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

Report: EPA Regulations To Raise Power Costs 37 Percent By 2020

Electricity prices are already increasing at record levels and Environmental Protection Agency rules will only force power prices up even higher as the agency finalizes a slew of regulations aimed at the power sector.

A report by Energy Ventures Analysis found that the EPA underestimates how much its power plant regulatory regime will raise electricity and natural gas prices by imposing new regulations on power plants, most recently being the agency’s rules to cut carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing power plants.

These new rules to tackle global warming, combined with other rules to reduce more traditional air pollutants, will dramatically increase Americans’ utility bills by 2020, according to EVA’s report which was sponsored by the coal company Peabody Energy.

“Annual power and gas costs for residential, commercial and industrial customers in America would be $284 billion higher ($173 billion in real terms) in 2020 compared to 2012—a 60% (37%) increase,” the EVA report found.

The EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan to reduce emissions from existing power plants aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The EPA says its plan will result in “approximately 46 to 49 GW of additional coal-fired generation” being “removed from operation by 2020.”

On top of this the “decrease in coal-fired power will also cause natural gas prices to rise up to 11.5 percent as an additional 1.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas is used to make up for the lack of coal power in 2020,” EPA said. “Average retail electricity prices are projected to increase in the contiguous U.S. by 5.9% to 6.5% in 2020.”

The Energy Information Administration estimates that 50 gigawatts of coal-fired power are slated to shutdown by 2020, mainly because of an EPA rule targeting mercury emissions. This means that the Clean Power Plan could nearly double the amount of coal-fired capacity being retired by 2020.

Retiring coal-fired generators and using more natural gas-fired power and green energy comes at a cost, however, as new energy infrastructure must be built to accommodate the shift and gas prices rise as demand increases.

“The cost of electricity and natural gas will be impacted in large part due to an almost 135% increase in the wholesale price of natural gas (100% in real dollars), from $2.82/mmbtu in 2012 to approximately $6.60/mmbtu ($5.63) in 2020,” EVa reports. “These increases are due to baseline market and policy impacts between 2012 and 2020 as well as significantly increased pressure on gas prices resulting from recent EPA regulations on the power sector and the proposed [Clean Power Plan].”

U.S. industry would be hit the hardest, seeing their electricity and gas costs soar 64 percent by 2020 over 2012 costs. EVA notes that skyrocketing “operational costs in the industrial sector are of particular concern for energy intensive industries in the U.S. such as aluminum, steel and chemicals manufacturing, which require low energy prices to compete.”

“Industrial power consumers would be expected to pass energy cost increases on to their customers, affecting the costs of goods purchased by American consumers over and above increased monthly utility bills,” EVA reports.

“The EPA’s collection of regulations will force American families, businesses and manufacturers to shoulder the burden it stands to create,” said Chad Kolton, spokesman for the Partnership for a Better Energy Future — which opposes the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

“Today’s report from EVA is consistent with what industry has been saying for months — the EPA’s regulatory agenda will do significant damage to the American economy,” Kolton said.

Environmental groups, however, have said the Clean Power Plan — and pretty much all major EPA rules in the last six years — are necessary to protecting public health and the environment. Activists have spent a large amount of energy, in particular, protecting the Clean Power Plan which they see as the centerpiece of President Obama’s climate agenda.

The Natural Resources Defense Council recently published a report saying the Clean Power Plan will actually save Americans money while fighting global warming. NRDC argues, in contrast to EVA, that EPA’s plan overestimates the compliance costs of cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

“It’s clear that EPA has ample room to significantly strengthen the Clean Power Plan, making deeper cuts to dangerous carbon pollution from power plants at a reasonable cost,” said Starla Yeh, the report’s co-author and NRDC policy analyst.

“It can do so relying more on energy efficiency and clean energy—such as wind and solar energy—which can help slash America’s biggest source of heat-trapping pollution.,” Yeh said.

NRDC’s report argues that EPA overestimated the cost of increasing energy efficiency in the power sector by double what current projections are and overestimated the cost of green energy use by 50 percent.

Taking these factors into account, NRDC argues the Clean Power Plan will save Americans between $6.4 billion and $9.4 billion from energy efficiency by 2030 — well above EPA projected savings of up to $8.8 billion by that year.

“In 2030, energy efficiency savings could total 140 terawatt-hours more than what EPA projected,”NRDC reports. “Renewable generation could be 171 terawatt-hours higher than EPA’s projections.  Collectively, that’s equivalent to the electricity used by 29 million homes in one year—roughly the population of the New York and Chicago metropolitan areas together.”

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.

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