International business briefs: Clean air comments, Japanese pollution charge, Flash floods in Pakistan, WR Grace asbestos disgrace, Coal mining MOU

As part of US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) efforts to improve emissions monitoring and ensure compliance with the Clean Air Act, EPA has issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking that requests public input on the monitoring requirements of the Operating Permits Programme under Title V of the Clean Air Act. The notice seeks public comments on the best approaches to improve monitoring - such as by amending the monitoring requirements in existing emission standards and rules. The results of this action will lead to improved compliance with air emissions control requirements and should be less burdensome for states, tribes and industry. This advance notice of proposed rulemaking is a preliminary step in the regulatory process that allows EPA to solicit comments as it weighs future improvements to monitoring requirements.

Fujitrans Corp of Japan, operator of the Motor Vessel (MV) Cygnus, pleaded guilty to four felony counts of violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships and was sentenced on 3 February in US District Court for the District of Oregon in Portland. Fujitrans was ordered to pay a US $1,005,000 fine in the District of Oregon and was also ordered to pay a US $335,000 fine in US District Court for the Central District of California where part of the case is based. In addition, Fujitrans will pay US $495,000 as community service to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and US $165,000 to the Channel Islands National Park located in Ventura, Calif. Both of these payments will benefit local natural resource programmes. Fujitrans was also placed on three years probation and was ordered to implement an environmental compliance programme. The Cyngus is used to import automobiles into the United States. A whistleblower brought the case to the attention of federal authorities in March 2002.

At least 46 people have now been confirmed dead following the rain and snowfall to hit Pakistan in over a decade. The incessant rains caused chaos in the remote Pasni town in the southwestern Baluchistan province, submerging several nearby villages. Provincial Minister Sher Jan Baluch said that nearly half of the Pasni had been inundated, and confirmed that the death toll was likely to rise. Most of those who died were killed in avalanches, flash floods and collapsing roofs. Many others have sustained injuries. Weather officials have said that more rains are expected across the country for at least another two days.

The United States Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency announced this week that a federal grand jury in the District of Montana has indicted WR Grace, and seven of its current and former executives, for knowingly endangering residents of Libby, Montana, and concealing information about the health affects of its asbestos mining operations. According to the Indictment, WR Grace and its executives, as far back as the 1970s, attempted to hide the fact that toxic asbestos was present in vermiculite products at the company's Libby, Montana plant. The grand jury charged the defendants with conspiring to conceal information about the hazardous nature of the company's asbestos contaminated vermiculite products, obstructing the government's clean-up efforts, and wire fraud. To date, according to the indictment, approximately 1,200 residents of Libby have been identified as suffering from some kind of asbestos-related abnormality. "This criminal indictment is intended to send a clear message: we will pursue corporations and senior managers who knowingly disregard environmental laws and jeopardize the health and welfare of the workers and the public," said Thomas Skinner, EPA's acting assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance.

Four Federal agencies have released a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that offers a joint framework to improve permit application procedures for surface coal mining operations that place dredged or fill material in waters of the United States. The agencies involved in this agreement are the Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service and Office of Surface Mining. Each will encourage states, tribes and agency field offices to develop collaborative processes that emphasise early and close interagency coordination while maintaining their independent jurisdictional roles. This framework applies to two types of regulatory programmes. It applies to the regulatory programme administered by the Army Corps of Engineers under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA). It also applies to regulatory programmes implementing the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) of 1977. The Office of Surface Mining administers this programme and delegates regulatory authority to states that meet or exceed its requirements.


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