Dec. 14, 2007 – A recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ruling requiring the V.I. Water and Power Authority replace its costly emissions-monitoring system in five years has put the authority in a catch-22 situation, WAPA Executive Director Alberto Bruno-Vega said Thursday.
He said the agency designed and installed its own air monitors, called continuous-tracking systems (CT), for its eight units on both St. Thomas and St. Croix. He said WAPA was forced into this move because logistics prevented stateside manufacturers from responding to problems fast enough to keep WAPA's equipment in compliance with EPA regulations.
He said WAPA does have operating (but obsolete) mainland-manufactured Continuous Emission Monitoring Systems (CEMS), but EPA wants them replaced within five years — even though WAPA has installed its own devices.
"The CT is fully operational and as good as the CEMS. It tracks the root cause of any emissions," Bruno-Vega said.
However, EPA spokesman Rich Cahill said that after "careful consideration," the EPA decided the WAPA-designed systems were not sufficient.
Bruno-Vega said that Gov. Charles Turnbull asked EPA for a waiver on the use of the CEMS in 2002.
Wednesday, the EPA issued a press release announcing a proposal to give WAPA five years to install state-of-the-art monitoring systems. Regional Administrator Alan J. Steinberg said in the press release that WAPA's stateside-manufactured equipment does not operate properly.
Until WAPA obtains the new monitors, EPA proposed the authority use a combination of portable analyzers, regular emissions tests in the smoke stacks and visual inspections to ensure that pollution levels are not being exceeded.
"This is a temporary fix, and we fully expect VIWAPA to install the required equipment in the next five years," EPA Regional Administrator Alan J. Steinberg said in a news release.
Cahill said that EPA doesn't believe residents will be in any danger if WAPA takes the interim measures because the prevailing winds blow any emissions away from land.
The monitors continuously measure nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and conditions affecting the opacity of the omissions.
Bruno-Vega said that WAPA resorted to designing and installing its own system because EPA regulations require that a system operate 95 percent of the time. He said that by the time the stateside manufacturer locates a technician to resolve a problem, gets that person here and makes the repair, the 5 percent allowable downtime is used up. If the system faces another repair that year, WAPA is then out of compliance.
He said that WAPA requested bids from CEMS manufacturing companies that included a guarantee that it could keep WAPA in compliance.
"None responded. They don't want to take the risk," he said.
He said that companies will install the CEMS without a compliance guarantee, but it will cost WAPA millions of dollars.
He said he believes that the EPA has taken this position because it fears that other jurisdictions that don't face WAPA's logistical challenges will also want a waiver.
"I believe it's a political issue," Bruno-Vega said.
Bruno-Vega said he hopes to meet with the EPA face to face before the Jan. 12 deadline for public comment to again outline its problems.
He said that WAPA's oldest unit was built in the 1960s. The newest, unit 23, was installed at the Krum Bay power plant two years ago. He said the EPA has excluded that new unit from its mandate.
Steinberg said in the press release that the Clean Air Act allows the EPA to grant waivers such as this one if it will not cause a violation of federal air standards and if there are extraordinary geographic, meteorological or financial circumstances.
The EPA is taking public comment until Jan. 12 on the proposed temporary waiver before making a final decision.
To comment, visit www.regulations.gov and enter document #0001-2280 or write to U.S. EPA Air Compliance Branch, 290 Broadway, 21st Floor, New York , NY 10007.
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