A recent case reminds us that not all communications between lawyers and environmental consultants are privileged despite best efforts to make them so. In Valley Forge Ins. V. Hartford Iron & Metal, Inc., the Northern District of Indiana ruled that the attorney-client privilege doesn’t protect a lawyer’s emails to environmental contractors when the communications concern remediation as opposed to litigation. This case provides a good overview of the protections afforded by the attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine in the environmental law context.
At issue are Hartford Iron’s communications with environmental contractors Keramida, Inc. and CH2M Hill, Inc. which were the subject of a motion to compel filed by Valley Forge. Following an in camera review of 185 emails, the court concluded that the evidence reflects that “….Hartford Iron retained Keramida and CH2M as environmental contractors for the primary purpose of providing environmental consulting advice and service to Hartford Iron in designing and constructing a new stormwater management system, not because Hartford Iron’s counsel needed them to “translate” information into a useable form so that counsel could render legal advice.”
The Court did find that certain of the emails were subject to the work-product doctrine as the communications were prepared for the purposes of litigation and that IDEM and EPA already had filed suit against Hartford Iron.
Despite the best efforts of lawyers, not all communications are privileged. The legal privileges are narrowly construed and generally do not protect communications with environmental consultants.
By and large, Americans are blessed with clean, safe, plentiful and mostly free drinking water sources. The Flint, Michigan contaminated drinking water scandal was a wakeup call for many that drinking water sources we depend upon may not be as reliable, stable, or even as affordable as we think.
On December 19, 2016, Reuters released a startling report about the quality of America’s drinking water. Reuters' investigation found that at least 3,000 water supplies in the U.S. were contaminated with lead at levels at least double the rates detected in Flint’s drinking water. In addition, 1,100 of these communities had rates of elevated lead in blood tests at least four times higher. Reuters concluded that Flint’s water crisis doesn’t even rank among the most dangerous lead hotspots in the U.S. Like Flint, however, many of the other localities are plagued by legacy lead: crumbling paint, plumbing, or industrial wastes left behind. Unlike Flint, many have received little attention or funding to combat poisoning.
Another critical issue looming on the horizon for many will be the affordability of water. A new Michigan State University (MSU) report recently concluded that a variety of compounding factors in the U.S. could easily push large portions of the population out of the financial range to even afford water in the future. The MSU report concludes:
A variety of pressures ranging from climate change, to sanitation and water quality, to infrastructure upgrades, are placing increasing strain on water prices. Estimates of the costs to replace aging infrastructure in the U.S. alone project over $1 trillion dollars are needed in the next 25 years to replace systems built circa World War II, which could triple the cost of household water bills…. Over the next few decades, water prices are anticipated to increase four times current levels. Prices could go higher if cities look to private providers for water services, who have a tendency to charge higher rates than public providers.
The MSU report concludes that 36% of households will be unable to afford water within five years. The highest risk areas in the U.S. are in the South, with the most at-risk communities in Mississippi. The MSU report noted that Ohio is 9th on the list, followed by Michigan at 12th.
Water risks come in many forms and include not only sufficient quantities and acceptable quality, but also affordability. The latter issue has not been addressed in a meaningful manner in the U.S. and will become a growing concern as water risks of all kinds increase in number and scope.
Today is World Water Day as proclaimed by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 1993. World Water Day is about taking action to tackle the global water crisis. Today, 1.8 billion people rely upon a drinking water source that is contaminated putting them at risk for cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio. The UN Sustainability Development Goals launched in 2015 include a target to ensure everyone has access to safe water by 2030.
The World Economic Forum also has targeted water and water risks as one of the leading global risk factors as recently confirmed in its The Global Risks Report 2017. The Global Risks Report 2017 features perspectives from nearly 750 experts on the perceived impact and likelihood of 30 prevalent global risks as well as 13 underlying trends that could amplify them or alter the interconnections between them over a 10-year timeframe. The report notes that a cluster of environment-related risks—notably extreme weather events and failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as water crisis—has emerged as a consistently central feature of the Global Risks Perception Survey risk landscape.
In 2017, water crises were identified as the third most significant risk based upon potential impacts. In doing so, the experts concluded that there had been “…a significant decline in the available quality and quantity of fresh water, resulting in harmful effects on human health and/or economic activity….”
World Water Day provides a good opportunity to reflect upon how we use water at home and work and in our businesses. It is becoming an increasingly precious natural resource that must be protected and conserved.
The Carbon Disclosure Project’s (CDP’s) Global Water Report 2016 titled Thirsty Business: Why Water is Vital to Climate Action analyzes water disclosures made through the CDP’s 2016 information request. It was aimed at companies facing water risks and opportunities and investors seeking to better understand how water issues might impact portfolios. The report provides insight into the connection between water, energy and private sector efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
Key findings from these corporate water disclosures include:
- Water related risks cost business $14 billion dollars in 2016—a fivefold increase over prior year’s costs (These financial impacts come from drought, flooding, tightening environmental regulation and the cost of cleaning up water pollution and fines)
- 24% of greenhouse gas reductions depend on a stable supply of good quality water
- 53% of companies report better water management in the context of delivering greenhouse gas reductions
The CDP report evaluates corporate performance over five key metrics relating to water management, including tracking water use, reporting and target-setting. In 2016, 61% of companies reported that they track their water use , an increase of 3% over last year.
Ford and Colgate Palmolive are among the best companies in the world when it comes to water management, according to the CDP’s Water A List. The annual index highlights companies implementing best practices in sustainable water management. In 2016, 24 companies made the CDP Water A List, up from eight last year. Ford and Colgate Palmolive are the only two U.S. companies identified on the A List in 2016.
So what can companies do to better manage and reduce their water-related risk? The first step is assessing water use and setting measurable targets. But unlike corporate carbon emissions, there really is no standard methodology that business relies upon to measure and monitor water use. CDP has partnered with the UN CEO Water Mandate, The Nature Conservancy, World Resources Institute and WWF to develop a methodology that will help companies set context-based water targets — essentially a science-based targets approach to water management. In light of company disclosures confirming that 54% of the 4,416 water risks identified will materialize over the next six years, there should be no shortage of corporate interest in test-driving the upcoming water methodology.
World Water Day, held on March 22 every year, is about taking action to tackle the water crisis. Today, there are over 663 million people living without a safe water supply close to home, spending countless hours queuing or trekking to distant sources, and coping with the health impacts of using contaminated water.
In recognition of World Water Day 2017, the Corporate Environmental Lawyer blog plans to run a weeklong series focused on the critical issues concerning water quality and quantity in the U.S. and globally. This year’s theme for World Water Day is wastewater.
Globally, the vast majority of all the wastewater from our homes, cities, industry and agriculture flows back to nature without being treated or reused—polluting the environment and losing valuable nutrients and other recoverable materials.
Instead of wasting wastewater, we need to reduce and reuse it. In our homes, we can reuse greywater on our gardens and plots. In our cities, we can treat and reuse wastewater for green spaces. In industry and agriculture, we can treat and recycle discharge for things like cooling systems and irrigation.
By exploiting this valuable resource, we will make the water cycle work better for every living thing. And we will help achieve the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goal 6 target to halve the proportion of untreated wastewater and increase water recycling and safe reuse.
Learn more about the importance of how we manage wastewater by viewing this fact sheet.
This week I published an article in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Trump election puts environment into less than green state. In this article, I discuss my thoughts on environmental issues during the transition from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration. I specifically address: 1) what authority President Trump has to implement environmental changes; 2) what environmental actions have been taken to date; 3) insights into future environmental changes we are likely to see; and 4) reaction from the environmental community.
If you would like to hear more about what’s happening on the environmental front in the Trump administration, please join us next Tuesday, March 7 at Noon for a program titled Environmental, Health & Safety Issues in 2017: What to Expect From the Trump Administration. My partners Gay Sigel, Steve Siros, and Allison Torrence will be providing the latest updates on what we know and what we can anticipate from the Trump administration in connection with environmental, health, and safety considerations.
If you would like to join us for this program or participate via webinar, please RSVP here.
Jenner & Block Partners Gay Sigel, Steve Siros, and Allison Torrence will speak at the upcoming program Environmental, Health, and Safety Issues in 2017: What to Expect From the Trump Administration, hosted by Jenner & Block’s Environmental, Workplace Health & Safety Practice Group on Tuesday, March 7 from 12:00 pm to 1:00 p.m. With the Trump Administration beginning to take shape, federal environmental, health, and safety (EHS) policy is certain to shift to the right. This CLE program will provide an overview of the Trump Administration’s actions impacting EHS matters to date and prognosticate on changes that may be forthcoming. You are invited to join us for this special program in person or via webinar. If you plan to participate, please RSVP as indicated below.
When: Tuesday, March 7, 12:00—1:00 p.m. with lunch starting at 11:45 a.m.
Where: Jenner & Block, 353 North Clark, Chicago, IL—45th Floor Conference Center
For more information about the program and to RSVP, please connect here.
Last week, President Trump repealed the stream protection rule designed to halt water pollution caused by mountain top removal mining. Using the Congressional Review Act authority, he stopped implementation of a rule that would have restricted the placement of mining waste in streams and drinking water sources, as well as the amount of waste generated overall by mining operations.
Arguably, a law exists that prohibits mining-related discharges to waterways. The 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act says that mining companies should not cause "material damage to the environment to the extent that it is technologically and economically feasible." The new stream protection rule was needed since many believed the Act’s existing language was vague and did not provide sufficient protections. Moreover, critics charged that the agency responsible for enforcing this law, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), had not clarified the scope and interpretation of the law since publishing the “stream buffer zone rule” in 1983.
The repeal means that the OSMRE will return to reliance upon the 1983 version of the stream protection rule which prevents mining activities within 100’ of a stream. Environmental groups and others claim that the existing rule is not protective of streams from mining-related discharges.
What is particularly notable about President Trump’s repeal of this rule is the fact it is only the third time that the Congressional Review Act (CRA) has been used to claw back a former president’s regulation. The CRA basically says the House and Senate can kill any recently finalized regulation with simple majority votes in both chambers, so long as the president agrees. What is interpreted to mean recently finalized can be challenging , but Congress can basically vote to overturn any Obama-era regulation that was finished on or about June 2016. It appears that this timing impacts at least 50 new regulations.
As we begin the New Year, we wanted to take a moment to look back at some of the major EHS developments in 2016 and think about what we can expect in 2017.
2016 was a busy year for the Corporate Environmental Lawyer blog, which is now in its sixth year with over 760 posts. In 2016, we had nearly 100 blog posts from 10 different authors and over 6,700 visits to the site.
Our five most popular blogs from 2016 were:
Navigating Hawkes, the Newest Wetlands Ruling from the Supreme Court, by Matt Ampleman
As always, we are monitoring a variety of issues that are important to you and your business, including, for example, RCRA regulatory changes, the future of climate change regulation, implementation of the TSCA Reform Act, and new developments in environmental litigation. You can find current information about these developments and more on the Corporate Environmental Lawyer blog. If you don’t find what you are looking for on our blog, we welcome your suggestions on topics that we should be covering. In addition, keep abreast of new developments in the EHS area through our Twitter @JennerBlockEHS.
We also look forward to the opportunity to share our thoughts and insights with respect to current EHS issues with you at an upcoming program:
- March 7, 2017, 12:00 pm CT: Environmental, Health, and Safety Issues in 2017—What to Expect From the Trump Administration, by Gabrielle Sigel, Steven M. Siros and Allison A. Torrence
The program will take place at Jenner & Block’s Chicago office and also will be available as a webinar. We will post a formal invitation to the program in a few weeks.
We also invite you to visit our newly redesigned Environmental and Workplace Health & Safety Law Practice website for more information about our practice. We look forward to another exciting year and to connecting with you soon.
By E. Lynn Grayson:
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues to implement recent changes to the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program. DHS updated its data platform and portal that will require regulated facilities to resubmit the Top-Screen information that originally was submitted in the 2008 time frame.
The DHS last year issued notice in the Federal Register (81 FR 47001, July 20, 2016) announcing revisions to its CFATS program, effective October 1, 2016. The main objective of the notice was to advise that the DHS was transitioning to revised versions of the applications for the Chemical Security Assessment Tool (CSAT), the CSAT Security Vulnerability Assessment (SVA) and the CSAT Site Security Plan (SSP). DHS implemented a three-step process to transition to these new versions: 1) temporarily suspended, effective July 20, 2106, the requirement for CFATS chemical facilities of interest to submit a Top-Screen and SVA; 2) replaced the current applications with CSAT 2.0 beginning in September 2016; and 3) reinstated the Top-Screen and SVA submission requirements effective October 1, 2016.
At this time, regulated facilities do not need to take any action unless notified by DHS. DHS began sending out notices to individual facilities every two weeks once the roll-out started in October 2016. Each batch of notifications will include sites from all risk-based tiers and also will include sites that have previously tiered out or are otherwise exempt from CFATS.
Other key highlights and insights include:
- While there is no requirement to do so, regulated facilities may choose to proactively resubmit a Top-Screen utilizing the new CFATS CSAT. Once notified, facilities will have 60 days to submit this updated and/or new Top-Screen.
- No changes have been made to the Appendix A identifying the chemicals of interest (COI) and the associated screening threshold quantity (STQ).
- CSAT 2.0 makes some changes in terms of how and when information is reported. For example, information previously collected through the SVA now may be collected through the Top-Screen. Other information collected in the past in the SVA now will be collected in the SSP.
- The new online SSP will come partially pre-populated from the new Top-Screen and the new SVA submissions as well as information from previous submissions.
In general, CFATS requires chemical facilities report COIs at or above the STQ through submission of a Top-Screen to DHS. Thereafter, DHS decides whether to impose security requirements upon the facility at issue. CFATS requirements apply to facility owners and operators that possess, consume, sell or create various chemicals that could be useful to conducting a terrorist event. There are over 300 COIs including commonly used chemicals such as ammonia, propane, hydrogen peroxide, flammables, bromine, aluminum, nitric oxide and vinyl chloride. Original compliance deadlines for submission of Top-Screen information was in 2008 time frame.
Facilities that previously submitted a Top-Screen survey, even those previously determined to be exempt from the CFATS requirements, will be required to resubmit the Top-Screen information using the new data CSAT 2.0 platform and portal. DHS will notify each facility about these new requirements and facilities will have 60 days to submit the new Top-Screen information. Facilities are welcome to be proactive and submit an updated Top-Screen prior to any DHS notification.
For further insight into these new requirements, please see the Federal Register notice at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/07/20/2016-16776/chemical-facility-anti-terrorism-standards or visit the CFATS program website at https://www.dhs.gov/chemical-facility-anti-terrorism-standards .
There is a new development in the continuing conflict between Florida and Georgia over the water-sharing arrangements involving the Chattahoochee, Flint, and Apalachicola Rivers. A U.S. Supreme Court-appointed special master has ordered the parties to participate in settlement discussions following a lengthy trial at the end of last year. Special Master Ralph Lancaster directed the states to meet for mediation by January 24 and to submit a memorandum to him by January 26 on the progress of settlement discussions.
Florida’s latest lawsuit filed in 2013 accused Georgia of hogging water from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers to the economic and ecological detriment of the downstream Apalachicola River basin. Florida seeks a reliable amount of water from Georgia as well as a cap on metro Atlanta’s and/or southwest Georgia’s consumption of water. Florida claims that reduced water levels and resulting increased salinity in Apalachicola Bay have significantly damaged the oyster population and pose threats to mussels and other species.
Interested parties believe that a compromise can be reached here with the creation of a compact that monitors and advances water-saving measures across the basin. At the heart of the dispute are two issues: how much water flows from Georgia into Florida, and should Georgia cap the amount of water it consumes. To date, Georgia has appeared unwilling, at least publicly, to address caps and consumption issues.
Ever present water disputes between states are increasing in light of growing water scarcity concerns as well as quality and quantity challenges. The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) is seeing more of these original jurisdiction cases as conflicts arise between states over water rights and interstate compact interpretations. At least five cases appear to be pending before SCOTUS at this time involving not only Florida and Georgia but also Montana, Wyoming, Texas, New Mexico, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Colorado.
The Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures has issued a report detailing is recommendations for helping businesses disclose climate-related financial risks and opportunities within the context of their existing disclosure requirements. The Task Force developed four widely adoptable recommendations on climate-related financial disclosures that are applicable to organizations across sectors and jurisdictions: 1) adoptable by all organizations; 2) included in financial filings; 3) designed to solicit decision-useful, forward-looking information on financial impacts; and 4) strong focus on risks and opportunities related to transition to lower-carbon economy.
The recommendations are incorporated into a comprehensive report that provides good insight into climate-related risks and financial impacts, sector focused guidance, scenario analysis for climate issues and identification of key issues requiring further consideration. Appendices include a summary of select disclosure frameworks and other guidance including fundamental principles for effective disclosure.
In a letter to the Financial Stability Board transmitting the recommendations, Chairman Michael Bloomberg notes “….Warming of the planet caused by greenhouse gas emissions poses serious risks to the global economy and will have an impact across many economic sectors……without effective disclosure of these risks, the financial impacts of climate change may not be correctly priced and as the costs eventually become clearer, the potential for rapid adjustments could have destabilizing effects on markets.” He concludes in his letter that the Task Force’s recommendations “…aim to begin fixing this problem.”
The recommendations are designed to help companies identify and disclose information needed by investors, lenders and insurance underwriters to appropriately assess and price climate related risks and opportunities. Even with the upcoming changes in D.C., it is clear there will be continuing focus on climate change-related disclosures in 2017.
The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has issued draft guidance titled Alternatives Analysis Guide and is seeking comments through January 20, 2017. California’s Safer Consumer Products (SCP) Program challenges product designers and manufacturers to reduce toxic chemicals in their products. According to DTSC, the SCP regulations establish innovative approaches for responsible entities to identify, evaluate, and adopt better alternatives. The SCP approach requires an Alternatives Analysis (AA) that considers important impacts throughout the product’s life cycle and follows up with specific actions to make the product safer. DTSC prepared the Draft Alternatives Analysis Guide to help responsible entities conduct an AA to meet the regulatory requirements. Public comments are specifically requested to provide DTSC with insight on the clarity and usefulness of the Draft Alternatives Analysis Guide.
DTSC’s SCP Program regulations took effect October 1, 2013 and are being implemented based on the various regulatory requirements. The goals of the program are to: 1) reduce toxic chemicals in consumer products; 2) create new business opportunities in the emerging safer consumer products industry; and 3) help consumer and businesses identify what is in the products they buy for their families and customers.
The SCP program implements a four-step process to reduce toxic chemicals in the products that consumers buy and use. It identifies specific products that contain potentially harmful chemicals and asks manufacturers to answer two questions: 1) Is this chemical necessary? 2) Is there a safer alternative? The first step involved publication of a list of candidate chemicals that exhibit a hazard trait and/or an environmental toxicological endpoint. Regulators must then identify potential “priority products” containing chemicals that pose a significant risk to public health or the environment. Once a priority product is declared through a separate rulemaking, regulated entities must conduct an alternative analysis to determine if safer options are available. The final step in the lengthy process is for the department to determine if a regulatory response, such as banning the chemical-product combination, is required.
To learn more about the status of the SCP program and to obtain a copy of the new guidance, visit the DTSC SCP website at http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/SCP/index.cfm.
The United States, in conjunction with 25 other countries, recently approved the creation of the world’s largest Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Antarctica’s Ross Sea. The Ross Sea Region MPA will safeguard one of the last unspoiled ocean wilderness areas on the planet—home to unparalleled marine biodiversity and thriving communities of penguins, seals, whales, seabirds, and fish.
The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)—which operates by the unanimous consent of its 25 members—reported its extraordinary progress in safeguarding a very unique environmental marine area. The designation will prohibit or strictly limit commercial fishing as well as mineral extraction, among other such activities. The Ross Sea MPA will become effective December 1, 2017.
The new MPA adds 1.55 million square kilometers (598,000 square miles) in new ocean protection in an area nearly twice the size of the state of Texas. This designation—on top of the nearly 4 million square kilometers of newly protected ocean announced around the world at the Our Ocean conference the State Department hosted in September—makes 2016 a landmark year for ocean stewardship
More information about this environmental marine achievement can be found at the CCAMLR website at https://www.ccamlr.org/.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle recently launched an unprecedented effort to generate new industrial investment in Chicagoland neighborhoods. The Industrial Growth Zones program will accelerate neighborhood development in seven designated areas over the next three years by removing longstanding hurdles to development and providing a broad set of services to support property owners and industrial businesses. The purpose of the program to spur economic growth and generate real, sustainable jobs by promoting investment and industrial development in Chicago neighborhoods.
The importance of and how best to report on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues remains uncertain, and what really matters appears to depend upon whether you are a corporate or an investor. The continuing difference of opinion on ESG matters is highlighted in a new survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP titled Investors, Corporates and ESG: Bridging the Gap.
The survey finds that corporates view disclosing ESG data differently—corporates are focused on growth but investors are focused on risk. It is clear that sustainability reporting has become mainstream with 81% of S&P 500 companies publishing sustainability reports in 2015 compared to 20% in 2011.
Some key findings from the survey include:
- 65% of corporates say ESG issues are very important to the core business strategy
- 80% of corporates follow Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards for ESG disclosure reporting
- 31% of investors confirm that ESG data is very important to equity investment decisions
- 43% of investors would like to see ESG information reported using the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) standards
A critical issue identified in the survey relates to trust and transparency of ESG disclosures. Corporates express 100% confidence in the quality of ESG information shared but only 29% of investors are confident in the quality of the ESG information received from companies.
The results of this new survey from PWC confirms that investors are increasingly interested in both financial and nonfinancial disclosures including information related to ESG matters. 36% of investors noted that having such information incorporated into SEC filings would ensure higher quality data. The SEC currently is considering corporate disclosures of ESG issues.
EPA recently issued fact sheets detailing climate change impacts for each state and U.S. territory. In doing so, EPA confirmed some very basic, general findings about climate change impacts overall:
- Every state will become warmer.
- The impacts of climate change are likely to be very different from state to state.
- Increased rainfall intensity will cause more flooding in some states, while increasingly severe droughts may threaten water supplies in other states.
- Farms and forests will be less productive in some states, but warmer temperatures may extend growing seasons in others.
The fact sheets are short two page documents focused on differing issues for each state including, for example, climate change impacts related to ecosystems; air pollution and human health; the Great Lakes; agriculture; the Illinois, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers; coastal flooding; heavy precipitation/flooding; sea level rise; and winter recreation. The fact sheet for Illinois provides good insight into the kind of information detailed.
While the new information supplements the existing climate change data available online from EPA, the information in many of the fact sheets appears dated, very general in nature, and perhaps geared to the general public. Existing climate change data associated with impacts by region and by sector is more detailed and may be more useful overall. See https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/impacts/.
The new fact sheets are available via EPA’s climate change web page at https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/impacts/state-impact-factsheets.html
The International Bar Association’s Water Law News was published this week and includes an article written by Lynn Grayson regarding the Flint, MI water crisis. Her article titled Flint, Michigan Water Crisis: Lessons Learned provides a detailed factual account of the circumstances, decisions and governmental actions that led to the discovery of elevated levels of lead in Flint’s drinking water.
The article addresses possible lessons learned from the Flint situation, including regulatory oversight failures, aging infrastructure and environmental justice considerations. In her opinion, a quote from Michigan Governor Snyder when he testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform best summarizes what happened in Flint: “. . . Let me blunt: this was a failure of government at all levels—local, state and federal officials—we all failed the families of Flint.”
Founded in 1947, the International Bar Association (IBA) is the world’s largest leading organizations of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. The IBA influences the development of international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession throughout the world.
On September 1, 2016, Jenner & Block is hosting a CLE program titled Overview of Critical Litigation Issues for Environmental Practitioners in our Chicago offices at Noon. The program will feature two of our environmental litigation partners as speakers, Steven Siros and Allison Torrence. Together, they will provide environmental litigation updates addressing new developments related to the Clean Power Plan, “waters of the United States,” emerging contaminants, and CERCLA cost recovery/contribution claims.
EPA has announced a new waste and materials tracking feature in its Energy Start Portfolio Manager—a free benchmarking and tracking tool for commercial building owners and managers. The new waste tracking functionality allows the management of energy, water and waste via one secure online resource. This is another effort to promote and encourage sustainable materials management to conserve resources, remain economically competitive and support a healthy, sustainable environment.
EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager provides a platform to improve energy performance, prioritize efficiency measures, and verify energy reductions in buildings. It currently measures energy, water and greenhouse gas metrics in more than 450,000 U.S. buildings, representing 40 percent of U.S. commercial space. The new resource unifies energy, water and waste under one virtual “roof” to streamline sustainability management programs allowing entities to better understand their environmental footprint and resource costs.
EPA is hosting two webinars to introduce the basics of the new waste tracking component in the Energy Start Portfolio Manager:
- Introducing Waste & Materials Tracking in Portfolio Manager—August 18 at 2:00 p.m. ET
- Introducing Waste & Materials Tracking in Portfolio Manager---September 15 at 1:00 p.m. ET
To learn more about sustainability initiatives in commercial buildings or to register for the upcoming webinars: https://www.energystar.gov/buildings/owners_and_managers/existing_buildings/use_portfolio_manager/track_waste_materials
Earlier this year New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman spearheaded a coalition of attorneys general investigating whether ExxonMobil misled investors and the public about its knowledge of climate change. As previously reported in this blog (see ExxonMobil, 13 State Attorneys General Fight Back Against the Exxon Climate Probes and Climate Change Allegations Against Big Oil Continue), ExxonMobil has sued the Attorneys General for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Massachusetts pushing back on allegations and related subpoenas dating back at least 40 years into the corporate history and internal communications of the company related to climate change considerations. Two recent developments ensure the conflicts over these government led investigations against ExxonMobil are far from over:
- This week the Energy & Environment Legal Institute and the Free Market Environmental Clinic filed litigation in the Supreme Court of New York against New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman over his refusal to produce climate change-related communications demanded by these groups in requests filed under the New York Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). The free-market litigation nonprofits requested all correspondence between AG Schneiderman and eight individuals that contained certain keywords including “energy,” “fossil,” “climate,” “RICO” and “fraud.” The individuals targeted were associated with environmental organizations as well as lawyers that had litigated against ExxonMobil in the past. The Attorney General’s Office denied the FOIL requests claiming the communications sought were exempt from disclosure because they were protected as attorney client, attorney work product or inter- or intra-agency memoranda. The nonprofits assert that the majority of the information sought is communications between AG Schneiderman and outside parties that would not fall under any legal protections for withholding information.
- Last month, led by Texas Representative Lamar Smith, the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology issued ten (10) subpoenas to the Attorneys General of New York and Massachusetts as well as a number of nongovernmental environmental advocacy groups seeking climate change-related communications among the attorneys general and the environmental groups that support them associated, at least in part, with the ongoing investigations against ExxonMobil. The attorneys general have refused to produce any documents saying the request encroaches onto their states’ sovereign power to pursue their fraud investigations. Both Attorneys General Schneiderman and Healey have pushed back on the issuance of these subpoenas noting they are “…are an unprecedented effort to target ongoing state law enforcement investigations or potential prosecutions…” and if allowed would “…eviscerate AG Healey’s ability to conduct an ordinary and lawful investigation.”
Many have expressed skepticism about the legal reasoning and logic of the fraud, securities and RICO investigations launched by the “Green 20” state attorneys general. Critics charge the state attorneys general are using governmental power to further political objectives and in the process violating ExxonMobil’s constitutional rights of free speech and freedom from unreasonable searches. It appears there is nothing “ordinary and lawful” in the context of this unusual investigation aimed at achieving climate change parity where more appropriate regulatory and legislative efforts have failed.
The State Water Resources Control Board has proposed a new maximum contaminant level (MCL) for 1,2,3-trichloropropane (TCP) of five parts per trillion (ppt).TCP is a manmade chemical found at industrial and hazardous waste sites. It has been used as a cleaning and degreasing solvent and also is associated with pesticide products.
California recognizes TCP as a carcinogen, and it has been found in numerous drinking water sources in the state. In August 2009, a public health goal (PHG) for TCP was developed by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) for use by the State Water Board to establish an MCL. The PHG represents the level of TCP in drinking water that OEHHA believes does not pose a significant risk to health over a lifetime of exposure (70 years). The PHG for TCP is 0.0007 µg/L, or 0.7 ppt.
A drinking water standard, or MCL, establishes a limit on the allowable concentration of a contaminant in drinking water that is provided by a public water system. The State Water Resources Control Board is proposing 5 ppt as the MCL for TCP. Formal rulemaking is expected later this year, and if approved, the MCL would become effective July 1, 2017.
EPA published a technical fact sheet about TCP in 2014. More background information and guidance on the proposed MCL action for TCP also is available from the California State Water Resources Control Board.
TCP is yet another emerging chemical that has been the subject of ongoing federal and state regulatory review and discussion for several years. It also is a chemical being analyzed and assessed at the lower threshold level of ppt versus more traditional parts per billion (ppb). As is often the case, it appears that the State of California is initiating regulatory action addressing TCP concerns, and it is likely that other states will follow.
The latest Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) disclosure effectiveness project outreach seeks input on sustainability metrics important to investor decisions. In the SEC’s 340-page Business and Financial Disclosure Required by Regulation S-K: Concept Release (Concept Release), the Commission seeks input from the public about which sustainability metrics are important to investor decisions and why companies often choose to provide sustainability information outside of their public filing. See 81 Fed. Reg. 23,916 (April 22, 2016).
Since the launch of the disclosure effectiveness project in 2013, the SEC has received numerous communications from socially responsible investor groups urging it to use the review of corporate risk disclosures to look at material environmental, social and governance (ESG) disclosures. One of the leading independent organizations that issues sustainability accounting standards, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), already issued extensive comments on July 1, 2016 regarding the SEC’s Concept Release.
The key comments provided to the SEC by SASB are as follows:
- Today’s reasonable investors use sustainability disclosures;
- While Regulation S-K already requires disclosure of material sustainability information, the resulting disclosures are insufficient;
- Line-item disclosure requirements are not appropriate for sustainability issues;
- To evaluate sustainability performance, an industry lens is needed;
- Effective sustainability disclosure requires a market standard; and
- The Commission should acknowledge SASB standards as an acceptable disclosure framework for use by companies preparing their SEC filings.
The Concept Release is one of several outreach efforts as part of the SEC’s disclosure effectiveness project. At the heart of the initiative is how to make increasingly lengthy, complicated financial reports more effective, understandable and user-friendly. The Concept Release reviews the Regulation S-K disclosure requirements seeking input on what should be kept, modified, eliminated, or added as well as if the current requirements provide the most efficient and effective means of disclosing this information.
As to ESG issues including sustainability considerations, the SASB comments provide a good historical overview and update on environmental disclosures and the growing trend to provide more detailed ESG and sustainability disclosures to investors and the public at large. In its comments, SASB advocates for the SEC to acknowledge its standards as an acceptable framework for companies to use in their mandatory filings to comply with Regulation S-K in a cost-effective and decision-useful manner. SASB's comments include a quote from former SEC Chair and SASB Board member Elisse Walter, noting “…Disclosure is the foundation of securities laws in the United States and many other nations, and transparency is the engine that propels our capital markets forward. But as the world continues to evolve—and its economies along with it—our disclosure requirements and reporting standards have not always kept pace.”
While the SASB framework would provide more transparency, along with much needed structure and guidance on these disclosures, it seems highly unlikely the SEC will embrace the SASB’s recommendation at this time.
According to the Governance & Accountability Institute (G&A), 81% of S&P 500 Index companies published a sustainability or corporate responsibility report in 2015. The S&P Index is one of the most widely-followed barometers of the U.S. economy and conditions for large-cap public companies in the capital markets.
The G&A Institute has analyzed the index company components’ sustainability reporting activities for the past five years. There has been a rapid and significant uptake in corporate sustainability reporting among the 500 companies. Over the years, sustainability reporting rose from just 20% of the companies reporting in 2011 to 81% in 2015. According to the G&A Institute, this increased corporate reporting underscores the importance of setting strategies, measuring and managing environmental, social, and governance issues in response to growing stakeholder and shareholder expectations, and in some cases, demands for such reporting from major customers.
The growth in sustainability reporting tracked by the G&A Institute is as follows:
- In 2011, just under 20% of S&P 500 companies had reported;
- In 2012, 53% (for the first time a majority) of S&P 500 companies were reporting;
- By 2013, 72% were reporting—that is 7-out-of-10 of all companies in the popular benchmark; and
- In 2014, 75% of the S&P 500 were publishing reports.
The G&A Institute has joined forces with the Trust Across America/Trust Around the World (TAA/TAW) program to explore potential relationships of the trustworthiness of companies that do and do not report. The companies have charted and are analyzing the 99 index companies in 2015 that did not report on their sustainability opportunities, risks, strategies, actions, programs and achievements. More information about the work of the G&A Institute and this new initiative with TAA/TAW is available at http://www.ga-institute.com/.
While not yet mandatory in the U.S., sustainability and corporate social responsibility reporting is a growing trend and becoming somewhat of an expectation among the largest public and private companies. It appears that the new focus and scrutiny will not be on the companies reporting but those that have decided not to do so.
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.