that will make Indianapolis’ sewer system more efficient, leading to major reductions in sewage contaminated water at a savings to the city of approximately $444 million.             

Prior to 2006, the city of Indianapolis and its 800,000 residents experienced Combined Sewer Overflows totaling approximately 7.8 billion gallons per year.   Combined sewer systems, which have not been constructed for decades in the United States, carry both sanitary wastewater (domestic sewage from homes, as well as industrial and commercial wastewater), and storm water runoff (from rainfall or snowmelt) in a single system of pipes to a publicly owned treatment works.

A consent decree approved by a federal court in 2006 required the city to construct 31 overflow control measures, including a 24-million gallon capacity shallow interceptor sewer, to reduce the city’s overflows to approximately 642 million gallons per year.   Those improvements were expected to cost approximately $1.73 billion over a 20-year period.

After the 2006 consent decree was approved, the city undertook additional engineering studies of its system and ultimately proposed a number of changes to its system to make it more efficient and to further reduce the numbers and volumes of overflows.   The first change, which was approved in a 2009 amendment to the 2006 consent decree, eliminated the shallow interceptor in favor of a 54-million gallon, 25 mile long Deep Rock Tunnel Connector.  

The second set of changes to the system would be achieved through the amendment announced today.   With the proposed changes, the city is now expected to reduce the amount of total annual discharge to about 414 million gallons, a significant improvement from the 642 million gallons that were expected under the original consent decree, and reduce the cost of the project by about $444 million.

The project’s modifications would also result in an accelerated construction schedule to capture 7 billion gallons of overflow discharges and their associated disease-causing organisms.  

“Only under unique circumstances would we modify the terms of a settlement,” Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice said in a press release.   “The proposed modifications will benefit the environment and reduce costs for the city of Indianapolis. In my view, this is a classic ‘win-win’”

The proposed amendment to the 2006 consent decree (pdf) will be considered by a federal court before it can take effect.  The public comment period for the amendment has not yet been scheduled.

EPA Tentatively Disapproves California Air Quality Plans

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced yesterday it is proposing to disapprove California’s air quality plans for fine particles – also known as PM2.5 – for failure to achieve adequate emissions reductions in the South Coast and San Joaquin Valley air basins notoriously known for poor air quality.

States are required to submit plans to EPA that identify how health-based air quality standards will be attained in areas not meeting federal air quality standards. EPA said plans submitted by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) aim to bring these areas into attainment with the national health based standards for PM2.5. However, EPA cannot approve the plans since they rely heavily on emissions reduction from rules that are being revised and have not been submitted to EPA for review. The state must submit the rules and also show how these rules will achieve the plans’ air quality goals.

“California has a history of adopting aggressive rules to tackle some of the worst air quality in the nation, but we need to redouble our efforts,”  Jared Blumenfeld, Regional Administrator for EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region said in a press release. “EPA will continue to work with California to strengthen measures to improve air quality for the millions of residents in the South Coast and San Joaquin Valley.”

EPA is proposing to approve portions of the plans, such as the emission reductions from state and local rules that have been submitted to EPA and approved. Some of the locally adopted and EPA-approved rules include residential wood-burning programs for both South Coast and San Joaquin Valley, and South Coast’s rules controlling emissions from various industrial processes.

California is a national leader in air pollution controls. The majority of the emission reductions needed to demonstrate attainment of the PM2.5 standards have already been adopted by CARB and the San Joaquin Valley and South Coast and Air Districts, EPA said in its announcement.

The agency noted that it expects that “state and local agencies will adopt creditable emissions reductions to meet the Clean Air Act requirements for attainment of the PM2.5 standards.”

PM2.5 is made up of small particles in the air that can penetrate deep into the lungs and worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease. Reducing the exposure of particulate matter will ultimately decrease emergency room visits, hospital admissions, and premature death. In September 2010, the state reported that more than 9,000 people die prematurely in CA each year due to PM2.5 pollution.

EPA said it intends to make a final decision on the plans in 2011, after reviewing public comments. In the event the agency finalizes these proposed disapprovals and the state fails to correct the deficiencies in a timely manner, certain sanctions would apply. More stringent facility permitting requirements may be imposed after 18 months and highway funding restrictions may be imposed after 24 months from the date of final disapproval.

Landlord to Pay $16,000 Fine for Asbestos Violations 

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has levied a $28,797.50 fine against L. Philip Lizotte, Jr. of South Hadley for violating state asbestos regulations. The violations were discovered during a MassDEP investigation into alleged illegal removal of asbestos thermal insulation from two-family rental property located in Holyoke.

In January 2010, MassDEP conducted a site investigation and determined that Lizotte had removed asbestos thermal insulation from the basement of one of the properties and placed the asbestos into trash bags. Lizotte then placed the trash bags into trash cans and loaded them into his truck. Lizotte did not employ the proper asbestos-handling, notification and disposal procedures. Asbestos insulation remnants were left behind in the basement and on the ground outside of the building.

Under the terms of a consent order issued by the MassDEP, Lizotte has agreed to pay a penalty of $16,000. The balance of the $28,797.50 penalty has been suspended provided that Lizotte remains in compliance with the state’s asbestos regulations for a period of one year.

“Improper removal and handling of asbestos-containing materials places tenants, as well as the general public at risk,” Michael Gorski, director of MassDEP’s Western Regional Office in Springfield said in a press release. “When properly followed, the asbestos regulations provide for the protection of public health and the environment.”

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