Thank you for the opportunity to comment on Chapter 40 of the Virginia Code, governing regulation of pollution from existing stationary sources. My name is Judy Gayer. I’m the Conservation Chair of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, and I’m submitting these comments on their behalf.
Under 9VAC5-40-20.A.4, opacity standards do not apply to facilities during periods of malfunction. For this reason, facilities that experience malfunction due to improper maintenance or other careless practices are able to emit considerable additional particulate pollution and cause major health impacts to surrounding communities without consequence. We believe that facilities should not be given a “pass” for the malfunctions they experience in those circumstances. To avoid this, we urge you to adopt changes to the Chapter that would place reasonable limits on the number of malfunctions per month, and on the length of any malfunctions, that qualify for exemption from the opacity standards. Facility owners and operators should be required inform DEQ as soon as the number of malfunctions or length of time of malfunction is exceeded so that DEQ can determine appropriate corrective actions.
DEQ also has asked for the public’s view on whether Chapter 40 of the Code is “necessary for the protection of public heath, safety and welfare, or for the economical performance of important governmental functions.” Our answer to that question is a resounding yes. This regulation, and the actions taken under it, have a major impact on the quality of the air we breath and so are critical to the protection of the health, safety and welfare of all Virginians. The regulations also serve an important role in supporting the economy of the Commonwealth.
Much research has been done on the benefits of regulating air pollution, and we won’t repeat their results here. Suffice it to say that, even leaving aside emissions’ contribution to the climate crisis, the cleaner air that results from air pollution regulation saves lives. Sound emissions regulation prevents premature deaths from respiratory illnesses, heart disease, cancer and other pollution-related illnesses. It decreases the number of hospital admissions and the cost of medical care. It reduces instances of asthma and other illnesses that compromise Virginians’ quality of life. It helps keep kids healthy and in school.
Air pollution regulation is not just a cost undertaken to avert potential risk. Regulation of toxic air emissions has been proven to have major economic benefits too. It saves employers millions of dollars in lost productivity due to workers being out sick with illnesses triggered by poor quality air. The cleaner air that results from these regulations also reduces damage to crops and timber yields. Finally, clean air contributes to Virginians’ ability to enjoy our many scenic vistas and is important to Virginia’s tourism industry.
On the cost side, funds spent on complying with air quality regulations don’t simply vanish into that clean air. The money goes to companies that build, install and operate pollution-reducing equipment and processes. Air pollution regulation and the activity that flows from it create jobs in engineering, manufacturing, construction, materials, operation, and maintenance, contributing to our local and national economy. It’s also worth noting that advance regulation of emissions is cheap, compared to the environmental, public health, administrative and business costs of dealing after-the-fact with the consequences of an environmental disaster that could have been prevented through reasonable regulation.
For all these reasons, the Sierra Club supports the maintenance of the regulations in Chapter 40 (subject to the one change we have requested in this submission) and we ask that DEQ keep the regulations' benefits in mind when conducting this small business impact review. Inadequately regulated businesses can have a major negative impact on community health, regardless of the their size. Any effort to reduce the impact of regulation on small businesses, however laudable, must balance the benefits of any streamlining of regulations against the risk of increased regular and accidental emissions contaminating the air and the impact of those emissions on public health and the economy overall, as well as their impact on low-income communities and communities of color, which bear a disproportionate burden of exposure to toxic air pollution from all sources.
Thank you again for the opportunity to comment, and for all you do.
Judy Gayer, Conservation Chair, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter