GIS software aids environmental justice, emergency planning

GIS software aids environmental justice, emergency planning...

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Air toxics report rejects utility mercury controls In a long-awaited EPA report to Congress on air toxics emissions from electric power plants, mercury tops the list of 67 contaminants as the air toxic with the greatest potential public health concern. Because of scientific uncertainties relating to both the extent of human health problems and the link between fish contamination and U.S. utility emissions, the report does not propose to regulate mercury, or other air toxics emissions, from power plants. The Utility Air Toxics Report to Congress, which was due in 1995, was released shortly after a larger report on mercury was sent to Congress in December. Both are mentioned in Clean Air Act provisions that require EPA to set standards, based on control technologies, for 188 hazardous air pollutants. Unlike other industries, Congress exempted power plants from regulation until EPA studied their emissions. "Tremendous pressure" from Congress, utility lobbyists, and other federal agencies prevented the report's earlier release, EPA officials said (ES&T, May 1996, p. 193A). The report analyzes 66 toxic air pollutants from 684 power plants that burn coal, oil, or gas. Dioxin, arsenic, and nickel emissions are also of concern and may need further study, EPA wrote. In 1994, coal-fired utilities are estimated to contribute one-third of U.S. anthropogenic mercury emissions. The report finds "evidence for a plausible link between emissions of mercury from utilities, and the methylmercury found in soil, water, air, and fish." But fish methylmercury concentrations might result from background concentrations, either from natural sources or re-emitted from the oceans or soils, or from the global emissions pool, EPA wrote. Because of the uncertainties related to environmental fate and transport of mercury, EPA cannot clearly link fish contamination to utility emissions. At the same time, readily available control technologies, such as flue gas desulfurization units, exhibit lim-

ited mercury control, EPA found. Utility lobbyists have long opposed mercury regulation, and argue mat the United States could shut down all coal-fired power plants and still not measurably decrease the global mercury emissions pool. However, that view does not sit well with others. The utility view "is parallel to the argument over global warming policy," asserted toxicologist Paul Mushack, chair of the peer review panel for the air toxics report, and a principal in the consulting firm PB Associates. While utility plants emitted only 1% of global mercury emissions in 1994, they emitted much higher levels for many years prior, while large, developing countries had very low or no anthropogenic mercury emissions, Mushack said. "By and large, you will never see developing countries getting their emissions under control if you don't get yours under control first." Regulators in several northeastern states are also concerned about mercury emissions coming

from midwestern plants. To address this, Sen. Patrick Leahy (DVt.) introduced a bill in April to force regulation of mercury from utilities, but it is unclear if the bill has much support in Congress. Although the agency has determined that regulation of mercury emissions is not necessary, it has left the door open. In April, EPA proposed that 420 coal-fired plants monitor mercury levels in the coal they burn, and that 30 randomly selected facilities monitor their stack gases. Once in, these data will help EPA later determine whether mercury regulation is warranted, said Bill Maxwell of the Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards. In the meantime, EPA predicts a drop in utility mercury emissions as the industry complies with the new ozone, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxide standards; and as they respond to industry changes related to utility deregulation. —CATHERINE M. COONEY

GIS software aids environmental justice, emergency planning Researchers, regulators, and citizens can generate a demographic and environmental profile of any area of the United States using an upgraded Geographic Information System (GIS) jointly produced by the Census Bureau and EPA. The LandView III combines Census Bureau information with EPA databases on Superfund sites, hazardous waste facilities, and manufacturing plant releases. The LandView III supports EPA's efforts under the Community Right-To-Know Act to put information about a community's pollution sources in the hands of its local citizens, said Julie Vanden Bosch of EPA's Chemical Emergency Preparedness and Prevention Office. Because the program can be run on most personal computers, it is designed to be easily accessible by local institutions, such as a library, added Jim Maas in the Office of Solid Waste

and Emergency Response. It also can help address environmental justice concerns, said Maas, by encouraging more community involvement in the permitting process for a company intending to expand or to site a manufacturing plant. "The LandView III was one of the tools we envisioned would be available when we developed the guidance" updating EPA's policy on handling environmental justice complaints, Maas said. EPA published draft guidance in February updating its policy on handling complaints alleging racial discrimination. Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discriminatory actions by any government entity that receives federal funding. Recently, there has been an increase in the number of Title VI complaints concerning permit approvals, Maas said.


One way to avoid such complaints, EPA notes in the guidance, is to encourage local community involvement in the permitting decision. The updated program can help facilitate that, Maas said. Various GIS software databases allow a user to circle a specific neighborhood, generate a demographic profile, including income, race, education, and housing costs, and combine this with EPA databases such as the Toxics Release Inventory, and ambient air quality data. A county map with the overlaid database information can be downloaded from the Internet for no charge. More complex analyses require the purchase of one or all of the 11 LandView III compact discs, which can be purchased from the Census Bureau. The LandView III has generated a lot of interest among consultants working with local governments to develop emergency response plans under EPA's Risk Management Plan rule, added Vanden Bosch. Counties with one of the 66,000 large chemical facilities that fall under the rule within their boundaries must develop and report to EPA emergency response plans. —CATHERINE M. COONEY

Advisory panel completes work on TMDL watershed guidelines EPA's effort to control nonpoint source pollution reached a milestone this month with the release of an advisory committee's recommendations for resuscitating a 26-year-old Clean Water Act amendment: the total maximum daily load (TMDL) program. The recommendations are the first step toward getting states to comply with a program they have largely ignored. These recommendations are the product of a two-year effort by a federal advisory committee established to aid in implementing and enforcing the TMDL program, which was designed to protect watersheds from the runoff blamed for polluting water quality in nearly half of the nation's 2000 watersheds. The committee included representatives from business, environmental organizations, and government. In 1979, the TMDL provisions of the Clean Water Act mandated that states begin compiling lists of impaired water bodies, as well as determining the amounts of pollut-

RIGHT - TO - KNOW UN "public access" treaty to be signed in June Legally binding rights of public access to information and involvement in environmental decision making moved a step closer to reality in March with the completion of a draft United Nations treaty negotiated by 36 countries, including all countries of the European Union. The treaty would grant universal rights of access to citizens or nongovernmental organizations in signatory countries. Once brought into force, it will give them the right to apply for information, take part in local or national decision-making procedures, and seek legal redress in the courts of any participating country. The United States and Canada have not taken part in the talks on the grounds that they could not implement the treaty given their federal structures. The types of information include environmental monitoring data, human health data, and economic analyses used by governments in decision making. The regional treaty is due to be formally adopted in June by environmental ministers at the Environment for Europe Conference in Arhus, Denmark. Environmental organizations involved in the negotiations criticized a lastminute softening of the treaty's enforcement provisions following Russian objections to binding procedures. They also accused governments of stalling on the issue of withholding commercially confidential environmental information. —Reprinted with permission from ENDS Environment Daily, Environmental Data Services, Ltd., London (, [email protected])


ants they could receive each day— the total daily load from both point and nonpoint sources—and still meet water quality standards {ES&T, April 1997, p. 178A). But a recent National Wildlife Federation report compiled using EPA data claims that 70% of the states and territories have failed to use TMDLs to protect their watersheds. This lack of action prompted environmental organizations to file lawsuits in more than 30 states, demanding that EPA require states to comply with Clean Water Act regulations. In response to the lawsuits, EPA created the federal advisory committee. The committee broke new ground in the proposals it developed, according to Geoffrey Grubbs, EPA director of assessment and watershed protection. For example, one proposal addressed how states can protect waters during the period allotted to develop a TMDL. States have up to 13 years after their waters are declared to be impaired to come up with a plan. The committe's approach includes provisions to ensure that degraded waters get no worse, together with financial and administrative incentives to solve the pollution problem. Whether the TMDLs will address airborne sources of water pollution is still an open question. "EPA needs to do a much better job addressing pollution from atmospheric deposition," said Cameron Davis, attorney with the National Wildlife Federation. The TMDL process is a good way to address reduction of toxics such as mercury and PCBs, which enter watersheds largely from the air, he said. However, he says, "there is an internal battle in EPA between staffers who say that TMDLs are for water only, and others who want an integrated approach between air and water." EPA will consider the advisory committee's recommendations when it releases draft revisions of regulations and guidance for public comment this November. —JANET PELLEY