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.
Jenner & Block CLE Webinar: "Climate Change Law at the Close of the Obama Administration: Understanding the Past and Implications for the Future"
Jenner & Block Partner Gabrielle Sigel will discuss the development of climate change law under the Obama Administration and how that law may affect future efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. She will provide a framework for understanding some of the most complex and dynamic legal decisions regarding administrative and environmental law since the Clean Air Act was enacted. Titled “Climate Change Law at the Close of the Obama Administration: Understanding the Past and Implications for the Future,” this CLE webinar will be held from 12:00 noon to 1:30 pm on May 12, 2016, at the firm’s Chicago office, 353 N. Clark Street.
Ms. Sigel is co-chair of the firm’s Climate and Clean Technology Law Practice and a founding member of the firm’s Environmental and Workplace Health & Safety Law Practice. She publishes extensively and is a frequent speaker on environmental law, climate change, and workplace health and safety issues.
Please click here to RSVP for attend the program in person or via a webinar.
Approximately 700 participants, including leaders from government, business, finance, academia, philanthropy and civil society, will meet in Washington, DC on May 5-6, to attend the Climate Action 2016 Summit. Seven organizations have come together to jointly co-host the summit, providing this diverse group with the information, connections and tools they need to lead effective implementation in a new climate regime.
The co-hosts of the Summit are:
- E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations
- Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group
- Michael R. Bloomberg, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change; Founding Partner, Compact of Mayors
- Naoko Ishii, Chief Executive Officer, Global Environment Facility
- Judith Rodin, President, Rockefeller Foundation
- Peter Bakker, Chief Executive Officer, World Business Council on Sustainable Development
- Nigel Topping, Chief Executive Officer, We Mean Business
- Wallace Loh, President, University of Maryland
The goal of the Summit is to strengthen the multi-stakeholder approach to climate implementation. The summit will address how to deliver on climate commitments and embed the transformation agenda across the globe in government, key sectors and among the general population. At the same time, the summit will focus on near-term implementation actions and long-term implementation needs. These will focus on City and Sub-national implementation; Transport; Land-use; Energy; Resilience/Adaptation; and Analysis and Tools to Support Decision Making.
More information about Climate Action 2016 is available here.