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Posts Tagged ‘EPA’

Vortex Tools looks at the recent Volkswagen emissions scandal. 

It’s a new week, which means it’s time for another story featuring environmental failure.

Admittedly, that’s the reality of most news. If it doesn’t fall under tragedy, villainy, or novelty, it doesn’t get much play, so in the environmental world, you often get stuck reviewing stories of the impending global warming apocalypse, eco-villains circumventing environmental regulations, or novelty technologies that are more entertaining that sustainable (I’m looking at you, anything that begins with “Give me your trash…”).

This week, it was door #2—eco-villains circumventing environmental regulations—with Volkswagen admitting to skirting EPA car emissions. If you haven’t been following the story, here’s what you need to know:

  • More cars on the road leads to increased carbon emissions. We’ve sought to taper this down via technology (improving the fuel source and vehicular design) and regulation (EPA emissions standards). Plenty of people have disputed the approach of both. Some say we should have left gasoline behind long ago; others argue that the efficiency of unleaded gasoline isn’t worth the slim environmental benefits it brings.
  • Here’s what you can’t do: You can’t design your car to get around regulations. That’s what Volkswagen did in their 2009-2015 model diesel engine cars (and those sold under the Audi brand) in the United States. Basically the car software detects when it’s being tested for NOx emissions then enables controls to automatically pass the test. Easy A, right?
  • So now, while your sweet ride’s engine performed better with improved gas mileage, pollution limits are believed to be 40 times above the legal limit. If you were to put that in drinking terms, this is equivalent to the kind of drunk that has you waking up in a different state without pants or memory of the last 12 hours. Except in this case, it’s not a body or a car taking the damage, it’s a planet. The current count on these modified vehicles recalled is 11,000.
  • In the wake of the scandal, Volkswagen stock prices and consumer ratings have plummeted. Although he states he was unaware of the software modifications, Volkswagen’s Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn stepped down on September 23rd. They’re now looking at legal consequences and losses which are expected to equate to billions.
  • Volkswagen has since hired the same law firm (Kirkland & Ellis) that defended BP after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. While I imagine that doesn’t inspire trust in the Volkswagen consumer, BP still turned a profit the year of that oil spill. With Volkswagen being the second largest automobile maker in the world, they’ll be looking for a similar “successful” result.

However, the big thing in all this is that I’ll forever cringe when I see a picture of a hippie next to an old slug bug.

Found on activerain.com

Found on activerain.com

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Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home), industrial water purification (biofilm removal), and reduced water pumping costs.

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for coal, biosolids, sugar beets, dairy waste, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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SpiroFlo reviews the recent pollution of the Animas River and why the Environmental Protection Agency is unable to respond quickly.

The big environmental story this week is the Gold King Mine wastewater spill in the Animas River. If you aren’t familiar with the story:

  • The Animas River—named by a Spanish explorer as the “River of Souls”—is part of the Colorado River System. At 126 miles long, the river begins in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado and flows into New Mexico.
  • Silverton, Colorado was a gold mine town (until the last mine closed in 1991). On August 5th, while working on the Gold King Mine near Silverton, an EPA-contracted company accidentally broke the dam holding back a tailing pond (a somewhat neutral term for a pond full of metals and waste from mining). Their intended task was to pump out and treat the contaminated mine water.
  • Over 3,000,000 gallons of this wastewater and tailings (the non-revenue materials/minerals from mining) flooded the Animas River. As of August 11th—six days after the initial breach—acidic water drainage from the metal mine continued to flow out at a rate of 500-700 gallons per minute. The pollution rates were updated (for the worse) and will likely continue to be so as the story progresses.
  • The wastewater spill affected waterways in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and parts of the Navajo Nation (in those areas).

As a result of the spill, the Animus River, which usually looks like this…

AnimasNormal

…turned orange within 24 hours…

AnimasOrange

…and later turned green:

AnimasGreen

Although the EPA has taken responsibility for the environmental disaster, they have been criticized for waiting a day before telling anyone. Other criticisms include giving inaccurate information (it’s usually the EPA who releases the numbers on spills like this—they’re just usually not also responsible, thereby creating a conflict of interest).

At first, there was no testing of the river contents. Some say this came about due to the changing water conditions; others noted that problems such as lead poisoning can be hard to detect. What we do know is that lead poisoning is linked to slowing child development and increasing learning disabilities (there are good reasons why lead paint got banned from homes). Given what’s in a gold mine, heavy metals are a guarantee—the kind of minerals that the EPA rightfully regulates away from air, earth, and water.

The Denver Post reported that, when river water was tested 15 miles downstream from Durango, Colorado, iron levels were 326 times the domestic water limit allowed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Iron levels were recorded at 100 times above the limit. CNN noted these iron levels as being 12,000 times higher than normal. CNN also noted the Animas River had “extremely high levels of arsenic, cadmium, beryllium and mercury. It also contained zinc, iron and copper.”

As a result of this, several people are deciding whether to sue the EPA. However, many believe this course of legal action won’t even be possible. Some have labeled the EPA the Environmental Pollution Agency and believe that if a private corporation had done that they’ve done, they’d have the CEO’s picture posted everywhere as a villain, and the EPA would be pushing for punitive justice. Now that the EPA is responsible, that pursuit of justice is a lot more leisurely.

Farmington, New Mexico has 90 days’ worth of drinking water before they have to pump in from elsewhere. However, some claim that, even within a week, water toxicity levels around the Durango area were back to pre-catastrophe levels. Brings to mind that old slogan “Dilution is the solution.” Regardless, many believe the impact of this polluted water won’t be fully seen for months, and that the EPA is moving too slow in the clean-up process.

So why does this clean up seem to be taking so long? There are two main reasons:

  • Bureaucracy: I know it’s a term that’s thrown around often, but when you’re dealing with a government agency that usually has to wait to go through public hearings and approval processes (all while some believe they wind up promoting their greased palm connections anyway), it makes it hard to respond to emergencies. You would think there would be an emergency protocol, and even if there is, that’s subject to abuse, too. Suddenly every project is an emergency…
  • Any private company that helps with the clean up becomes liable for its success. That’s right: While the EPA will likely not be held liable for the mess they made, if your company helps clean it up, you could be held responsible for the mess you didn’t make. While I understand there must be some standards for any company that’s signing up for a lot of important work, you can understand why plenty of viable technology companies would say no thanks. The EPA might as well put up a sign that reads “Now hiring scapegoats.”

The really scary thing is, thanks to several industries, there are hundreds of thousands of retaining ponds just like this (which the EPA were trying to fix), usually in pristine areas. The SpiroFlo series of companies has solutions for spinning these toxic minerals out of water, but we’re not looking to break into the scapegoat business. Sorry.

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As always, sources are in the comments.

Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home), industrial water purification (biofilm removal), and reduced water pumping costs.

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for coal, biosolids, sugar beets, dairy waste, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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Kintigh_Generating_Station_-_Somerset,_New_YorkVortex Tools covers the Supreme Court’s ruling against the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to limit power plant emissions.

It’s been a spotlight year for the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS). One week, a political group can claim SCOTUS is finally leading on an issue that is overdue for reform; the next week, the same group can gripe that the same SCOTUS shouldn’t overstep their bounds and should respect the laws as is. Yay, politics?

So this is the SCOTUS ruling this week:

The basics:

  • In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) imposed new regulations on coal- and oil-fired power plant emissions. These rules—on curbing mercury and other hazardous air pollutants—were supposed to take place in April 2016 and included capturing 90% of mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants (before they get released into the air), reducing 88% of acid gas emissions from power plants, and reducing sulfur dioxide emissions by 41%.
  • However, 21 states and industry groups challenged the regulations in front of the Supreme Court, and on June 29th, 2015, they voted 5-4 against the EPA. The main reasoning was that the EPA did not reasonably consider the costs of these regulations, and the majority of SCOTUS believes that the economic cost—costing $9.6 billion to install/operate equipment to remove mercury pollutants—disproportionately exceeded the health and environmental benefits.
  • The dissent believed that the EPA had considered these costs at the later stages of the project. They estimated that while the costs were nearly $10 billion for energy companies to get into compliance, they argued benefits of $37 to $90 billion annually. However, the majority of SCOTUS did not agree, and the EPA now returns to lower courts to account for the costs of compliance.

The interpretation:

  • Saying that the EPA overreached and didn’t consider the plausibility of enforcing such a standard is a common complaint from the industries looking at regulation. However, there are previous examples where this has not helped, like with cellulosic ethanol standards in gasoline—where the standards were unattainable, but the EPA enforced fines anyway.
  • Energy companies rarely like regulation, and as much as they say that they’ll regulate themselves, it rarely happens unless they’re forced into it, so some regulation is needed. Once regulations are enforced, innovation happens. However, this is not always the case (again, looking at ethanol standards in gasoline: lignocellulosic ethanol was supposed to be the great equalizer, but it wound up being a fantasy fuel that remains unproven, and the regulations remain unattainable).
  • This was the first of President Obama’s energy regulations to make it up to the Supreme Court, and with the ruling, it sets a precedence for the rest. Now state courts can point to a ruling from above them and this may well stop other energy cases from reaching the Supreme Court again. Regardless, as the regulations were announced at the end of 2011, some power plant companies already made an attempt to comply with the regulations.

However it goes, political groups will still have plenty to complain about next week.

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Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home), industrial water purification (biofilm removal), and reduced water pumping costs.

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for coal, biosolids, sugar beets, dairy waste, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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