Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds hearing on three monitoring bills

By PATRICIA ISCARO, ESQ. | Jul. 15, 2022

The Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee hearing to examine three bills establishing or expanding environmental monitoring programs took place on July 13, 2022. One of the plans focuses on monitoring and measuring mercury levels while the other two seek to expand hazardous air emissions monitoring at the fenceline and establish an air monitoring program at the local level for environmental justice communities.

Executive Summary

  • We attended the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing to examine three bills establishing and/or expanding monitoring programs on July 13, 2022. Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) chaired the hearing and called on parties to testify on these three senate bills:
  • S.1345, to establish a Comprehensive National Mercury Monitoring Act to measure and monitor mercury levels in the air and watersheds, water and soil chemistry, and in marine, freshwater, and terrestrial organisms at multiple sites across the Nation.
  • S.4510, Public Health Air Quality Act expanding hazardous air pollutant monitoring at the fenceline of facilities whose emissions are linked to local health threats.
  • S.2476, to require the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to establish a pilot program for hyperlocal air quality monitoring projects in environmental justice (EJ) communities.
  • These three pieces of legislation complement one another by addressing deficiencies in air, water, and soil monitoring systems and helping improve the health of affected communities as well as their economies. The bills are illustrative of the EPA’s furthering the mission of environmental justice which is a priority of the Biden Administration.

The Comprehensive National Mercury Monitoring Act

  • The Comprehensive National Mercury Monitoring Act (S. 1345) was introduced on April 22, 2021 by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) who explained mercury is a neurotoxin that bioaccumlates even after cleanup and poses significant ecological and public health concerns, especially for children and pregnant women. She continued that although mercury exposure has gone down as U.S. mercury emissions have declined, the levels remain unacceptably high.
  • Sen. Collins explained the bill directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the US Geological Survey, the National Park Service (NPS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other agencies to establish a national mercury monitoring program to track and report on long-term changes of mercury concentrations in air, water, soil, and fish and wildlife. An advisory panel for the operations of the program would also be established.
  • In addition, an online database for mercury data would be established which would help congress assess the reduction levels needed.
  • Sen. Collins justified the program fill the gaps in data. Congress would authorize $95 million over three years to fund this program.

The Public Health Air Quality Act of 2022

  • The Public Health Air Quality Act of 2022 ( S.4510) re-introduced by Senator Tammy Duckworth (D- IL) and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE At-Large) would expand hazardous air pollutant monitoring at the fenceline of facilities whose emissions are linked to local health threats.
  • According to Senator Duckworth’s office, the text of S.4510 is not available at the time of this publication. However, the bill without its number is available on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee site. We will be using that version for this discussion.
  • The pollutants to be monitored are: ethylene oxide (CAS 75218); chloroprene (CAS 126998); benzene (CAS 71432); 1,3–butadiene (CAS 106990); formaldehyde (CAS 50000); acetaldehyde (CAS 75070); lead compounds; arsenic compounds; cadmium compounds; nickel compounds; manganese compounds; any other hazardous air pollutant included in the list described in section 112(b) of 16 the Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 7412(b)), among others.
  • EPA would begin monitoring within 18 months after the enactment date of this act. Monitoring required under this act would be maintained for at least six years for chemical, petrochemical, and other sources of fugitive toxic air pollution.
  • Results of all measurements including fenceline monitoring would be published in a highly accessible format, made available within a week and maintained for six years.
  • Within two years of the bill’s enactment EPA would also issue rules to implement the best available method of fenceline monitoring and update emission test methods based on new air data if necessary.
  • The law would also expand the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) by adding at least 80 new multipollutant monitoring stations and 1,000 new air quality sensors in fenceline communities and an additional 100 pollutant specific monitors for areas that are either not monitored or under-monitored. EPA would also repair and/or replace existing monitors in the network.
  • The data collected would be added to EJSCREEN, the environmental justice screening and mapping tool.
  • Although in 2015, EPA did establish the first fenceline monitoring requirement that required refineries to install air monitors “on the fence” where emissions leave the facility and enter the surrounding community to measure benzene, the Clean Air Act does not require community ambient air or continuous fenceline emissions monitoring for facilities but requires single-point monitoring for facilities and ambient air across regions as per the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
  • Senator Tammy Duckworth stated that the “current air monitoring system is woefully deficient and inflicts illnesses on communities of color just because of where they live. Communities of color experience 63% more air pollution than they create.
  • Alfredo Gomez – Director, Natural Resources and Environment at Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified on the state of the nation’s air monitoring system. He explained that although the current monitoring system is made up of 1000 sites across the US, according to the EPA’s 2020 air quality monitoring report, there is a need for more information about local scale air quality in real time to identify hot spots and rural air quality, and concentrations of air toxics in key areas to help identify cancer clusters. He recommended EPA develop an asset management framework to develop an air quality monitoring modernization plan.

The Environmental Justice Air Quality Act of 2021

  • The Environmental Justice Air Quality Act of 2021 introduced by Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) directs the EPA to establish a pilot program for hyperlocal air quality monitoring projects in environmental justice communities, and for other purposes.
  • Studies show air pollution disproportionately affects Black and Indigenous people and People of Color, and air quality can vary up to 800 percent within a neighborhood.
  • Hyperlocal air monitoring system is a method of monitoring ambient air quality and greenhouse gases and detecting the presence of pollutants that yield frequently repeating, ongoing measurements of air pollutants at block-level resolution; and identifies hotspots of persistent elevated levels of air pollutants localized to, and caused by characteristics of, a specific geographic location.
  • A State, local, or Tribal air agency would receive a grant or contract under the pilot program and carry out an air quality monitoring project to monitor air quality of an area that is the smaller of a block and a 100-meter radius to identify areas of persistent elevated air pollution levels above a relevant background level. The technology used would meet the data quality objectives of the EPA.
  • The air pollutants to be monitored would include: a criteria pollutant for which there are national ambient air quality standards, and hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 7409 and 7412)
  • The data obtained from monitoring would be used to resolve changes in ambient levels of relevant air pollutants, generate equity maps, report hyperlocal air quality to community residents online to increase awareness and engagement, and to local air pollution managers to inform decisions concerning placement of monitors, transportation, land use planning, and mitigation.
  • The bill authorizes $100 million annually for monitoring, with no less than 40 percent to be used to provide full-time salaried jobs to local residents of EJ communities for: monitoring device installation and maintenance; scientists, software developers, community engagement specialists, environmental health advocates, etc. This is in keeping with President Biden’s Justice 40 initiative.
  • Communities could partner with monitoring entities to identify hotspots and identify actions to reduce them.

In addition to the senators, the following witnesses who provided testimony will respond to questions through 7/27/2022:

To contact the author of this piece, please email Patricia Iscaro ( [email protected]).

Key Documents and Dates

  • S.1345, to establish a Comprehensive National Mercury Monitoring Act
  • S.4510 – A bill to protect clean air and public health by expanding fenceline and ambient air monitoring and access to air quality information for communities affected by air pollution, to require hazardous air pollutant monitoring at the fenceline of facilities whose emissions are linked to local health threats, to ensure the Environmental Protection Agency promulgates rules that require hazardous air pollutant data measurement and electronic submission at fencelines and stacks of industrial source categories, to expand and strengthen the national ambient air quality monitoring network, to deploy air sensors in communities affected by air pollution, and for other purposes.
  • 112(b) of 16 the Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 7412(b))
  • S.2476, Environmental Justice Air Quality Monitoring Act of 2021
  • Fact Sheet: A Year Advancing Environmental Justice