Newport Biodiesel settles Clean Air Act violations, makes history

By Ron Kotrba | June 02, 2016

The U.S. EPA announced June 1 that the agency and the justice department have settled an environmental enforcement case with Rhode Island-based Newport Biodiesel Inc., a 2.8 MMgy production facility that converts used cooking oil into biodiesel.

The settlement is over alleged violations of the Clean Air Act regarding methanol emissions and accident prevention, in addition to violations of oil spill planning and chemical reporting requirements. EPA said the settlement concludes the first civil judicial action against a biodiesel manufacturer for violations of CAA hazardous air pollutant regulations and chemical accident prevention standards.

According to EPA, Newport Biodiesel had no control system for its methanol emissions when the agency began its enforcement action in 2013.

“Newport Biodiesel has agreed to settle allegations made by the U.S. EPA that, dating back to 2012, the company violated regulations relating primarily to the storage, use, and emission of methanol in our biodiesel manufacturing process,” said Blake Banky, president of Newport Biodiesel. “The company vigorously disputed the allegations and that we were even subject to certain regulations. In fact, the company had estimated emissions to be under certain regulatory limits based upon EPA’s own methodology and industry knowledge that emissions limits would not be triggered at the then current production levels.”

Banky said when it was later determined through actual testing that emissions were above required limits, Newport Biodiesel agreed to work with EPA to make changes to the plant and operations to reduce emissions of methanol and to improve the safety of its manufacturing processes. In 2014, EPA and Newport Biodiesel signed an administrative order on consent in which the company agreed to comply with CAA hazardous air pollution standards and control its methanol emissions.

EPA stated that Newport Biodiesel has satisfactorily corrected the violations by installing new air pollution control and safety equipment at its facility. Newport Biodiesel will also pay a fine of $396,000 under the settlement consent decree, which was lodged in federal district court June 1.

Newport Biodiesel designed and installed a new emissions control system that began operating this December, which will reduce its methanol emissions by 15 tons per year. Per the settlement, Newport Biodiesel will conduct performance testing to confirm the proper operation of these controls.

Also in December, Newport Biodiesel began using a new fire suppression system it installed in cooperation with the local fire officials to comply with the CAA's chemical accident prevention provisions, according to EPA.

“All issues have been addressed to the government’s satisfaction,” Banky said. “In order to put this issue to rest and move on with our efforts to produce a clean, renewable fuel, Newport Biodiesel has also agreed, without admission of wrongdoing, to pay a civil penalty to the agency to resolve the alleged past environmental violations.”

Banky said while Newport Biodiesel has been working with EPA to ensure compliance, the company’s production of biodiesel has continued to grow and, during this period, its fuel reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 13,400 tons per year. 

“In recognition of these efforts, EPA and the Northeast Clean Diesel Collaborative awarded Newport Biodiesel a ‘Breathe Easy Award’ for ‘exemplary work’ to reduce toxic diesel emissions,” Banky said. “As a small producer, Newport Biodiesel provides more than 30 green jobs in Rhode Island and, going forward, Newport Biodiesel remains committed to manufacturing environmentally sustainable biodiesel in a safe and compliant facility.”

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