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EPA Report Benchmarks Enviro Improvements for Key Industries

by Marty Coyne, Greenwire Senior Reporter

 

A dozen industry sectors ranging from agribusiness to steel makers are reducing pollution or working toward pollution prevention voluntarily, according to a new U.S. EPA report that some industry lobbyists are touting as a possible first step toward reducing industry's regulatory burden.

The Sector Strategies Performance report, issued by EPA last week, profiles air, water and solid waste reductions and best management practices among the industrial sectors. The report stems from a 2003 informal agreement between industry and EPA to track environmental progress on the part of some of the nation's most notable polluters.

In addition to casting the industry groups in a more positive light, the report aims to highlight sound environmental practices that could be adopted across industry sectors and begin exploring regulatory relief opportunities.

The first-of-its-kind report combines data from some of EPA's well-known sources of industry information, including the annual Toxics Release Inventory (see related story), Permit Compliance System and National Emissions Inventory. According Chuck Kent, EPA's director of business and community innovation, viewing such data sets individually can be misleading, whereas combining them into a single report presents a much more accurate picture of industrial emissions to air, land and water.

"With this report and through follow up efforts, we're trying to convince industry of the notion that it makes sense to inform the government and the public about its environmental footprint," Kent said.

Often overlooked in assessments of industrial environmental performance are the relationships between pollution reduction strategies and waste management. For example, Kent said, sulfur dioxide emissions from steel plants have decreased significantly during the 1990s because of EPA clean air requirements, but the scrubbers installed to trap emissions have led to increases in the amount of solid waste produced by those plants.

Jim Schultz, vice president of environment and energy with the American Iron and Steel Institute, said steel makers have called on EPA to address the solid waste consequences of the sulfur reductions as well as a handful of other regulatory burdens.

Overall, the report notes, emissions of hazardous air pollutants from iron and steel plants dropped 71 percent between 1993 and 2001.

Schultz said he hopes successes like that, combined with industry's improved relationship with EPA under the informal sector strategies agreement, will lead to a more reasoned regulatory approach in the future. One test of that relationship is the outcome of a lawsuit regarding EPA's decision to subject steel plants to strict air pollution standards known as maximum achievable control technology.

Another sector highlighted in the report, the metal casting industry, is considering the reuse of sand from metal finishing casts for other purposes. The sand is currently regulated as hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation Recovery Act, but there may be a way to separate out cast sand that is not contaminated, Kent explained.

Between 1993 and 2001, metal sector emissions of hazardous air pollutants dropped an average of 56 percent, according to the report.

Unlike some other sectors, the construction industry was more difficult for EPA to profile. Construction sites are regulated for things like stormwater runoff, the dredging and filling of wetlands, oil and chemical spills, asbestos handling, and solid or hazardous waste storage and disposal. But residential and commercial contractors generally are not required to submit extensive data on releases, which are required from larger facilities.

Using 1996 data, the report estimates the construction sector created 136 million tons of construction and demolition debris annually. But Leah Wood, an attorney with Associated General Contractors, said the group believes that the majority of this material can be recycled and is surveying its 35,000 members to see what can be done.

In addition, EPA and AGC plan to jointly issue a model environmental management system for the industry to apply to sites nationwide. "It's a great way to demonstrate that we are trying to achieve full compliance" with environmental laws, Wood said, adding that AGC hopes a proactive approach to environmental management will help the sector avoid new regulations in the future.

Wood noted that AGC's collaboration with EPA appears to have already paid off, as reflected by the agency's recent decision not to impose addition stormwater controls on the construction industry (Greenwire, April 9).

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