On June 22, 2016, President Obama signed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (a/k/a the TSCA Reform Act) into law. The TSCA Reform Act received bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, passing both bodies by wide margins. The TSCA Reform Act is a major overhaul of the 40-year-old chemical law, which had fallen short of its goal to protect people and the environment from dangerous chemicals.
In an article posted on EPA’s blog, Administrator Gina McCarthy praised the TSCA Reform Act, stating:
The updated law gives EPA the authorities we need to protect American families from the health effects of dangerous chemicals. I welcome this bipartisan bill as a major step forward to protect Americans’ health. And at EPA, we’re excited to get to work putting it into action.
Key provisions of the TSCA Reform Act include:
As previously reported by my colleague Lynn Grayson, ExxonMobil has faced a recent onslaught of scrutiny over allegations that fossil fuel companies had committed fraud by downplaying the effect of climate change on their businesses. These matters include a subpoena issued by the U.S. Virgin Islands’ Attorney General’s office related to allegations of violating two state laws by obtaining money under false pretenses and conspiring to do so; and New York Attorney General Schneiderman’s investigation where documents have been subpoenaed to determine whether the company misled investors about the dangers climate change posed to its operations.
Two events last week suggest that this fight will not end anytime soon.
- ExxonMobil filed suit in the Northern District of Texas, seeking an injunction barring the enforcement of a civil investigative demand issued by the Massachusetts Attorney General to ExxonMobil, and a declaration that this demand violates ExxonMobil’s rights under state and federal law, including the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, as well as the Dormant Commerce Clause.
- The Attorneys General of 13 states wrote a sharply-worded letter to their colleagues, noting that “this effort by our colleagues to police the global warming debate through the power of the subpoena is a grave mistake” and “not a question for the courts.” The letter outlines how this investigation is in fact “far from routine” because of its following three characteristics: “1) the investigation targets a particular type of market participant; 2) the Attorneys General identify themselves with the competitors of their investigative targets; and 3) the investigation implicates an ongoing public policy debate.”
We will continue to monitor developments on this heated situation.
Jenner & Block Partners E. Lynn Grayson and Gabrielle Sigel have been named “Energy & Environmental Trailblazers” by The National Law Journal. The list honors people who have “made their mark in various aspects of legal work in the areas of energy and environmental law.”
The profile of Ms. Grayson notes that she was appointed general counsel for the Illinois Emergency Services and Disaster Agency soon after the agency took over enforcement responsibility for the state’s Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. When she moved into private practice in Chicago, she became involved in the first REIT case involving environmental issues; since moving to Jenner & Block, she has done a great deal of international due diligence. Ms. Grayson observes that the future of environmental law will involve international transactions as well as domestic work, particularly around energy and renewable energy.
The profile of Ms. Sigel notes that she focuses on the intersection of workplace health and the environment. The profile highlights one of her cases in which the water supply in retail and medical offices became contaminated, and a number of state agencies became involved. As for the future, Ms. Sigel observes that the lines between organizations will increasingly blur. “Whether it’s business, regulatory agencies, community groups or NGOs, you have to look at issues holistically, and not in a superficial way,” she says.
Late on June 7, 2016, the Senate voted in favor of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (HR 2576) (a/k/a the TSCA Reform Act). The TSCA Reform Act regulates the manufacture, transportation, sale and use of thousands of chemicals, and provides a much needed update to the 40 year old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The TSCA Reform Act had been passed by the House in May, with overwhelming support. It was held up recently in the Senate by an objection from Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who argued that he needed more time to review the complex new law. But, Senator Paul dropped his objection on June 7th, and a vote was quickly held.
The TSCA Reform Act is widely seen as an improvement over the outdated TSCA. The American Chemical Counsel praised the TSCA Reform Act as “truly historic”. Others, however, were disappointed that the TSCA Reform Act preempted state laws on chemical safety, instead of setting a floor and letting state’s set more stringent standards.
President Obama is expected to sign the TSCA Reform Act into law very soon, as the White House had endorsed the Act after it passed the House of Representatives in May.
By: Matt Ampleman, J.D. Candidate, 2017, Yale Law School
The Supreme Court last Tuesday ruled in favor of landowners seeking the right to challenge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (the Corps) wetlands determinations in federal courts. In U.S. Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes Co., Inc., 578 U.S. ____ (2016), the owner of a peat mining company in North Dakota, Hawkes, sought to expand its operations to wetlands in northwest Minnesota and sell the peat for golf courses, sports turf, landscaping, and gardening. Unfortunately for Hawkes, the Corps issued a “jurisdictional determination” (JD), which stated that the wetlands on its property were “waters of the U.S.” under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and thus Hawkes would be subject to costly CWA Section 404 permitting requirements. The Corps argued that its determination could not be challenged in federal courts because it was not a final agency action. The Supreme Court disagreed, upholding the Eighth Circuit ruling that the JD, as issued by the Corps, constituted a final agency action and could be challenged in federal court.
EPA’s woes over alleged mismanagement of the Gold King Mine spill in August 2015 continue with a new lawsuit recently filed by the State of New Mexico in federal district court in Albuquerque. The lawsuit names the EPA as a defendant, along with an EPA environmental contractor and mine owners contributing to the mismanagement of reclamation waters. New Mexico contends that the Agency has not done enough to remedy the toxic release of a flood of wastewater contaminated with an estimated 880,000 pounds of heavy metals into local rivers.
New Mexico’s suit seeks a declaratory judgment that the contractor and mine owners violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, as well as compensatory and punitive damages for alleged negligence and gross negligence. New Mexico also is asking for a declaratory judgment against all defendants under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.
Although the suit does not specify damages, attorneys for New Mexico said communities are owed at least $7 million for emergency response costs and third-party monitoring of water quality. They said the defendants should pay another $140 million in damages for estimated economic harm. This calculation estimated the harm done to rivers that are critical for agricultural and ranching use; to the Navajo Nation, which owns a tract of land the size of a small state that was affected; and to recreation that provides a significant amount of New Mexico’s income.
The New Mexico Attorney General is requesting full and just compensation for the environmental and economic damage caused by EPA’s spill. The lawsuit alleges that the effects of EPA’s spill were far worse than reported. New Mexico Environmental Department Cabinet Secretary Ryan Flynn has stated publicly that “from the very beginning, the EPA failed to hold itself accountable in the same way that it would a private business.”
While EPA declined to formally comment on the lawsuit, an Agency spokesperson advised that the EPA has taken responsibility for the spill and already paid the State of New Mexico $1.3 million.
The lawsuit is the first state litigation against the EPA over the spill. Other states impacted include Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and the Navajo Nation.
Actions launched by extreme anti-oil and gas activists claiming Exxon Mobil engaged in an alleged cover-up of climate change risks have taken another interesting turn. This week House Republicans initiated a probe into New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s investigative efforts as well as those of his colleagues. The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology plans to investigate Attorney General Schneiderman and several other attorneys general alleged by House Republicans to be working at the behest of environmental activists to silence critics of global warming possibly resulting in an abuse of prosecutorial discretion.
Recent efforts by environmentalists and governmental authorities include: a notice from the Conservation Law Foundation in Massachusetts of its intent to sue Exxon for allegedly engaging in a deliberate, decades-long cover-up of climate change—it will be the first lawsuit by an environmental group against a petroleum company for climate change matters; a subpoena issued by the U.S. Virgin Islands’ Attorney General’s office related to allegations of violating two state laws by obtaining money under false pretenses and conspiring to do so; and New York Attorney General Schneiderman’s investigation where documents have been subpoenaed to determine whether the company misled investors about the dangers climate change posed to its operations.
Last week the Regional Body for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact agreed that the City of Waukesha, WI met the compact exception criteria—moving one step closer to approval for a diversion of Great Lakes water outside of the boundaries of the river basin. Many are concerned that this move may establish a bad precedent for others seeking diversion of water from the Great Lakes to address growing water quality and quantity challenges.
The City of Waukesha, located in southeast Wisconsin 17 miles west of Lake Michigan, seeks an exception from the prohibition of diversions under the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact and Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement. The Compact and Agreement prohibit diversions of Great Lakes water, with limited exceptions. One exception allows a “community within a straddling county,” such as Waukesha, to apply for a diversion of Great Lakes water.
On January 7, 2016, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources forwarded the City of Waukesha’s diversion application to the other Great Lakes states, and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec for regional review. On May 18, 2016 the Regional Body approved a Declaration of Finding concluding that, with conditions, the City of Waukesha’s diversion application meets the Compact exception criteria. Conditions included a reduced maximum diversion volume of 8.2 million gallons per day and a reduced area the diverted water can be served. The Compact Council will make the final decision with a vote on whether to approve, approve with conditions, or deny the City of Waukesha’s diversion application. The Compact Council is scheduled to meet June 21, 2016 in Chicago, IL.
The Compact was passed in 2008 to protect the Great Lakes from attempted water grabs. The Waukesha, WI proposal to pump water from Lake Michigan, 15 miles to the east, as a replacement water supply for its radium-contaminated wells is the first such application under the compact. The proposal has been the subject of critical review as environmental groups and others worry about setting an inappropriate precedent for access to water from the Great Lakes.
The underlying documentation is available from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources as well as more detail about the upcoming meeting of the Compact Council in Chicago.
Attempts to reform the outdated Toxic Substances Control Act (“TSCA”) have been working their way through Congress for years with no success. But as of this week, legislators in Washington have announced that they are closer than ever before to finalizing and approving a TSCA reform bill.
Last year, the House and Senate each passed their own versions of a TSCA reform bill. The two versions contained significant differences, including on how they managed preemption of State chemical laws. Then, on May 17, 2016, House and Senate leaders issued the following statement on the current status of TSCA reform:
House and Senate negotiators are finalizing a TSCA reform bill that represents an improvement over both the House and Senate bills in key respects. Current federal law only provides very limited protection. We are hopeful that Congress will be taking action soon on reforming this important environmental law.
While some House Democrats, including Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, believe the TSCA reform bill does not do enough, many high-profile Democrats and Republicans have signed on to the compromise bill, including U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), and U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK).
The Congressional leaders are confident that the compromise bill will be up for a vote next week and could potentially be sent to the President for signing before Memorial Day. Be sure to follow the Corporate Environmental Lawyer Blog for analysis of any developments with the TSCA reform bill.
One of the more challenging issues for companies dealing with contaminated groundwater sites near public drinking water supplies is how to handle contaminants for which there are uncertain or evolving regulatory action levels. For example, perfluorinated chemicals (“PFCs”) have garnered a lot of publicity recently after these contaminants were detected in several municipal drinking water supplies. However, there currently is no federal maximum contaminant level (“MCL”) for PFCs generally, and more specifically, for perfluorooctanoic acid (“PFOA”). Instead, there are conflicting health advisory levels that vary drastically between U.S. EPA and the individual states, ranging between 20 and 400 parts per trillion (“PPT”). Similarly, 1,4-dioxane is another contaminant that is the subject of conflicting regulatory standards in drinking water. There is no MCL for 1,4-dioxane but it, along with PFOA, is on U.S. EPA’s Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List 4. As such, if detected, the municipality is required to provide notification to the public via its Consumer Confidence Report. However, the health advisory and/or clean-up level for 1,4-dioxane in groundwater varies greatly from state to state, ranging from .3 to 5 parts per billion, and as such, there is no consistent regulatory standard for 1,4-dioxane in drinking water.