Tag Archives: EPA

Joseph Cotier, CPEA joins The Elm Consulting Group International LLC

The Elm Consulting Group International LLC, a specialty health, safety, environmental and sustainability (HSES) management consulting firm, is pleased to announce the addition of Joseph B. Cotier, CPEA as a Director of the firm beginning January 3, 2011.

“Joe brings 22 years experience in HSE auditing excellence and client focus to our team” said Patrick Doyle, Elm’s founder and Managing Director.  “He is a perfect complement to the firm.”

“I have known Joe personally and professionally for close to 20 years and know first hand about his expertise and exemplary qualifications.  We are very excited to have him become a part of Elm” said Robert Bray, Elm Co-Founder and Managing Director.

Cotier said, “I am happy to be a part of Elm and look forward to continuing to have a positive impact on the HSE auditing field – driving innovation both in the US and across the globe.”

Joseph B. Cotier, CPEA, has completed more than 350 EHS audits and management systems consulting projects in more than 35 states and 20 countries.   He has experience in a wide range of industries including petroleum refining and chemical manufacturing, electric utilities, breweries and consumer and pharmaceutical products manufacturing. Mr. Cotier is an air emissions expert with particular strengths in emissions inventories, leak detection and repair, and a wide variety of MACT programs.  Joe his has performed inspections and managed compliance orders as a Senior Air Pollution Control Engineer for the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. He is a BEAC Certified Professional Environmental Auditor and recently completed his fifth year on the Board of Directors for The Auditing Roundtable, the leading professional association for HSE auditors.   He served as Secretary, Vice President and President, and now serves the Roundtable as Director on the Board.

Mr. Cotier will be working out of Glastonbury, Connecticut and can be reached at jcotier@elmgroup.com, +1-860-794-3617 (cell) or +1-860-430-1653 (office).

The Elm Consulting Group International LLC Launches iPad Environmental Audit Protocols

Following a successful implementation of the iPad for HSE auditing, Elm is today rolling out environmental compliance audit protocol modules for field testing this week.

“We believe this is the first formal environmental audit protocol implemented in the iPad form factor,” said Lawrence Heim, Director of Elm’s Georgia operations and the firm’s lead for iPad service development.

The protocols are reflective of a traditional paper-based format proven in the field over a number of years.   Modules selected for field testing are waste generation, Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know (“EPCRA”) and ozone depleting substances.

“In our view, this as a potentially dramatic step forward in HSE auditing.  While version one does not automatically generate audit findings or reports, it has other significant strengths in addition to the benefits already seen by Elm from iPad implementation,” Heim said.

Elm highlights the following features:

  • Flexibility.  The protocol can be used in a manner matching auditors’ own personal styles in collecting audit data.  Handwritten notes are captured in any format, including different “ink” colors, “highlighters”, and line weighting.  While the initial protocol version is based on Elm’s standard audit process, other custom formats can be developed virtually without limitation.
  • Adaptability. Elm’s iPad HSE protocol can be used alongside existing audit systems for initial data capture and organization prior to entering the information into less user friendly, highly structured audit systems.  Also, the resulting PDF file can be attached into other HSE audit systems as supporting documentation.
  • Merging related documents into the protocol.  Documents such as state regulations, permits, plans, applications, agency correspondence and enforcement agreements can be incorporated into the protocol itself without effort of retyping, restructuring or reformatting.  Once the appropriate document is merged, auditors are able to write notes and highlight text directly in the document.  Further, by using a cellphone camera, additional documents can be captured and merged into the protocol in a few minutes while on-site.
  • Languages. The iPad application in which the protocol was created can drastically reduce the need to translate audit protocols and related documents between languages.  Audit documents are captured in their source format and original language, eliminating language translation costs/errors and allowing auditors to use their local language.

“We fully expect a successful test, with only minor changes to Version 1 being necessary.  Additional environmental compliance modules are already in initial stages, awaiting our assessment of the field trials.  Health and safety modules will be developed soon after,” Heim stated.

More Delays in SPCC Rule

EPA announced it is proposing yet another delay in the implementation of the “new” SPCC regulations, originally published in 2001.

EPA states:

Types of facilities that may be eligible for the proposed one year extension:

Oil production, farms, electric utility plants, petroleum refining and related industries, chemical manufacturing, food manufacturing, manufacturing facilities using and storing animal fats and vegetable oils, metal and other manufacturing, real estate rental and leasing, retail trade, contract construction, wholesale trade, other commercial, transportation, arts entertainment & recreation, other services (except public administration), petroleum bulk stations and terminals, education, hospitals & other health care, accommodation and food services, fuel oil dealers, gasoline stations, information finance and insurance, mining, warehousing and storage, religious organizations, military installations, and government facilities.

In summary, the proposed rule would:

  • Extend the date by which the owners or operators of certain facilities must prepare or amend and implement an SPCC plan by one year to November 10, 2011
  • Delay the compliance date for facilities with milk containers that are constructed according to the current applicable 3-A sanitary standards, and subject to the current applicable grade “A” pasteurized milk ordinance (PMO) or a state dairy regulatory requirement equivalent to the current applicable PMO until one year after EPA finalizes a rule for these facilities.
  • Maintain the current November 10, 2010 compliance date for drilling, production and workover facilities that are offshore or that have an offshore component, and for onshore facilities required to have and submit FRPs
  • Reconcile the proposed compliance dates for new production facilities

The proposed amendments do not remove the regulatory requirement for owners or operators of facilities in operation before August 16, 2002 (other than facilities with milk containers described above), to maintain and continue implementing an SPCC plan in accordance with the SPCC regulations then in effect.  EPA is seeking comment on whether a shorter extension period (6 to 9 months) is warranted for facilities rather than the proposed one year extension. In considering a shorter compliance extension period, we request comments on the criteria to consider, such as discharge history, size and type of facility, potential risk posed, and ability to come into compliance.

More information on the proposed rule:  http://www.epa.gov/emergencies/content/spcc/index.htm

Latest on EPA’s Coal Ash Regulatory Proposal

Earlier this week the House Subcommittee on Rural Development, Entrepreneurship & Trade held a hearing on EPA’s proposal to classify coal ash (also known as coal combustion products (CCP)) as federally-regulated hazardous waste.  Read more about the proposal.

The press release released by the Subcommittee stated:

During the hearing, entrepreneurs in the recycling industry said that a hazardous waste classification carries a stigma and would raise liability fears, making it difficult to use coal ash in building materials.  Lawmakers also questioned whether the EPA had evaluated the full impact the proposed rule might have on small businesses.  In one exchange with lawmakers, the EPA witness conceded that stiffer regulation of coal ash could potentially cause a 6 percent increase in electricity rates.

Should coal ash be classified as hazardous waste, there is also a potential for third party claims for existing building materials that contain the material.  Stay tuned.

When It Spills, It Pours

In years past, we have seen a small – but growing – amount of shareholder activism in publicly traded companies concerning sustainability and environmental matters.  Several Fortune 500 companies have faced and defeated these attempts at requiring greater environmental risk assessment and disclosure.

2010 looks to be dramatically different.

Setting the stage in 2008, TVA experiences a catastrophic failure of an ash pond in Tennessee that also prompts EPA to initiate their own risk assessment of similar ash ponds across the country.

Then, SEC published its Interpretive Guidance on climate risk assessment/disclosure that is effective beginning this year.

On the H&S front, Massey Energy faces a mine disaster that claims 29 lives and raises the profile of MSHA enforcement gaps.

Now, BusinessWeek reports that investor groups are gearing up to require far more information and disclosure from the companies they invest in.  Some highlights of the article:

In the past, demands for risk disclosure tended to be viewed as hypothetical. In light of the Gulf disaster, [Robert Graham, founder and head of the environmental law practice at Chicago-based Jenner & Block] predicts that requests for such information will become more mainstream. “These issues are real and this disaster dramatically demonstrates how they impact a company’s balance sheet,” he says.

Companies will be pressed by shareholders to disclose more information about safety practices, the kinds of fail-safe mechanisms they have in place for high-risk operations, and their plans and prospects. Companies will have to reconsider the insurance they’ve arranged to better gauge how much and what kinds of coverage they need to cover potential risks. They’ll also need to figure out how much cash to set aside in reserve to cover unforeseen incidents that may cause environmental damage, he says. Shareholders will also start to insist on viewing companies’ safety records, including any sanctions received from federal or state agencies regarding their operations.

If your company is not already in the process of evaluating how to define and assess environmental matters in the context of “risk” rather than “compliance” or “management systems”, then you are probably behind.

EPA is Still Messing with Texas

In the wake of EPA Region 6’s recent decision to overturn TCEQ-issued air permits for 40 companies, EPA fired another shot at The Alamo.  The EPA is offering Texas companies with the approximately 130 affected air permits the opportunity to have third party audits conducted with a promise of enforcement leniency in exchange.  The pre-publication version of the announcement is posted at EPA Region 6 website here, as well as the 30-page agreement that audit participants must execute with EPA.

Noteworthy aspects of the agreement include:

–       Highly prescriptive requirements for third party auditor independence and report certification

–       Detailed requirements for the scope of the audit

–       Audit report content, format and submission requirements – including taxonomy for supporting document attachments

–       Mandates and specifications for emissions-related Community Projects to be entered into by the audit participant and approved by EPA

–       Separate specifications for the NSR portion of the audit and related report

–       The model Consent Agreement and Final Order (CAFO)

Companies interested in participating in the audit program should conduct a thorough review – with legal counsel – of the language contained in the agreement and CAFO documents.  Although we at Elm are not lawyers and do not dispense legal advice, these documents do not appear to provide protection against fines and penalties.

EPA Messes With Texas

The Associated Press says that EPA will prevent the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) from issuing an air emissions permit for the Flint Hills (Koch Industries) Refinery in Corpus Christi.  The permit will be issued directly by EPA and is likely to contain substantive differences from the permit proposed by TCEQ.

Further, by June 30 EPA will invalidate 39 more air emissions permits affecting 140 plants in Texas as a result of a dispute between EPA Region 6 and the TCEQ.

Al Armendariz, [EPA Region 6 Administrator] said the EPA will issue its own permit for the independently owned Flint Hills Corpus Christi East Refinery, and in the coming days begin to do the same for 39 other plants, including facilities owned by Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips and Dow Chemical Co.

The EPA objected to 40 permits issued by Texas late last year, Armendariz said, partly because they included so-called “flexible permits” that the agency says allow the industry to emit more pollutants than allowed under the federal Clean Air Act. Texas created its flexible permit system in 1994, but it was never officially approved by the EPA.

AP further stated that

at least five years [may be needed] to unravel Texas’ rogue permitting process and learn how much air pollution is being spewed by the nation’s largest refineries.

EPA Publishes Proposal on Coal Ash Management

EPA has issued both a press release and a statement on its website announcing its proposed rule concerning the management of coal combustion products (CCP, also called “coal ash”).  In the news release, EPA said:

The proposal opens a national dialogue by calling for public comment on two approaches for addressing the risks of coal ash management under the nation’s primary law for regulating solid waste, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). One option is drawn from authorities available under Subtitle C, which creates a comprehensive program of federally enforceable requirements for waste management and disposal. The other option includes remedies under Subtitle D, which gives EPA authority to set performance standards for waste management facilities and would be enforced primarily through citizen suits. A chart comparing and contrasting the two approaches is available on EPA’s Web site.

Under both approaches proposed by EPA, the agency would leave in place the Bevill exemption for beneficial uses of coal ash in which coal combustion residuals are recycled as components of products instead of placed in impoundments or landfills. Large quantities of coal ash are used today in concrete, cement, wallboard and other contained applications that should not involve any exposure by the public to unsafe contaminants. These uses would not be impacted by today’s proposal.

The proposed rule is 563 pages long in the pre-publication form, but EPA developed a table to simply a comparison of the two regulatory approaches in the rule.

Just Announced: Wal-Mart’s Super-Sized Hazardous Waste Settlement

Media outlets including USAToday and San Diego News Network are announcing an environmental settlement reached by Wal-Mart and environmental regulators.  The settlement is valued at $27.6 million and caps a five-year investigation of the retailer’s management of wastes such as cleaning chemicals, paints and pesticides across 236 stores in California.

While this is one of the largest settlements of its kind in the US, it is unlikely to have any significant impact on the financial condition of the world’s largest retailer, which is ranked #1 on the 2010 Fortune 500 list, posting more than $378billion in revenues and $12.7billion in profit for 2009.

A Question from Your Company’s President/CEO: How Come the Audit Didn’t Find That?

Those of us who have been in EHS auditing for awhile have faced this question, either as internal corporate staff or as an outside auditor.

You know the situation – an EHS event occurs at a site, it gets reported up the management chain and the questions (and possible finger pointing) begin.

How could we have let this happen?

How come we didn’t know about this sooner?

What did the last audit find?

And finally…..  Why wasn’t it found or addressed in the audit?

Most EHSS audit programs were built to address compliance or management systems conformance.  Today, companies are beginning to approach these questions in a constructive manner, looking to develop risk-based EHSS audit frameworks.  We at Elm are frequently asked how to incorporate the concept of “risk” into audit programs.  For those wondering where to start, here are a few tips:

  • Use existing risk benchmarks within the company.  There is no need for EHSS risks to use separate definitions.
  • Actively and aggressively coordinate with all aspects of the company.  The business impacts of EHSS exposures are relevant to a surprising number of functions and actitivities.
  • Conduct a thorough EHSS risk assessment.  During this process, encourage and embrace discussions of “Black Swan” events.
  • Generally a two-dimensional framework is effective to communicate risk likelihood and impact separately.
  • Create a risk profile assuming controls will fail.  Remember that at this point, you are identifying a “gross risk profile”.  Effectiveness of controls should be evaluated in a separate step.
  • Evaluate the risk profile for auditable topics and elements.  Once the appropriate topics are identified, audit protocols can be developed.  However, these protocols are typically beyond the scope with which traditional EHSS auditors are comfortable.
  • Develop guidelines for appropriate corrective actions.  For example, a risk that is high impact/low likelihood may be best treated with a financial solution to reduce the economic impact of a rare event.  A management system approach to such a risk may not prove relevant or effective.

These ideas may help provide some guidance on how to move ahead, reduce real business risk and generate demonstrable economic value.