Prison Time For ‘Environmental Crimes’ Has Doubled In 4 Years

In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency charged 187 defendants with environmental crimes and sentenced offenders to a combined 155 years of jail time. That’s more than double the amount of jail time eco-offenders were sentenced to in 2010, according agency data.

The EPA, however, charged significantly fewer people for environmental crimes in 2014 compared to 2010, reflecting the agency’s strategy of going after larger, more lucrative criminal and civil cases.

“By taking on large, high impact enforcement cases, EPA is helping to level the playing field for companies that play by the rules, while maximizing our ability to protect the communities we serve across the country,” Cynthia Giles, head of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in a statement.

EPA data shows the agency raked forced companies and other offenders to pay $9.7 billion in actions and to pay for “equipment to control pollution and clean up contaminated sites” as well as $163 million in civil penalties and criminal fines. The agency also got offenders to pay $453.7 million to clean up Superfund sites.

EPA enforcement actions resulted in 141 million pound reduction in of air pollutants and a 337 million pound reduction in water pollutants, according to agency data. Enforcement actions also cleaned up 856 million cubic yards of contaminated aquifers.

“Despite challenges posed by budget cuts and a government shutdown, we secured major settlements in key industry sectors and brought criminal violators to justice,” Giles said. “This work resulted in critical investments in advanced technologies and innovative approaches to reduce pollution and improve compliance.”

But probably EPA’s most startling statistic is its more than doubling of prison sentencing for environmental criminals in the last four years. In 2010, the EPA successfully charged 289 defendants, garnering 72 years in prison sentences.

Jail time for offenders has now doubled to 155 years among a successfully convicted group of only 187 defendants.

So who were some of the top environmental criminals of 2014?

Mark Kamholz, the environment control manager at the Tonawanda Coke Corporation, was convicted of violating the Clean Air Act and other federal laws and sentenced to one year in prison, 100 hours of community service and a $20,000 fine.

All this for “releasing coke oven gas containing benzene into the air through an unreported pressure relief valve” and because a coke-quenching tower did not have federally mandated pollution control technology, says EPA. Kamholz order another employee to conceal the fact a pressure valve was releasing pollutants into the air.

The Tonawanda Coke Corporation was hit with fines as well. The company was forced to pay a $12.5 million penalty and pay $12.2 million in community service payments for violating federal environmental laws. The EPA says this is “one of the largest fines ever levied in an air pollution case involving a federal criminal trial.”

Ohio waste disposal company owner Benedict Lupo was sentenced to two years in prison and a $25,000 fine for ordering his employees to dump waste from hydraulic fracturing operations into a tributary of the Mahoning River. Lupo illegally dumped fracking waste into the tributary 30 times in 2012 and 2013, having his employees dump the waste at night when nobody else was around.

Robert Lewis, a hazardous waste transporter, was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison for illegally storing hazardous waste in a self-storage facility in Macon, Georgia. He also illegally stored waste in Rex, Georgia and at his home in Albany.

And finally, Benjamin Pass, the owner of a recycling business, was sentenced to 42 months in prison and forced to pay $21 million in fines for “mishandling of used oil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) that led to widespread contamination and millions of dollars in clean-up costs.” Pass also fined $539,000 for not paying incomes between 2002 and 2011.

This article was originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

Methane Emissions From Fracking Plummet, But EPA May Impose More Rules

Methane emissions from hydraulic fracturing operations, or fracking, fell 73 percent since 2011, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency. A welcome development for President Obama’s climate plan, but one that may not stop the EPA from imposing more regulations on the oil and gas industry.

The EPA just released data showing that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions inched up 0.6 percent in 2013 due to higher utilization of coal to generate electricity. But as emissions from coal grew, emissions from the oil and gas industry fell last year, in particular, methane emissions from fracking operations.

“Reported methane emissions from petroleum and natural gas systems sector have decreased by 12 percent since 2011, with the largest reductions coming from hydraulically fractured natural gas wells, which have decreased by 73 percent during that period,” the EPA reported. “EPA expects to see further emission reductions as the agency’s 2012 standards for the oil and gas industry become fully implemented.”

Good news for fracking, but is it good enough to stop the EPA from issuing more regulations? It’s not exactly clear.

EPA chief Gina McCarthy has said the agency was considering “cost-effective regulatory and-or voluntary efforts” to reduce methane emissions. In 2012, the EPA imposed pollution control requirements for oil and gas wells which is expected to drive methane emissions down.

But pressure from environmentalists and Democratic politicians has increased as the deadline for EPA to issue possible new rules for methane looms. Any new rules or voluntary programs crafted by the agency would have to be finalized by March 2016.

“Ton for ton, methane causes at least 80 times more warming than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period,” reads a letter from 15 senators, led by Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, to President Obama.

“Voluntary standards are not enough,” the 13 Democrats and two independents wrote. “Too many in the oil and gas sector have failed to adopt sound practices voluntarily, and the absence of uniform enforceable standards has allowed methane pollution to continue, wasting energy and threatening public health.”

Environmental lawyer David Doniger with the Natural Resources Defense Council has called for increased regulations on fracking to reduce methane emissions. The New York Times reported in July that Doniger helped come up with the “blueprint” for the EPA’s rule to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants — which is why some lawmakers are taking his interest in methane emissions seriously.

“We know this methane leakage can be cut by half or more with proven, cheap technology,” Doniger wrote in a blog post. “But EPA’s current standards don’t apply to fracked oil wells that also contain gas — gas that the drillers often just waste by venting or flaring it away.”

“The Obama Administration, in conjunction with the NRDC, is carrying out an all-out assault on America’s fossil fuel resources that is unnecessarily inflating the cost of energy,” said Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe.

Inhofe has questioned the integrity of a series of EPA white papers on methane emissions from the natural gas industry. Inhofe wrote to the White House that the EPA white papers lack “a fundamental understanding” of the oil and gas industry and that the agency “believes it has the capacity to actually help oil and natural gas companies” operate more efficiently.

Natural gas operations, including fracking, releases methane emissions which can be captured and sold or burned off — also called flaring. The EPA has been trying to enhance the environmental image of gas by encouraging companies to capture gas instead of flaring it, which means it’s not being emitted into the atmosphere.

The oil and gas industry says it doesn’t need any more help from the agency to capture methane as emissions have been falling dramatically even as gas production booms.

“Thanks in large part to innovations like hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, America is leading the world in producing natural gas and reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Howard Feldman, head of regulatory and science affairs at the American Petroleum Institute.

“Industry will continue to be a leader in environmental stewardship as it maintains our country’s leadership position as the top producer of natural gas,” Feldman added.

Follow Michael Bastasch on Twitter and Facebook

This piece was originally published on The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Brown fuels incentives for alternative-energy cars

Convinced carbon emissions pose an “existential threat” to the human race, Gov. Jerry Brown just signed a set of bills designed to push ahead an environmental agenda dependent on automobiles that don’t run on gas. Among other new rules, regulations and programs, the new legislation set three changes in motion.

Assembly Bill 2013, by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, expanded the sticker program that authorizes drivers of low-emissions vehicles to use High Occupancy Vehicle lanes regardless of whether they carry any passengers. The bill raised the total number of stickers authorized for DMV issuance from 55,000 to 75,000.440px-Electric_car_charging_Amsterdam

Aware of the symbolic political value of statistics, Gov. Brown has sought to use memorable numbers to capture the environmental imagination of elites and the public alike. That approach was evident in an additional bill signed by Brown, Senate Bill 1275, by state Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles; on Oct. 15 he will become the Senate’s president pro tempore.

It officially set a goal of one million zero- or near-zero emissions vehicles on California roads by 2023. In addition to ordering the California Air Resources Board to create a plan to meet the objective, SB1275 required the board to create new incentives for lower-income residents, who are less likely to purchase or lease alternative energy cars or trucks.

To do that, CARB was tasked to expand California’s electric and hybrid car rebate program. First used in 2010, over 75,000 rebates have gone out to Golden State motorists. As the Los Angeles Times reported, CARB will beef up that program by offering extra credit to qualifying “low-income drivers” who choose an electric vehicle.

Moreover, CARB will oversee the installation of new charging stations in selected low-income residential buildings and bolster car-sharing programs in targeted neighborhoods. “Low-income residents who agree to scrap older, more polluting cars will also get clean-vehicle rebates on top of existing payments for junking smog-producing vehicles,” according to the Times.

Beyond cars

Finally, Brown signed off on legislation using CARB to push alternate fuel use for heavier vehicles. That bill, SB1204, was introduced by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens. Its aim is to subsidize the development, purchase and leasing of zero- and near-zero emission buses and trucks, dramatizing Brown’s vision of an overhauled transportation infrastructure for California.

To do that, however, SB1204 authorized $200 million in cap-and-trade fee revenue to be allocated to various incentives for alternate-fuel buses and trucks. In the recent past, Brown came under fire, even from environmentalists, for diverting cap-and-trade funds to his prized but costly high-speed rail project. Although critics have not rallied against the new allocation of funds, Brown’s rival in this year’s gubernatorial race did not hesitate to jump on the move.

“If he was serious about climate change,” Neel Kashkari told the Sacramento Bee, “he would be taking the cap-and-trade revenue and funding basic research at Stanford, at Berkeley, at Caltech, so we develop cleaner technologies that are also cheaper, and we export them around the world.”

A final mission

With Brown’s tenure in Sacramento coming to an end either this year or in four years, his idiosyncratic but dogged approach to environmental issues has taken on the air of a capstone personal project. At this week’s United Nations summit on climate issues, Brown told world leaders that within six months he planned to set new, lower carbon emissions goals for 2030.

AB32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, mandated reducing carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2020, just six years away.

Realizing his ambitions, Brown said, will take more ambition and more technology, “and will also require heightened political will.”

James Polous is a contributor to Calwatchdog. This piece was originally posted on Calwatchdog.com