Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

United States Government Quietly Releases Dramatic New Recommendations For Combating Climate Change

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Dec 04, 2018

While domestic climate politics in the U.S. and Canada generate hot air about the reality and urgency of climate change, climate science proceeds largely on its own pathways, and climate policies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are being proposed and developed by a wide variety of entities. On November 23 – often referred to as “Black Friday” by retailers and shoppers in the U.S., regardless of their attitudes about global warming – the U.S. government’s U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) delivered urgent recommendations for aggressive policies. This Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) builds on last year’s Climate Science Special Report (which I wrote about here).

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Tags: Environmental, Environmental risks, Business & Legal, ghg, Greenhouse Gas, climate change

Protecting Workplaces From Combustible Dust

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Nov 20, 2018

On October 24, the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (which uses the truncated acronym CSB) issued a “Call to Action: Combustible Dust” seeking information about what it has long considered a major industrial hazard. Since 1980 CSB has identified hundreds of industrial accidents involving dust that have injured nearly 1000 workers and killed more than one hundred. In 2006 CSB issued 4 formal recommendations to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to enhance that agency’s regulation of occupational hazards from combustible dust – particularly from possible fires or explosions, with mixed responses.

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Tags: Health & Safety, Environmental, Environmental risks, Employer Best Practices, OSHA

Finding and Correcting Workplace Mold Infestations

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Oct 23, 2018

Summer brought its inevitable share of rain, and even flooding and hurricanes in some places. Residual moisture increases the possibility of mold infestations, which might endanger people in your workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state worker protection agencies have longstanding information and recommendations to employers for finding, evaluating and eradicating mold infestations in their workplaces. Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just updated its mold cleanup as part of its broader initiatives to help employers plan for floods and hurricanes (I wrote about updated hurricane information here). EPA’s approach is narrower than OSHA’s, since it focuses on post-incident activities.

Organizations with facilities that may be subject to routine water infiltration or leaks, or sudden flooding from hurricanes or other events – should consider both sets of information.

Mold Basics

Molds and other fungi are both ubiquitous and plentiful--they have been estimated to make up a quarter of all the biomass on the planet. Molds are found almost everywhere, and can grow on just about any surface, as long as moisture and oxygen are available.

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Tags: Employee Rights, Employer Best Practices, Environmental risks, Environmental, mold, Health & Safety

EPA Proposes To Replace Obama-Era Rules For Coal Fired Power Plants

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Oct 16, 2018

The Trump-era Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed to repeal and replace another of the Obama-era EPA’s signature efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. EPA has now proposed an “Affordable Clean Energy Rule”, to replace the “Clean Energy Plan” adopted in 2015 but stayed by litigation. The new rule softens the mandates in the earlier rule, and offers states more flexibility to design their own efforts to control greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired electricity generating units (EGUs) by eliminating Clean Power Plan requirements that states consider operational changes “outside the fenceline” of the regulated EGUs.

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Tags: EPA, ghg, Greenhouse Gas, Environmental, Environmental risks

Court Reinstates Delayed Accidental Release Prevention Revisions, While EPA Moves To Rescind Them

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Oct 09, 2018

The ongoing administrative battle over the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Accidental Release Prevention (ARP) program requirements has had another skirmish. On August 17, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (DC Circuit) lambasted EPA’s latest deferral of ARP requirement revisions as outside the agency’s Clean Air Act (CAA) authority, and otherwise “arbitrary and capricious,” and vacated that deferral. However, the Court did nothing about EPA’s pending proposal to rescind most of those changes and reinstate longstanding requirements that many see as inadequate.

What’s the Current Status of ARP Requirements?

ARP rules specify “regulated substances” and threshold quantities for which onsite incidents could produce harmful offsite consequences, “risk management plan (RMP)” requirements to be instituted by facilities in order to manage those risks, and associated procedural and reporting requirements. In the last week before President Obama left office, EPA completed a multi-year review of its ARP program, responding to his Executive Order Number 13650 from 2013 (I wrote about these revisions here). Then, when President Trump took office, EPA reversed course, repeatedly deferring the effective date of those revisions while the agency reviewed them. In June 2017 EPA issued the latest of these deferrals, citing pending petitions for review by industry groups, and the agency’s need to reconsider the matter to justify deferring the effective date of the (Obama era) revisions for 20 months.

In May 2018 EPA completed its review, and published a proposal in the Federal Register to rescind almost all these expansions and return ARP requirement to those in place before 2017 (I summarized the proposal here). EPA also included an alternative proposal that retained a few more elements, and requested public comment on both versions no later than July 30, 2018.

What Has the DC Circuit Just Decided?

The DC Circuit case was brought by environmental and health groups, supported by a number of state governments. They claimed that EPA’s 20 month deferral exceeded the three month limit provided the agency by the CAA. They also noted that the agency had offered no substantial justification for overturning a final decision (the January 2017 revisions) after a multi-year rulemaking.

The case was heard by a 3 judge panel of the DC Circuit (interestingly, the panel include Judge Brett Kavanaugh, whose nomination to the US Supreme Court is pending and who took no part in this decision). The remaining judges agreed with the plaintiff’s arguments, found EPA’s delay to be “arbitrary and capricious”, and vacated the deferral rule.

Now What?

With the deferrals gone, the 2017 revisions take effect as issued in the waning days of the Obama administration. After the first two Trump Administration deferrals, the revisions would have been effective in June 2017 with staggered compliance deadlines. Facilities were to ensure coordination of their onsite activities with offsite response agencies by March 2018, institute enhanced RMP activities by March 2021, and formally revise their RMPs by March 2022. On September 21, the Court issued another order directing EPA to begin enforcing the 2017 rules immediately. This means that the coordination requirements identified above are active, and other elements remain on their original phase-in schedule..

But EPA’s May 2018 proposal to rescind most of the January 2017 amendments was not part of this case, and so is unaffected. As of this writing EPA has not made any statement about further appeal of the August 2018 court decision, but it’s safe to assume that the agency is proceeding with its own May 2018 proposal – presumably paying attention to the procedural flaws highlighted in the court order. I expect EPA will eventually issue some version of its proposed regulatory roll-back, which will trigger further litigation about whether the dramatic change is justified by the rulemaking record.

Self-Assessment Checklist

Does the organization own or operate any facility with any “stationary source” subject to ARP requirements?

  • If so, has the organization considered the impacts on its operations and compliance position under potential revisions?

Where Can I Go For More Information?

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Tags: EPA, Environmental, Environmental risks, clean water

Environmental Justice Update

Posted by Rebecca Luman on Thu, Oct 04, 2018

On April 19, 2018, EPA released their Environmental Justice FY2017 Progress Report. The report commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Office of Environmental Justice (EJ), highlighting progress advancing EJ in minority, low-income, tribal, and indigenous communities. Among their 2017 successes, EPA documented for the first time measurable environmental outcomes in three program areas: fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5), small drinking water systems, and tribal drinking water systems. In each area, EPA measured significant improvements:

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Tags: Environmental, Environmental risks, site auditing, clean water, EPA

EPA is Considering a Regulatory Roadmap For Additional Uses of Asbestos

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Oct 02, 2018

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expanding its attention to asbestos and its associated hazards, including both existing uses and possible new uses. EPA is undertaking these initiatives under the aegis of extension of its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), enacted in 2016 Amendments to TSCA -- the “Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act.” (I wrote about provisions relating to existing chemical here, and for new chemicals and new formulations of existing chemicals here).

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Tags: EPA, Hazcom, Environmental, Environmental risks, tsca

OSHA Provides Planning and Response Advice Addressing Hurricanes

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Sep 25, 2018

Federal agencies have marked the beginning of Atlantic hurricane season by reminding employers and the public of the risks from hurricanes, and how to plan for and respond to events. These include a compilation of advisory documents on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website, which also includes links to additional information by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Hurricane Center. This information is too late to help people in the Carolinas who’ve been inundated by Florence, but does provide useful reminders.

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Tags: Environmental, Environmental risks, OSHA, EPA

The Unexpected Benefits of Walking to School

Posted by Jane Dunne on Thu, Sep 20, 2018

Remember when splashing through puddles, collecting pretty-coloured leaves and deciding to keep a caterpillar for a pet were part of getting to and from school? Imagine all that you would have missed if your walk to school as a kid had been replaced with a sterile car ride. October is International Walk to School month (iWalk) and that has got me thinking…

Could Walking Boost Creativity?

Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “all truly great thoughts are conceived while walking” and many of the world’s greatest thinkers have recognized the power of a walk to spark new ideas and thoughts. Charles Dickens felt that walking enabled him to develop novel ways to write and some say that his walking stick was almost as important for his writing as his pen. (Charles Dickens Museum) A Stanford study has confirmed this belief and found that walking does boost creative inspiration. According to the study, creative output increases by an average of 60 percent when a person is walking. (Stanford News) Apparently, even after a walk, creative juices continue to flow, which is great for kids just arriving at school.

Exercise for Life

Setting up good habits when a child is young can translate into an active teen and adult life. Being driven to school each day contributes to sedentary behaviors and since much of the day is spent sitting in a classroom, an opportunity to be active while walking to school can help to develop life-long patterns of choosing exercise. Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that kids aged 5 to 11 get at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise every day. (For details on these guidelines, see Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines.) 

Clearing the Air

Car fumes are not healthy for anyone, but the one place that really should not have exhaust surrounding it is your local school. University of Toronto assistant professor, Matthew Adams, recently found that school kiss-and-ride drop-off zones are exposing children to increased levels of air pollution (see U of T News.)  Knowing that your family has chosen to walk, and is not contributing to poor air quality around schools by driving a short distance and then idling, is empowering. The morning walk to school is a chance for students to breathe fresh air and means that kids arrive at school feeling more alert and able to learn.

Street Smarts

Many parents find that letting their kids walk to school helps kids to learn how to be responsible and to make decisions by themselves. Walking or biking to school is a great way to improve academic performance. A recent study found that children who exercise have more brain power. Researchers were able to show that physical activity can actually increase the size of children’s brains and that kids who are physically fit have a greater volume of grey matter in the frontal and temporal regions and the calcarine cortex, all of which are important for learning, motor skills and visual processing. (For more information, see Brain Power.) 

Why Wouldn’t Kids Walk to School?

Some parents tell themselves that driving the kids to school is what is best for safety, but who is this really best for? When you consider that children are at a greater risk of injury in a car than while playing or walking, you really can’t put safety forward as the reason to drive them to school.

One fear that parents have is that their child will be kidnapped. Kidnappings are incredibly rare, but parents don’t want to be that 1 in 14 million, even though limiting their child’s independence is an expected outcome of not allowing them to experience the world on their own. A good way to quash this particular fear is to find a group of kids that can walk to school together. Set up rules on how everyone sticks together and no one is left behind. (For ideas on starting a walking school bus in your area, see Walking School Bus.) 

Getting Involved

For those of you living in British Columbia, you can register a school to participate in the Walk and Wheel to School event (October 1 – 5th 2018) with the Directorate of Agencies for School Health (DASH BC). (See DASH BC for more information.)

Jane Dunne is a Senior Editor for Specialty Technical Publishers. She works on a diverse catalogue of environmental publications that are recognized across North America as effective tools to ensure regulatory compliance with complex requirements.

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Tags: Health & Safety, Environmental, Environmental risks, Transportation

Circuit Court Ends a Decade of Delay by Ordering EPA to Cancel a Hazardous Pesticide

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Sep 18, 2018

The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) empowers the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to define and regulate pesticides meeting statutory qualifications, providing extensive procedural directions how to do so. In addition, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (“FFDCA”) authorizes EPA to regulate the use of pesticides on foods according to specific statutory standards, and grants EPA limited authority to establish tolerances for pesticide residuals on foods. These directions govern EPA’s analyses of applications for registration, ongoing evaluations of evolving scientific understanding and practical experience with pesticides that have been registered, and response to public comments and petitions (I provided a basic summary of FIFRA registration procedures here).

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Tags: EPA, Hazcom, Health & Safety, Environmental risks, Environmental