Long-Chain Perfluoroalkyl Carboxylic (LCPFAC) Chemicals (US)

Significant New Use Rule issued today by the USEPA, under the US federal Toxic Substances Control Act, requires that anyone who intends to manufacture (including import) or process any long-chain perfluoroalkyl carboxylic (LCPFAC) chemicals for use in carpets or carpet products submit a notification to EPA at least 90 days before beginning the activity, providing the agency with an opportunity to review and, if necessary, place limits on manufacturers or processors who intend to reintroduce or import products with these chemicals.

Today’s action is one of several the USEPA has taken to protect the public from perfluorinated chemicals. In 2006, the eight major U.S. companies producing LCPFAC chemicals committed to the EPA’s voluntary PFOA Stewardship Program, pledging to reduce global emissions and product content of LCPFAC chemicals by the end of 2015. As part of this phaseout program, the industry stopped using LCPFAC chemicals on carpets and aftercare treatment products. EPA has also issued other Significant New Use Rules to require EPA review and prior to the reintroduction of other perfluorinated chemicals included in the voluntary industry phaseout. EPA anticipates another Significant New Rule on additional perfluorinated chemicals in early 2014 as well as Significant New Use Rules on other chemicals that will include imported products.

Here is the USEPA information on its perfluorinated chemicals (PFC) action programme.

Here is the pre-publication copy notice of the LCPFAC rule.

Timber Agreement (EU-Indonesia)

New EU-Indonesia bilateral agreement – technically a Voluntary Partnership Agreement – will see Indonesian timber and timber products systematically checked under an independently monitored traceability system to ensure they are produced in compliance with relevant Indonesian legislation.

Voluntary Partnership Agreements represent a key element of the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, under which the EU aims to strengthen forest governance and contribute to global efforts to eliminate illegal logging and related trade.

Per the EU Press Release on this – illegal logging is a major problem in many developing countries, posing a significant threat to forests. It contributes to the process of deforestation and forest degradation, threatens biodiversity, and undermines sustainable forest management and development.

In March 2013 the EU Timber Regulation entered into force prohibiting the sale of illegally harvested timber. The EU Timber Regulation obliges EU operators to ask suppliers for evidence that timber has been legally harvested. Once fully implemented, the FLEGT agreement with Indonesia will mean that Indonesian timber exports are considered to be fully compliant with the EU Timber Regulation. In this way EU demand for legal timber is expected to reinforce Indonesia’s efforts to eliminate illegal logging.

Indonesia is already rolling out a timber legality verification system on which the agreement with the EU is based. Known as the SVLK system, it foresees checks at various levels to ensure that the scheme is transparent and credible.

The first Voluntary Partnership Agreement to be formally concluded was with Ghana, followed by Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Liberia and Central African Republic.. Negotiations are on-going with Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Guyana, Honduras, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.

Here is the EU guidance document on the EU Timber Regulation.

Gowanus Canal Cleanup (US)

The USEPA today announced its final plan to clean up the Gowanus Canal Superfund site in Brooklyn, New York. The plan will require the removal of contaminated sediment and the capping of dredged areas. The plan also includes controls to reduce sewage overflows and other land-based sources of contamination from compromising the cleanup.

Per the USEPA press release – more than a dozen contaminants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and heavy metals, including mercury, lead and copper, occur at high levels in the sediment in the Gowanus Canal. PAHs and heavy metals have also been found in the canal water. PAHs are a group of chemicals that are formed during the incomplete burning of coal, oil, gas, wood, garbage or other organic substances. PCBs were used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment and their manufacture was banned in 1979. PCBs and PAHs are suspected of being cancer-causing and PCBs can have neurological effects.

Completed in the mid-1800s, the Gowanus Canal was a major industrial transportation route. Manufactured gas plants, tanneries and chemical and dye plants are among the many facilities that operated along the canal. As a result of decades of discharges, storm water runoff, sewage overflows from sewer systems that carry sanitary waste from homes and rainwater from storm drains and industrial pollutants, the Gowanus Canal has become one of the US most seriously contaminated water bodies. In 2010, the Gowanus Canal was added to the Superfund list of the nation’s most contaminated hazardous waste sites.

The EPA has divided the Gowanus Canal cleanup into three segments that correspond to the upper, middle and lower portions of the canal. The first segment, which runs from the top of the canal to the 3rd Street Bridge, and the second segment, which runs from 3rd Street to just south of the Hamilton Avenue bridge, contain the most heavily-contaminated sediment. In the third segment, which runs from the Hamilton Avenue Bridge to the mouth of the canal, the sediment is less contaminated than in the other segments.

Here is the USEPA decision.

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (US)

(Reuters) – (The Guardian)

BP returns to court to try to hold down fines that could hit $18 billion in a new phase of the Gulf of Mexico trial that will rule on how much oil it spilled in 2010. Starting today in New Orleans, this second of three trial phases, could – in the worst outcome – land the company with a bill five times greater than the $3.5 billion it has set aside for fines.

The outcome hinges on what the court decides about whether BP made every effort to cap the well, and what it decides about the dispute over how much oil escaped into the Gulf. The trial is being heard by US district judge Carl Barbier.

The first phase, which wound up in April, was to apportion blame for the events leading up to the fatal blowout of the well among BP and its partners, Transocean Ltd and Halliburton Co. The blowout killed 11 men and polluted large areas of ocean and beach and damaged wildlife and industry in five Gulf states.

Today, the government, joined now by BP’s former partners on the well, will argue that the company deliberately underestimated the size of the spill, and wasted time trying to plug the well with debris, when the flow was too strong. BP in pre-trial motions argues that the federal government reviewed and approved of its various plans to cap the well at every juncture, and that other oil companies also agreed with its strategy.

The US federal Clean Water Act (CWA) levies civil and criminal penalties on parties that violate its oil discharge prohibitions. Under the Clean Water Act, BP could be fined $1,100 for each barrel of oil that escaped into the Gulf, rising to $4,300 a barrel if the company is found to be guilty of gross negligence.

Even once those fines are set under the Clean Water Act, BP could still be hit with high bills for environmental restoration to the Gulf.

The Resources and Ecosystem Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (known as the “RESTORE Act”) was developed to direct a portion of the Clean Water Act civil penalties from the Deepwater Horizon incident to Gulf restoration. President Obama signed the RESTORE Act into law on July 6, 2012. See here for the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) webpage on the RESTORE Act.

Vessel Sewage Discharges and No Discharge Zones (US)

Section 312 of the US federal Clean Water Act regulates sewage discharges from vessels, and is implemented jointly by the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the US Coast Guard.

“Sewage” is defined under the Clean Water Act as “human body wastes and the waste from toilets and other receptacles intended to receive or retain body wastes”, and includes grey water discharges from commercial vessels (as defined at 33 U.S.C. 1322(a)(10)) operating on the Great Lakes. Under section 312 of the Clean Water Act, vessel sewage is controlled by regulating the equipment that treats or holds the sewage (marine sanitation devices), and through the establishment of areas in which the discharge of sewage from vessels is not allowed (no discharge zones).

Here is the USEPA information on No Discharge Zones (NDZ).

Here is the USEPA information on Marine Sanitation Devices (MSDs).

Here are the NDZ in USEPA Region 2.

Here is the (USEPA Region 2) second opportunity for public comment on an NDZ for Lake Erie.

US Response – IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5 WGI)

Here is the press statement of US Secretary of State John Kerry.

“This is yet another wakeup call: Those who deny the science or choose excuses over action are playing with fire. Once again, the science grows clearer, the case grows more compelling, and the costs of inaction grow beyond anything that anyone with conscience or common sense should be willing to even contemplate.”

NASA data visualisations are here.