Missing Hazardous Waste Paper Work Can Be Costly

Federal hazardous waste regulations (RCRA) have long been referred to as management from "cradle to grave."  In order meet this management principle, the regulations require detailed paper work and reporting from both small and large businesses. 

Failure to maintain the proper paper work can result in significant penalties or even change your regulatory status which will have even greater implications.  Just in 2008, Ohio EPA Division of Hazardous Waste Management (DHWM) has taken 24 formal enforcement actions that included assessment of civil penalties.  Those penalties have ranged from $4,000 to $75,000.  Many of the actions were against small to medium sized businesses.

In addition, hazardous waste enforcement cases will often be reported in the newspaper, even in the small town local newspaper.  If you want to avoid the bad publicity and a costly fine, it pays to review your company's paper work practices. 

A recent EHS blog post provided a good example of the dangers of missing paperwork. 

But in the absence of any documentation that showed the facility never generated more than 2200 lbs of waste in a calendar month, the inspector assumed incorrectly that the facility generated all the wastes that were shipped out in August of 2001 in that month. [shipped out more than 2200 lbs in the month] The reality was that the wastes in the two shipments made in August had been accumulated over the past several months.

The fact the company did not maintain good records resulted in the inspector citing them for being a Large Quantity Generator (LQG) even though in reality the company was a Small Quantity Generator (SQG).  Without the proper records, the inspector's conclusion becomes difficult to refute.

Ohio EPA has identified the most frequently cited RCRA violations in Ohio.  Reviewing the following list of frequent  categories of violations is a good place to start in determining if your company is property managing hazardous waste. 

  • Waste Determination- The regulations require all waste to be evaluated.  This is often an area overlooked by businesses. Failing to evaluate just one barrel of waste can result in a citation. Ohio EPA developed a handy fact sheet that is worth reviewing to get yourself familiar with these requirements.
  • Annual Reports-  All LQG must submit a report by March 1st for the preceding year.  Review your files to makes sure you have submitted annual reports. 
  • Container Management- Must inspect your hazardous waste storage areas at least once a week and maintain a log documenting those inspections.  Ohio EPA has provided a hazardous waste storage inspection log sheet that can be used to maintain your records.
  • Emergency Equipment Inspections- SQG and LQG must maintain a log of inspections showing all emergency equipment (fire suppression, spill containment, alarms) were inspected as recommended by the manufacturer or supplier of the equipment.  Ohio EPA also has a emergency equipment inspection log sheet you can use to maintain these required records.
  • Used Oil Storage-  All containers use to store used oil must be properly labeled with a sign that says "used oil."  Using terms like "hazardous waste" or "waste oil" is not sufficient.
  • Large Quantity Tank Systems-  All LQG's that use tanks to store hazardous waste must inspect the tank once "each operating day."  A log of inspections must be maintained. According to an Ohio EPA fact sheet, this means each day the tank is in use.  Even if workers are not on-site seven days a week.

(photo from flickr: Ashe-Villian)

Sustainability, take note of fuel and energy saving opportunities

Here is a sampling of sustainable practices that can directly improve  your company's bottom line. As you can see from the descriptions, these practices involve large Fortune 500 companies.  However, there is no reason they can't be implemented by smaller companies.  The examples in this post can help save fuel and reduce energy costs.  With ever increasing prices for both the incentives and advantages of thinking proactively continue to grow.

Plastic or Wood Pallets?  The Wall Street Journal reported that using plastic pallets instead of wood for trucks is not only more environmentally friendly, but also a money saver. The Journal reported:

They last longer, they weigh less, and they don’t need paint or chemical treatments. Since a plastic pallet can easily handle 100 trips—versus two trips for a single-use wooden pallet—the difference in greenhouse-gas emissions is stark: 45,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide for the plastic pallets, compared with 300,000 kilograms for the wooden pallets. Most importantly, says iGPS, you don’t have to chop down trees to get plastic pallets: A Virginia Tech study found that 40% of the U.S. hardwood harvest goes to wooden pallet production.

On the iGPS website (a manufacturer of plastic pallets) even has a calculator which lets shipping companies tally how much fuel they’d save by switching from wood to plastic.

Retailers Discovering Energy Efficiency-  Another Wall Street Journal article covered the increased usage by major big box retailers and supermarkets to energy efficient heating, cooling and lighting. Stores like Office Depot, Kroger and Walmart are saving energy and money by adopting advanced energy efficient designs in their stores.  In Ohio, a state that will be facing significant increases in energy prices, smaller retailers and commercial store owners are wise to take heed.  Here are some of the changes being implemented:

  • Skylights that have reflective mirror that tracks the sun to provide natural lighting throughout the store thereby reducing energy costs
  • Intelligent lighting systems that automatically adjusts the fluorescent lighting based on the availability of natural light in the store
  • Parking lots use concrete not tar to reduce heat generated around the store
  • LEDs (light-emitting diodes) rather than incandescent bulbs in freezer units

The article notes that construction costs increased by 10% to add these energy efficient technologies, but each store is projected to save 25% in energy costs.  This will allow recovery of their upfront costs within a matter a few years.  I am certain those calculations don't even take into account the likelihood of increased energy prices.

Smartway the "smartway" to reduce diesel costs-  U.S. EPA's Smartway program is an innovative brand that represents environmentally cleaner, more fuel efficient transportation options.  Smartway can help finance equipment that can significantly save fuel costs.  For example, Auxiliary Power Units (APUs) allow truckers to power their truck without idling.  Smartway also rates vehicles based upon their emissions.  Perhaps one of the most useful tools you can find on U.S. EPA's website is the Smartway calculator.


Contractors be aware of asbestos regulations

In the most recent issue of Builder's Exchange, a construction attorney in my office (Jim Dixon) and I wrote an article discussing asbestos regulations as they pertain to contractors working at a job site. 

The article was intended to raise awareness in the construction industry that contractors can be liable for asbestos violations even if they do not perform asbestos remediation activities.  If you are the the prime contractor on a job or even a contractor given supervisory authority, the asbestos notification requirements could apply to both you and the owner of the building equally.  Failure to perform the requisite survey or provide the required notice in advance of demolition or renovation work is the most common enforcement action taken by Ohio EPA.  As set forth in the article, make sure you verify the owner has complied with the asbestos regulations before starting work at the site.

(Photo: Ktheory/everystockphoto.com)

Paperwork Penalties Waived for Small Business...Maybe

On June 17, 2008 Governor Strickland signed H.B. 285 which requires agencies to waive fines and penalties for paperwork violations that are first time offenses committed by a small business.  I certainly agree that that this is welcome relief for the small business owners that must navigate a myriad of federal, state and local paperwork requirements.  However, be careful if you are a small business owner, the bill doesn't give a free pass for all paperwork violations.

First, you better make sure you are considered a small business.  You may think you are, but under the bill a series of federal government regulations really decides whether you are classified as a small business.  (Isn't it somewhat ironic that a bill trying to address paperwork requires you to consult a forty-four page table of industrial classifications to determine whether your business constitutes a small business)  Small business classifications are based upon the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) and the cutoffs are either annual revenue or the number of employees

Second, was it really a paperwork violation?  The bill says a "paperwork violation" is the violation of a law that mandates the collection of information by a state agency.  Sounds simple enough, but as a lawyer I think this is a vague definition. 

CAUTION:  I doubt a violation of permit or needed authorization is going to be considered paperwork under this definition.  As an example, the most common violation Ohio EPA takes enforcement against is for failure to provide notice of demolition or construction activities for purposes of asbestos compliance.   In 2007, Ohio EPA imposed 13 fines against companies for failure to file the notice.  Better make sure you keep filing those notices whether you are the owner of the property or a primary contractor for the project.

Third, even if you get by the first two steps, if your paperwork violations are related to environmental compliance you may still be in hot water.  The bill allows Agency's to still impose fines if, among other exceptions, the following apply to your situation:

  • The violations is considered to present a direct danger to public health or safety....or presents "the risk of severe environmental harm", as determined by the head of the state agency
  • The violation is a failure to comply with a federal requirement for a program that has been delegated to a state agency for enforcement and the state is required to impose a fine
  • Also, a fine may be reinstated if you have subsequent violations

When I was at Ohio EPA all enforcement actions had to come across my desk prior for approval.  In my experience, it was uncommon to impose a fine for purely paperwork violations if a small businesses was at fault.  In the instances we did impose a fine, it certainly could fall within one of the exceptions discussed in this post.


U.S. EPA Requests Ohio Provide Support for Air Reforms

Ohio EPA recently received a letter from U.S. EPA's Region V requesting justification for changes made to the State's air pollution control plan.  The changes to the State plan came about as a result of reform legislation passed by the Ohio Legislature in 2006.  Much has recently been made about the letter sent by U.S. EPA.  There has been two articles (article 1 and article 2) by Spencer Hunt in the Columbus Dispatch discussing the letter.  Also, there was recently an Editorial in the Toledo Blade chastising the Agency for being easy on "polluters" and for failing to timely submit the required information to U.S. EPA. 

Environmental groups have strongly criticized the portion of the legislation that allows smaller facilities (less than 10 tons per year) to avoid installing best available technology (BAT) and install reasonably available control technology (RACT) in its place.  This change has been described as weakening the protection of Ohio's environment.  In reality, it at worst will men minimal increases of pollution from these small sources.  As discussed below, increases that are more than offset by other programs.

I am familiar with these arguments having been at the center of the storm during the legislative debates over S.B. 265.  The editorial and comments strongly criticizing these changes seem to ignore some fundamental facts about Ohio's regulation of air pollution. 

The criticism ignores the fact that federal air quality standards are getting more stringent, not weakening.  Most notably, U.S. EPA recently strengthened the ozone standard.  Ohio still must meet the federal air quality standards.  The state legislation (S.B. 265) provided more flexibility in choosing how to comply.  Bottom line, Ohio's air quality has improved and will continue to improve.

So what was the purpose of the legislation?  Did you know Ohio regulates over 70,000 air sources while its neighbor, Michigan, only regulates 7,000?  This is not because we have so many more sources in Ohio, its because we decided long ago to regulate much smaller sources of air pollution in the state. With Ohio's struggling economy, it makes sense to be more efficient and effective in how Ohio met federal air quality standards.

Maybe this puts the 10 tpy threshold in perspective-the brand new permit for the AMP Ohio Coal fired power plant allows it to emit 3,194 tpy of NOx and 6,820 tons of SO2.  That is one source.  The equivalent of at least 300 or 600 smaller sources taking advantage of the 10 tpy exemption.  (Remember sources less than 10 tpy still must have controls, they just don't have to install more costly controls).

Even when the AMP Ohio facility comes on line, total emissions from Ohio's power plants will be drastically reduced. The total emission budget for Ohio power plants under the federal CAIR program in Ohio is 180,677 tpy of NOx which will be reduced to 95,556 tpy of NOx in 2015.  The reduction of some 85,000 tons of NOx will more than offset any insignificant increase attributable to small sources installing less costly controls.  And that is just one major reduction on-the-books, more reductions will also be forthcoming.