KDHE leader voices concerns over flood of EPA regulations

A steady stream of proposed regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency could be a burden for Kansas.

“We are in a period of time where the EPA is coming out with new regulation proposals almost weekly, sometimes it seems like it’s daily,” said John Mitchell, director of the environment division at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Mitchell discussed those regulations and how they could impact the state as part of his opening remarks Wednesday at the Kansas Environmental Conference in Topeka.

“States are in a position of reduced resources in way of staff and funding, but these new proposals that have come out generally are required to be implemented in a short period of time. That is a challenge for the staff,” Mitchell said after his remarks.

In particular, Mitchell is concerned about proposed regulations surrounding air and water quality.

Among the biggest question marks is the possibility of the EPA raising the standards for ozone pollutants, which cause smog. If new standards are adopted, some Kansas cities such as Wichita could be at risk for not meeting the federal agency’s standards and would be required to implement a plan to reduce ozone levels.

Kansas also is among the six Midwest states targeted in the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which the EPA finalized in July. The new rule requires these states to reduce their nitrogen oxide emissions during the summertime when ozone levels are at their highest. Kansas is also among the 27 states that have to work with power plants to reduce harmful emissions such as mercury, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide.

Phase one of those regulations goes into effect next January and phase two in 2014. While states in the eastern part of the country have had programs in place to prevent cross-state air pollution, those west of the Mississippi have not, Mitchell said.

“The rule is requiring us to really think hard and work with (electric utility) companies in Kansas and figure out how we stay in compliance with new regulations. It’s a real challenge,” Mitchell said.

The EPA is also focusing on nutrient reduction, mainly for nitrogen and phosphorus levels. The nutrients come from wastewater treatment plants as well as water runoff and groundwater that contains fertilizer.

While the EPA is pushing to set a specific limit for nutrients, Mitchell said the reduction needs to be a shared effort among stakeholders.

High nutrients have become a concern because of the prevalence of large blue green algae blooms in reservoirs and ponds throughout the state. These algae blooms have made people sick and caused animals to die. Mitchell urged the state to take a leadership role in the problem.

“We do need to address nutrient reduction in surface water. We need to do that working together or someone from the federal level is going to do it for us,” Mitchell said.

By Christine Metz

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