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EPA Urged To Classify Short-Term Emissions As HPVs
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EPA Urged To Classify Short-Term Emissions As HPVs


In an October 6 letter to EPA Office of Enforcement & Compliance Assurance Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles, a coalition of 34 environmental groups led by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club urged EPA to modify its Clean Air Act enforcement program to include short-term spikes of air pollution lasting fewer than seven days in its definition of high priority violations (HPV) that warrant increased scrutiny from the agency, citing several brief releases of harmful pollutants from industrial facilities.


EPA last updated its policy on its enforcement response to air law HPVs in August 2014, narrowing its 1998 policy defining which facility air violations are high priority events triggering federal reporting requirements to help reduce what states have called an onerous record-keeping burden associated with the agency's new Integrated Compliance Information System-Air reporting database launched last year.  But environmentalists claim the revision, which excluded pollution episodes lasting fewer than seven days from HPVs, means that some serious air law violations are not getting the attention they deserve under the HPV program, which seeks to focus EPA and state resources on the most serious air act violations.


As an alternative to the present policy, the groups suggest instead that EPA define HPVs to include short-term events that release an unusually large volume of criteria pollutants such as sulfur dioxide or particulates, or small but significant amounts of acrylonitrile, benzene, butadiene, ethylene oxide, hydrogen fluoride, and other toxins that are hazardous in minute concentrations, or events that occur frequently enough to cause emissions to exceed annual limits or (where applicable) major source permit thresholds.  Major sources of air toxics are those emitting 10 tons per year (tpy) of one hazardous air pollutant (HAP) or 25 tpy of a combination of HAPs.


The groups cite examples of harmful short bursts of pollution, including an August 9 event at Shell Chemical's Deer Park petrochemical plant, which is adjacent to the large Shell Oil refinery in Houston, TX.  According to figures published by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the event released more than 300,000 pounds of 1,3-butadiene, a carcinogen, when relief valves opened on a spherical tank.
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