On Wednesday, February 10, 2015 from 1:00 p.m.-2:30 p.m. (Central), Partner Steven Siros will be presenting at a DRI webinar titled “Relying on Chemical Fingerprinting as a Line of Evidence in Allocation Proceedings”. The webinar will provide insights on the technical aspects of chemical fingerprinting for a variety of contaminants, including PCBs, dioxins, and chlorinated solvents. The webinar will also provide an overview of how courts have treated chemical fingerprinting from an expert witness standpoint as well as a case study demonstrating how this technique can be used to delineate co-mingled plumes. Michael Bock, with Ramboll Environ will also be presenting at the webinar. Here is a link to the webinar brochure.
Yesterday evening, the Department of Health and Human Services designated Dr. Nicole Lurie, an agency assistant secretary, to lead the federal government’s response to the elevated lead levels allegedly found in the drinking water being provided by the City of Flint, Michigan, to its residents. This designation came on the heels of a meeting between Flint’s mayor and Valerie Jarrett in Washington, D.C. The federal government has elected to play a significant role in addressing this crisis, with President Obama signing an emergency declaration on Saturday which provided Flint with access to up to $5 million in federal funds. The crisis began in 2014 when Flint stopped getting water from Detroit and began obtaining its drinking water from the Flint River in an effort to lower costs.
The appointment of a federal “czar” to coordinate a federal response to contamination of a local drinking water system is somewhat unusual. However, it is likely that the political nature of this issue, coupled with the fact that U.S. EPA may have been aware as far back as April 2015 that Flint’s water supply was at risk for lead contamination, likely contributed to this decision. For those that watched the Democratic presidential debate on Sunday, the Flint water issues were discussed by the candidates, with blame not surprisingly being directed at Republican Governor Rick Snyder.
Although Flint has stopped obtaining water from the Flint River, the risk has not necessarily been alleviated due to the damage that the corrosive water likely caused the City's water distribution system, including pipes leading to individual residences. As such, there is a continuing effort to provide residents with bottled water and water filters for their homes while a more long-term solution is investigated. Several class-action lawsuits have already been filed and more are likely as this crisis continues to evolve. In addition, multiple investigations have been launched by both the Michigan State’s Attorney and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency ("U.S. EPA") recently announced its 2015 enforcement statistics, noting that for fiscal year 2015, U.S. EPA initiated enforcement actions resulted in $404 million in penalties and fines. In addition, companies were required to invest more than $7 billion to control pollution and remediate contaminated sites; convictions for environmental crimes resulted in 129 years of combined incarceration for convicted defendants; and there was a total of $39 million committed to environmental mitigation projects that benefited communities throughout the United States.
The largest single penalty was the result of a Clean Air Act settlement with two automobile manufacturers that resulted in a $100 million penalty, forfeiture of emissions credits and more than $50 million being invested in pollution control and abatement measures. U.S. EPA's 2015 enforcement numbers were up from 2014 ($100 million in fines and penalties collected in 2014).
Please click here to go to U.S. EPA's 2015 enforcement statistics website.
World leaders and delegates from over 150 nations have converged in Paris, France for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (also referred to as COP21). The conference, which is scheduled to run from November 30th through December 11th, has as its goal achieving a legally binding agreement intended to limit greenhouse gas emissions in order to ensure that global average temperatures do not increase in excess of two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial global temperatures.
Leaders of both the United States and China addressed the conference attendees. President Obama noted that recent economic growth in the United States has come despite a lack of growth in carbon emissions, proving that climate advancements need not come at the expense of the economy or individual livelihoods. Chinese President Xi Jinping struck a somewhat different tone, saying that the conference "is not a finish line, but a new starting point" and that "any agreement must take into account the differences among nations” and that “countries should be allowed to seek their own solutions, according to their national interest."
Prior to the conference, countries had voluntarily submitted climate action plans referred to as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (“INDCs”) that are intended to form the basis for any agreement that might be reached over the next two weeks. According to the United Nations Secretary General, more than 180 countries have submitted their INDCs which covers almost 100% of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, in order to reach the above-referenced goal of less than a two degree temperature increase, the Secretary General noted that developed countries would need to be prepared to expend $100 billion dollars by 2020. What if anything the developing countries would need to contribute is much more nebulous but is a topic that is certain to be discussed at the conference.
We will continue to blog on COP21 over the next several weeks while the conference is in session.
A Jenner & Block team including Partner Gabrielle Sigel and Associate Alexander Bandza of the Firm’s Environmental and Workplace Health & Safety group, supported by Partner Jessica Ring Amunson and Associate Amir Ali of the Firm’s Washington, D.C. office, won a significant victory in federal court environmental and pipeline litigation on behalf of clients Apex Oil Co., Inc. and Petroleum Fuel & Terminal Co. (PF&T). Apex and PF&T are defendants in a cost recovery and injunction action brought against them by Chevron U.S.A. Inc. in the U.S. District Court for Maryland. Chevron’s lawsuit concerns a pipeline that PF&T purchased from Chevron in 1994. Chevron has claimed more than $30mm in damages for costs of remediating pollution allegedly caused by discharges from the pipeline over the course of approximately 20 years.
U.S. EPA Releases One-Week Internal Review on the Colorado Mine Blowout, Concludes the Incident Was “Inevitable”
Earlier this week, the U.S. EPA released its “Internal Review of the A
ugust 5, 2015 Gold King Mine Blowout,” which provides the EPA Internal Review Team’s “one week rapid assessment” of the events and potential factors contributing to the Colorado mine adit blowout earlier this month. The Review sets out a series of conclusions and recommendations, many of which lay the foundation for absolving the U.S. EPA of any wrongdoing here while proposing extensive recommendations for the future.
On August 5, 2015, contractors working for U.S. EPA at the Gold King Mine near Durango, Colorado, triggered the release of more than 3,000,000 gallons of highly contaminated water into the Animas river. More specifically, U.S. EPA contractors were in the process of conducting an investigation of the Gold King Mine to assess on-going water releases from the mine. While excavating materials around the entrance to the mine, loose material gave way allowing water from the closed mine to spill into the nearby river. As of Sunday afternoon, the mine continued to discharge approximately 500 gallons per minute although U.S. EPA notes that the polluted water is being contained and treated in two ponds near the site.
The release has resulted in a visible plume that extends almost 80 miles down the Animas River. According to preliminary water quality tests, arsenic levels in the Animas River are more than 300 times normal levels and lead had peaked at 3,500 times normal levels. U.S. EPA is working cooperatively with Region 6 and Region 9 and the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and the Southern Ute tribe to address the contamination in the Animas river. The Navajo Nation, however, has declared an emergency and shut down its drinking water systems that rely upon water from the Animus river. Navajo President Russell Begaye has already indicated that the Navajo Nation intends to sue U.S. EPA for damage to the Navajo Nation’s natural resources. In addition, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has declared a disaster emergency for the Animas river which makes $500,000 from Colorado's Disaster Emergency Fund eligible to be used to remediate the contamination.
It is unknown at this time what long-term impacts this release might have on the Animas river which ultimately discharges into the San Juan and Colorado rivers. U.S. EPA has acknowledged that metals are likely to settle down to the bottom of the river bed and long-term monitoring will be required.
Cross-border pipelines have been the subject of much controversy, primarily related to the highly-publicized Keystone pipeline. Despite a flurry of legislative activity earlier this year, the fate of the Keystone pipeline that would expand Canadian oil distribution to the U.S. remains uncertain.
The State Department approved the transfer of ownership of the Express Pipeline to Spectra Energy Partners. This pipeline runs from Hardisty, Alberta, Canada to Casper, Wyoming. The permit allows Spectra to connect, operate, and maintain the existing pipeline facilities at the U.S.-Canada border to transport crude oil.
The State Department also approved the transfer of ownership of a pipeline running from El Paso, Texas to the Rio Grand River on the U.S.-Mexico border to Magellan Pipeline Company. The permit allows Magellan to connect, operate, and maintain existing pipeline facilities at the U.S.-Mexico border to transport liquid petroleum products.
In addition to the Keystone pipeline controversy, cross-border pipelines in general are the subject of significant public and regulatory scrutiny. Another recent example is the Alberta Clipper pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin, where the State Department was accused of accelerating pipeline approval from Enbridge Energy—facts now at issue in litigation filed by a coalition of environmental groups opposed to the pipeline.
EPA’s Safer Choice program (formerly Design for the Environment) recognizes products that meet stringent ingredient and product level criteria. Safer Choice products do not contain carcinogens or reproductive or developmental toxins. The program helps consumers and commercial buyers identify and select products with safer chemical ingredients without sacrificing quality or performance.
According to EPA, there are over 2,000 products that currently qualify for the Safer Choice label. This summer, EPA’s new Safer Choice labels began appearing on consumer products such as household soaps and cleaners. To qualify for the Safer Choice label, a product must meet stringent human and environmental health criteria.
In the first year of the Safer Choice Partner of the Year awards, the Chicago/Region V area has more winners than any other part of the country. Local award winners include: AkzoNobel/Chicago; ISSA, The Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association/Northbrook; Jelmar, LLC/Skokie; Loyola University Chicago, Institute of Environmental Sustainability/Chicago; and Stepan Company/Northfield. Nationwide, 21 entities won EPA Safer Choice Partner of the Year awards. EPA confirms there are nearly 500 formulator-manufacturer partners that make more than 2,000 products for retail and institutional customers.
More information about the Safer Choice program is available at http://www2.epa.gov/saferchoice.
Pope Francis this week is visiting Ecuador and has called for increased protection of the Amazon rain forest and in general has made environmental protection a central theme in his comments. Pope Francis noted, “The tapping of natural resources, which are so abundant in Ecuador, must not be concerned with short term benefits. As stewards of these riches which we have received, we have an obligation towards society as a whole, and towards future generations.”
Read more about Pope Francis’ visit and environmental issues in Ecuador in the New York Times article by Jim Yardley.