Under the category you can’t come up with, the federal register dated September 3, 2021 contained a notice of a proposed settlement agreement and enforcement action for alleged air pollution violations for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Edison New Jersey facility. The federal agency responsible for environmental compliance failed to comply with New Jersey boiler and emergency generator regulations.
According to the federal register extract:
“In November 2019, New Jersey conducted an inspection of the EPA’s Edison facility and found several violations of law relating to the EPA’s boilers and emergency generators. Based on
this inspection and other information from the EPA, New Jersey alleged the following types of violations:
- Failure to obtain new general permits when the boilers and emergency generators were replaced;
- Operation of boilers and emergency power generators with an expired general license;
- Operation of an emergency power generator on five bad air days;
- Operation of a boiler on a day with bad air; and
- Improper coordination and / or transmission of voting protocols for two boilers. “
The EPA delegates responsibility for inspecting facilities after the implementation plans have been approved to the states. Inspectors visit the facility regularly and go through the permits and records to make sure everything is done correctly. It was found that a discrepancy arose during the inspection when comparing the specifications of the boiler and the emergency generator with the existing permits. I can only imagine the dismay at the EPA when it became apparent that someone had overlooked the rules. This resulted in two violations: one for lack of new permits and one for operating under an expired permit. These are paperwork violations that do no harm to the environment.
However, the inspection also revealed that the EPA was not operating the equipment properly and that this was harmful to the environment. In non-access areas, facilities are obliged not to operate emergency power generators, unless this is absolutely necessary on “Bad Air Days”. I’m not sure how “bad air days” are defined, but I believe they are days when either the observed or predicted air quality is close to or above a national air quality standard. In this case, it almost certainly represents nitrogen oxide emissions and the ozone air quality standard. Therefore, the EPA may have contributed to a violation of the ozone standard.
In addition, facilities must maintain their emission sources and pollution control systems. For a building boiler and an emergency power generator, this requirement usually exists in regular coordination. The EPA made improper voting and violated this requirement. Additionally, since they did not report them correctly, it is suspected that they did not get them correctly.
The notification from the federal register explains what happened after the problem was identified:
“The EPA has been working with New Jersey to bring the boilers and generators back to full compliance by the end of 2020. These steps included: (1) Obtaining new general permits and setting up one
internal calendar to better track when to apply for license renewals; (2) changing a generator setting to require that the generator test be started manually to avoid automatic starting on days with bad air; (3) Create and revise a log sheet to ensure that staff verify Bad Air Day status prior to testing emergency power generators; (4) conduct the 2020 vote with an outside contractor, with EPO staff attending for training purposes; and (5) Submit 2020 tune-up reports through an online reporting system in New Jersey. “
To fix the problem, the message states:
The EPA and New Jersey have now tentatively agreed on a proposed settlement agreement that would fully remedy the state’s identified violations of the law by paying a fine of $ 8,600, a penalty that would increase to a full fine of $ 17,200 if the EPA does not pay this penalty on time. To the extent that the alleged violations of the CAA may have violated the EPA and New Jersey agree that this proposed arrangement would also constitute the settlement of any claims that New Jersey could have brought under the CAA. “
In my experience on the industrial side of maintaining air quality, this has happened occasionally. It always occurred when one side of the organization didn’t bother to ask the internal environmental experts if there were any considerations about installing new equipment. I had a case when I hired an inspector where the facility dumped garbage outside without receiving the material. I think he was impressed that I was more angry than he was about the easily correctable problem. The point is that solving the problem is often a whim of the agency.
It’s a delicious irony that the federal compliance agency screwed things up. In this case there was hardly any environmental damage. Probably the biggest impact was the embarrassment that the agency was not abiding by the rules it was monitoring. Note, however, that if an environmental organization or political officer becomes aware of this with grudge in an industrial facility, they may disproportionately blow the effects and ask for much larger fines.