Tighter EPA Soot Standard Could Complicate Underground Construction

September 2012, Vol. 67 No. 9

Companies who do underground construction will be affected -- and not in a good way -- if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) goes ahead with its proposal to tighten its particulate matter air emissions standard, referred to as the PM2.5 standard (2.5 indicates the size of the particle).

The EPA’s proposed rule issued in mid-June would strengthen the annual health standard for PM2.5 to a level within a range of 13 micrograms per cubic meter to 12 micrograms per cubic meter. The current standard is 15 micrograms per cubic meter. Particle pollution is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles. It is sometimes referred to as the "soot" standard. The EPA says 99 percent of the counties in the U.S. will meet the new standard without having to do anything. But a number of trade associations aren't buying that.

"EPA is proposing to lower PM2.5 standards to near natural background levels in some counties and within many forecasting models’ conservative margins of error," says Joel Drexel, secretary, Sanco Pipelines Inc. "This will make it difficult for businesses such as ours to comply with EPA’s PSD permitting program."

PSD stands for Prevention of Significant Deterioration. It is one of the Clean Air Act regulatory programs which requires diggers to get permits when their construction activities create more than a threshold level of objectionable air emissions. Activities which create too much PM2.5 pollution may require obtaining a PSD permit, which can limit the way underground construction is done, and impose reporting and recordkeeping requirements on a company.

Sanco performs heavy underground construction installation of pipelines for residential, commercial and public works projects in the greater Bay Area of California. It employs approximately 150 employees.

DOE announces new Natural Gas Vehicle Program
The Department of Energy announced a new $30 million research program designed to develop technology for light-weight, affordable natural gas tanks for vehicles and natural gas compressors that can efficiently fuel a natural gas vehicle at home. Called Methane Opportunities for Vehicular Energy (MOVE), the announcement in July preceded Senate hearings on natural gas vehicles and issuance of an important report from the National Petroleum Council’s Study on Future Transportation Fuels.

That report covered a wide range of alternative fuels, and noted: "There is an opportunity for light and heavy duty natural gas vehicles to become attractive to both retail and fleet consumers."

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