Regulatory Developments, Special Topics in Environmental Management

EPA Denies Petition to Reconsider Pulp Mill Emissions

On July 9, 2018, his first day as Acting EPA Administrator, Andrew Wheeler denied a petition to reconsider the Agency’s residual risk and technology review (RTR) of its 2001 National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) for Chemical Recovery Combustion Sources at Kraft, Soda, Sulfite, and Stand-Alone Semi-Chemical Pulp Mills (October 11, 2107, Federal Register (FR)).

Paper Factory

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Dated December 11, 2017, the petition from environmental groups said reconsideration was warranted for two reasons. First, the groups asserted that the revisions based on the RTR excluded emissions limits for “for many of the hazardous air pollutants that Pulp Mills emit.” Second, the groups contended that the health risks considered in the RTR encompassed multiple census blocks, or very large areas surrounding the regulated facilities, rather than using risks experienced by people living closest to the facilities.

In denying both requests, Wheeler noted that the Agency had already responded to these concerns after they were raised in comments on the RTR proposal (December 30, 2016, FR), and there was no basis to petitioners’ argument that they had no opportunity to comment on them.

In addition, the EPA said it was under a court-ordered deadline to issue the RTR rule and was not obligated by the court to set limits for unregulated hazardous air pollutants (HAPs).

Environmental Justice

The NESHAP and RTR rule addressed emissions of gaseous organic HAPs and HAP metals from approximately 107 major sources of HAPs nationwide. In its proposal, the EPA stated that these facilities emit over 11,600 tons of HAPs per year. Many pulp and paper mills are in or near low-income communities, which has moved environmental and social justice groups to press the EPA to promulgate emissions standards for additional HAPs, including mercury, dioxins, polycyclic organic matter, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, naphthalene, 1,3-butadiene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, hydrogen chloride, and hydrogen fluoride.

“Communities located near pulp mills have long suffered from their exposure to and their concern about pulp mills’ emissions of these and other pollutants,” stated petitioners. “Communities neighboring pulp mills, such as the Crossett, Arkansas; Port Townsend, Washington; and Savannah, Georgia communities, have sought relief from the health harms caused by pollution from their local pulp mills for years as discussed in Petitioners’ original comments. The Crossett community in particular has repeatedly expressed concern that hazardous air pollutants from the Georgia-Pacific pulp mill may be linked to and causing or making worse the cases of cancer, asthma, skin, eye, and throat irritations, blindness, degenerative diseases, and chronic diseases, as summarized in Petitioners’ original comments.”
air emissions, pollution

New Pollutants

In his letter, Wheeler states that the 2016 proposal contained no new emissions limits. Petitioners had commented on this decision as it was presented in the proposal, the letter continues, and the Agency had responded to those comments in the final RTR rule.

“Because there was clearly an opportunity to comment on the absence of proposed standards for additional pollutants, the petitioners’ objection amounts to an argument that they should have been given an opportunity to comment on the EPA’s response to their comments,” Wheeler writes. “The reconsideration process is not meant to create an endless loop of comments and responses.”

The letter notes that the EPA may move in the future to regulate uncontrolled emissions from the source sector.

Census Blocks

The letter disputed petitioners’ contention that using communities living closest to the fence lines of the regulated facilities constituted the best approach to risk assessment. Moreover, the Agency said it explained its decision to use census block data in the final RTR rule. The letter states:

“The EPA explained the Agency’s conclusion that the most appropriate locations at which to estimate chronic exposures and risks are the census block centroids because: (1) census blocks are the finest resolution available in the national census data; (2) facility fence lines do not typically represent locations where chronic exposures are likely (i.e., people do not typically live at the fence line of facilities); and (3) there is no bias introduced into the estimate of maximum individual risk by using census block centroid locations.”

The petitions also complained that the EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) had recommended that the Agency use the most exposed receptors or residences of individuals exposed to air toxics in this kind of rulemaking, rather than the centroid of the census block as the exposure point. The EPA responded that it is under no obligation to implement the SAB’s recommendations.

The petition for reconsideration and the EPA’s response are at https://www.regulations.gov, docket EPA-HQ-OAR-2014-0741.