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.
In 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit vacated U.S. EPA’s registration of the insecticide sulfoxaflor, finding that U.S. EPA lacked adequate data to ensure that its registration would not harm non-target species, and more specifically, bees. Following the 9th Circuit’s decision in September 2015, U.S. EPA reversed its position on two other pesticide registrations. In October 2015, U.S. EPA indicated that it planned to ban the agricultural use of chlorpyrifos notwithstanding U.S. EPA's previously stated intention to work with industry to mitigate the risks as opposed to an outright ban. In November 2015, U.S. EPA sought to voluntarily vacate its prior registration of Enlist Duo on the basis that U.S. EPA had obtained new data suggesting that the combined toxicity of its two ingredients (glyphosate and 2,4-D) was higher than originally believed. U.S. EPA was facing litigation in the 9th Circuit with respect to both of these pesticides which likely played a role in those decisions. In addition, U.S. EPA’s anticipated decision with respect to the reregistration of glyphosate has been delayed on multiple occasions and is now expected sometime in 2016.
These actions are all suggestive that U.S. EPA has elected to adopt a more stringent approach with respect to its risk reviews of pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodentcide Act (FIFRA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Such an approach is likely to result in significant delays in getting pesticide products registered and to the market. We will continue to follow these issues as we await U.S. EPA’s glyphosate reregistration decision which is likely to be the next significant U.S. EPA action in the FIFRA arena.
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.
CERES is urging world governments meeting now at the COP21 this week in Paris to produce a strong climate agreement. CERES believes that recent actions confirm that the business and financial communities support clean energy and a low-carbon transition. The actions cited by CERES include:
Lynn Grayson and Steven Siros Publish Article on U.S. Legal and Regulatory Developments in Nanotechnology
Lynn Grayson and Steven Siros have published an article in the most recent issue of DRI’s Toxic Tort and Environmental Law Newsletter titled Nanotechnology: U.S. Legal and Regulatory Developments. In the article, Ms. Grayson and Mr. Siros discuss how nanotechnology affects every sector of the U.S. economy and impacts our lives in a myriad of ways through the 1,600 nanotechnology-based consumer goods and products we use on a daily basis. The article provides an overview of how nanotechnology is defined, insights on the regulatory framework and recent developments, possible concerns about nanomaterial use, and risk management considerations for U.S. businesses utilizing nanotechnology.
The full article is available here.
Today Thomson Reuters’ published my blog, Executive Perspective: UN Sustainable Development Summit: Sustainable Energy Developments. The blog details the new 2030 UN Sustainability Development Agenda and how the recently adopted sustainable developments goals (SDGs) will influence sustainable energy growth around the world in the coming years.
Thomson Reuters’ Sustainability blog provides a wealth of information and resources on this important topic. I like to review the Editors’ Picks to get see the latest and most interesting sustainability developments.
On September 15, 2015, US EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance published a proposed list of national enforcement initiatives (NEIs) for fiscal years 2017–19. This latest NEI list includes NEIs from the last round (FY2014–16) as well as three new potential NEIs that US EPA is considering.
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.
Last week, on July 15, 2015, the US EPA revised the 1988 underground storage tank (UST) regulation and the 1988 state program approval (SPA) regulation. Some of these changes had their roots in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which set out additional requirements in states that received federal RCRA Subtitle I money from EPA. Part of the impetus for this regulation was to apply these changes to Indian country and all states. Other changes relate to revising the regulations in light of technological changes and challenges that have surfaced over the years. The effective date of the regulations is October 13, 2015. Some of the key changes are set out below.
Masses of small red tuna crabs have been washing up along San Diego, California area beaches from Ocean Beach to La Jolla. The species, Pleuroncodes planipes, is unique in that it can live its entire life cycle, from larva to adulthood, in the water column from surface to seafloor. Accordingly, it can be particularly vulnerable to being carried along by winds, tides, and currents.
This week EPA released EJSCREEN, an environmental justice screening and mapping tool that uses high resolution maps combined with demographic and environmental data to identify places with potentially elevated environmental burdens and vulnerable populations. According to EPA, EJSCREEN’s simple to understand color-coded maps, bar charts, and reports enable users to better understand areas in need of increased environmental protection, health care access, housing, infrastructure improvement, community revitalization, and climate resilience.
Environmental justice is defined as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of race or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. EPA’s goal is to provide all people with equal access to the environmental decision-making process to maintain a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.
D.C. Circuit Rejects Enviro and Industry Challenges to EPA’s Nonhazardous Secondary Materials Rule; Implications for Combustion Standards Remain
Last week, the D.C. Circuit issued an unpublished per curiam decision in Solvay USA Inc. v. U.S. EPA, No. 11-1189 (D.C. Cir.), rejecting all arguments from both environmentalists and industry against EPA’s non-hazardous secondary material (NHSM) regulations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). By way of background, the characterization of non-hazardous secondary materials pursuant to the NHSM has implications under the Clean Air Act (CAA) for the standards by which those materials can be incinerated in combustion units.
World Environment Day (WED) is the United Nations’ principal vehicle for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the environment. The WED theme this year is “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume With Care.” Learn more about WED, other UN environmental initiatives, and celebrations around the world today at http://www.unep.org/wed.
In honor of the fifth anniversary of our entry into the blogosphere, we are excited to announce a major revamp of the Corporate Environmental Lawyer’s design. In addition to the blog’s sophisticated new look, our readers will enjoy:
- Mobile and tablet responsive technology
- A trending-categories cloud list
- Easy-to-use social sharing buttons
Streamlined navigation menus
- Access to all five years of posts
In the five years since our Environmental and Workplace Health & Safety (EHS) practice created the Corporate Environmental Lawyer, we have written more than 500 posts, provided critical updates and insights on issues across the EHS legal sectors, and been ranked among LexisNexis’s top 50 blogs. As we wish to continue to grow the blog and provide our readers with the information they want to know, Corporate Environmental Lawyer editors, Steven M. Siros and Genevieve J. Essig, encourage you to participate by suggesting new topics. We look forward to continuing to provide content covering the issues that are driving changes in environmental law.
Last week, the EPA-specific listing on the website of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs was updated with timelines on the EPA’s regulatory efforts. Of potential interest, in chronological order of expected release, are the following rules:
- May 2015 (Final Rule). Clean Water Rule: Definition of “Waters of the United States”. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed a rule for determining whether a water is protected by the Clean Water Act.
- June 2015 (ANPRM and NRPM). Proposed Greenhouse Gas Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings Under CAA Section 231 for Aircraft, and ANPRM on the International Process for Reducing Aircraft GHGs and Future Standards. In this action, EPA will determine whether greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft cause or contribute to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare. Concurrent with these proposed findings, EPA will release an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) to provide an overview of the International Civil Aviation Organization's (ICAO) efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- June 2015 (NPRM). Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles--Phase 2. These second sets of standards would further reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption from a wide range of on-road vehicles from semi-trucks to the largest pickup trucks and vans, and all types and sizes of work trucks and buses.
- July 2015 (NPRM). Non-Hazardous Secondary Materials--Additions to List of Categorical Non-Waste Fuels; Other Treated Woods. The Treated Wood Council has submitted a petition for various types of treated wood to be added as categorical non-waste fuels. Materials classed as NHSM can be burned for fuel in lightly regulated boilers rather than more strictly regulated incinerators.
New Jersey Assembly Unanimously Passes Bill Broadly Allocating Liability and Damages for Hazardous Substance Discharges from Offshore Drilling Platforms
Last week, the New Jersey Assembly unanimously passed a bill, A4258, which is notably broad in its language on allocating liability and damages for releases of hazardous substances from offshore drilling platforms. The bill would supplement N.J.S.A. 58:10-23.11, the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act, which defines hazardous substances to include petroleum and petroleum products. The bill sets out that potentially liable parties include “[a]ny person who discharges a hazardous substance from a drilling platform” or “is in any way responsible for a hazardous substance that is discharged from a drilling platform.” (Emphasis added.) This discharge need not occur within the jurisdiction of New Jersey so long as the hazardous substance eventually “enters the waters of the State.” Persons that meet the above two conditions are “strictly, jointly and severally [liable], without regard to fault,” for:
Tiny microbeads are introduced everyday into waterways from many personal care products and over the counter drugs. The plastic microbeads (often made of polyethylene or polypropylene) are recent additions in facial scrubs, soaps, toothpastes and other personal care products as abrasives or exfoliants. A single product may contain as many as 350,000 of these nanoparticles. Last week, EPA’s Janet Goodwin, Chief of the EPA Office of Wastewater’s Technology and Statistics, confirmed again that EPA lacks regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act to regulate consumer use of plastic microbeads entering wastewaters, despite growing concern over impacts to the environment.
According to Ms. Goodwin, most of the plastic microbeads that are found in wastewater effluent come from consumer use. The EPA only has authority to regulate plastic microbeads that enter wastewater from industry, either through effluent guidelines or pretreatment standards.
A new study released by Morgan Stanley confirms that investors appear to place a premium on sustainability yet believe that sustainable investments require some financial sacrifice. Two key findings include: 1) nearly three-quarters (72%) of those surveyed believe that companies with good environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices can achieve higher profitability and are better long-term investments; and 2) 54% believe that sustainable investing involves a financial trade off.
The study set out to analyze potential performance and risk differences between sustainable and traditional investments. A range of studies on sustainable investment performance were reviewed along with performance data for 10,228 open-ended mutual funds and 2,874 Separately Managed Accounts (SMAs) based in the U.S. Through the review, Morgan Stanley concluded that investing in sustainability has usually met, and often exceeded, the performance of comparable traditional investments. Specific findings include:
- Sustainable equity mutual funds met or exceeded the median return of traditional equity funds for 64% of the time periods examined.
- Sustainable equity mutual funds also had equal or lower median volatility for 64% of the time periods examined.
- For the longest time period (seven years trailing, 2008-2014), sustainable equity mutual funds met or exceeded median returns for five out of six different equity classes examined (for example, large-cap growth).
- Long-term annual returns of the MSCI KLD 400 Social Index, which comprises firms scoring highly on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria, exceeded the S&P 500 by 45 basis points between its inception in 1990 to the end of 2014.
The study was conducted by the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing. The Institute seeks to accelerate mainstream adoption of sustainable investing by developing industry-leading insights and scalable finance solutions to address global challenges.
On April 28, 2015, EPA announced the availability of a problem formulation and initial assessment document for the Work Plan Chemical 1,4-Dioxane and opened a 60-day public comment period until June 29. The notice also seeks input on EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics' (OPPT) initial concerns about the industrial solvent 1,4-Dioxane.
Following receipt of comments on the problem formulation and initial assessment document and consideration of any additional data or information received, EPA will initiate a risk assessment which is the process to estimate the nature and probability of adverse health and environmental effects in humans and ecological receptors from chemical contaminants that may be present in the environment.
At long last, with a 15-5 bipartisan vote, a Senate bill that would amend the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) moved out of the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee. Notwithstanding continuing objections from Senator Boxer, the bill that came out of the committee contained a host of changes from the original bill that were intended to address concerns that had been raised by democrats, environmental and public health advocates and U.S. EPA.
Several of these key changes include:
Chemicals, natural and synthetic, are all around us. We can’t live life without them--and we wouldn’t want to. But some chemicals are toxic to humans and the flora and fauna with which we share the earth. Replacing toxic substances found in the workplace, distributed in commerce and contained in wastes with less harmful materials protects employees, consumers and the environment at the same time. Safe Chemical and Green Chemistry initiatives seek to do just that.
OSHA estimates that each year more than 190,000 employees become ill and 50,000 die as a result of chemical exposures. Environmental and health and safety regulations restrict only a small percentage of the chemicals in use. Active chemical management systems designed to minimize or eliminate chemical hazards by finding safer alternatives can have a significant impact on employee health. Employers have often found that switching to safer chemicals reduces costs by reducing employee absences, medical expenses, disposal costs, and sometimes material costs. Additional benefits often include greater efficiencies and/or performance, improved employee morale and the benefits associated with being an industry leader and socially responsible employer.
OSHA has developed a tool kit to help employers interested in transitioning to safer chemicals. The tool kit outlines a seven step approach to understanding the chemicals being used in the workplace and finding and evaluating opportunities for improvements. It also includes a number of links to additional useful information. The tool kit can be found here.
Removing harmful chemicals from the workplace reduces the presence of harmful chemicals on our jobsite, on our roads, rails and waterways, in our products and ultimately in our landfills—a win for everyone and the environment.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), along with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), recently took additional steps in their action plan to improve safety with respect to transportation of flammable liquids, including crude oil, by rail. These steps consisted of several main actions:
- PHMSA Safety Advisory reminding hazardous materials shippers and carriers of “their responsibility to ensure that current, accurate and timely emergency response information is immediately available to emergency response officials for shipments of hazardous materials, and such information is maintained on a regular basis.”
- PHMSA and FRA Safety Advisory reminding railroads operating a “high hazard flammable train” (HHFT) and offerors of Class 3 flammable liquids transported on such trains that certain information may be required by PHMSA and/or FRA personnel in their investigation immediately following an accident.
- FRA Emergency Order requiring that trains transporting large amounts of Class 3 flammable liquid through certain highly populated areas to adhere to a speed limit (40 mph).
- FRA Safety Advisory making recommendations intended to enhance the mechanical safety of the cars in trains transporting large quantities of flammable liquids. In particular, the advisory recommends that railroads use highly qualified individuals to conduct the brake and mechanical inspections and recommends a reduction to the impact threshold levels the industry currently uses for wayside detectors that measure wheel impacts to ensure the wheel integrity of tank cars in those trains.
- FRA Notice and comment request to gather additional data concerning rail cars carrying petroleum crude oil in any train involved in an FRA reportable accident.
- FRA Acting Administrator letter to the president of the Association of American Railroads (AAR) seeking an additional voluntary commitment to ensure certain relevant information is available to FRA and emergency responders immediately following a HHFT derailment, including information related to the lading, tank cars, and trains involved. The letter requests a meeting within 30 days to discuss development of a process to do so.
These materials reference the July 2013 derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada, as highlighting potential consequences of a railroad accident involving flammable liquids, as well as a number of other subsequent accidents in the U.S. involving trains transporting large quantities of crude oil and ethanol that resulted in hazardous material releases and fires – including three already in 2015.
On Friday, April 17th, Jenner & Block partnered with ComEd and Exelon to clean up the 12th Street beach at Northerly Island, in cooperation with the Alliance for the Great Lakes. Our group picked up over 85 pounds of broken glass, plastic beverage containers, food wrappers, cigarettes, and other miscellaneous trash and debris.
The Adopt-a-Beach program is the premier volunteer initiative for the Alliance for the Great Lakes. Teams remove litter and enter results into the Adopt-a-Beach online system to share with local beach authorities, educate the public, and improve the beaches and the health of the Great Lakes.
This picture shows our team after clean up efforts at 12th Street beach:
What will you do to celebrate Earth Day 2015? How about participating in the Adopt-a-Beach program?
To learn more about beach clean up opportunities or to schedule an event, visit http://www.greatlakes.org/.
A special thanks to our own Gay Sigel for organizing the Jenner & Block team. Thanks, Gay!
While much progress has been made in the U.S. to address water quality since the first Earth Day in 1970, increasingly the critical issue of the day is water quantity and specifically sufficient availability of safe water for everyone. According to the World Water Council, 1 in 9 people in the world, or approximately 750 million individuals, lacks access to safe water. In January 2015, the World Economic Forum identified water scarcity as the #1 global risk based upon possible impact to society. These issues exist worldwide, including throughout the U.S.
This month, California Governor Jerry Brown announced the state's first-ever mandatory effort to cope with four years of the worst drought in California's history including a 25% use reduction on cities and towns. There are 5 things you need to know about California's water situation, according to National Geographic's ongoing research and study of water scarcity issues in the Western U.S.:
- The state (and much of the West) relies heavily on snowpack each winter to resupply surface water streams and lakes. Because of a lack of winter storms and record high temperatures this past winter, snowpack in California is at an all-time low. This is the fourth consecutive year that the snowpack has been below normal. The state's hydropower supply is also threatened when snowpack is scarce.
- When surface water supplies are low, hidden water supplies beneath the surface in aquifers, or groundwater, are drilled to make up the shortfall. A large aquifer under the Central Valley is being rapidly depleted to make up for shortfalls in surface water supply. A 2011 study indicated that the Central Valley Aquifer is losing an amount of water each year equivalent to the nearly 29 million acre-feet of water found in Lake Mead, the nation's largest surface reservoir on the Colorado River. (An acre-foot is one acre of ground covered one foot deep in water.) California for the first time last year passed legislation regulating groundwater use, but those restrictions will not come into effect for years.
- While the 25 percent water use restrictions announced last week are intended to help reduce demand, most of the water in California is used for farming, which was largely not included in Brown's announcement on restrictions. California's farms produce and export fruits and vegetables, hay for livestock, and meat and dairy products. Surface water for farms is allocated from state and federal water projects. Water supply restrictions for farmers may be announced soon by the state, but farmers have been drilling groundwater to compensate for surface supply shortages. Last week's rules require only that agricultural operations improve their reporting of water use to the state.
- California is not the only state in the West facing water supply issues. Winter snowpack in Oregon and parts of Washington was far below normal. The Colorado River Basin, which supplies water to Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Diego, has also been in a drought for more than a decade, and the river basin's aquifers have been declining, too.
- When California faced a major drought in the late 1970s, fewer than 20 million people lived in the state. Now nearly 40 million live there. While Californians have drastically improved the efficiency of their water use in recent years, if rain and snow do not arrive later this year, the supply of groundwater—much of which is non-renewable—will continue to decline as it is used to make up for surface shortages.
The good news is there are two technical advancements that are currently available to mitigate water scarcity issues—one more mainstream and the other yet to be a "politically correct" option given public perceptions:
- Desalination—this age old process of converting seawater to drinking water is gaining in popularity despite costs and energy demands. A $1B plant is near completion by Poseidon Resources in Carlsbad, CA and will be the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere. 13-15 plants are proposed for California between Los Angeles and San Francisco. There are 300 plants in the U.S. today and over 12,500 plants worldwide, particularly in the Middle East.
- Janicki Bioenergy's Omni Processor—the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested in this low cost, hyper-efficient sewage treatment plant which produces clean drinking water that meets both FDA and World Health Organization standards AND generates the very energy it requires to run. Janicki Bioenergy, based in Seattle, WA, has a prototype operating in Washington State and this year enters the developing world with a plant in Dekar, Senegal. Here's how it works:
- The sewage sludge is fed into the plant by conveyor belt and dried in a tube that separates solid waste from water. The Omni Processor's intensely hot incinerator reaches 1,000 degrees Celsius, scorching enough to kill all pathogens and, perhaps more important for those living downwind, to operate without the expected offensive smell.
- Converted into vapor, the water is spun in a centrifuge to remove remaining particles and then fed through two layers of filters. Next, it is cooled and condensed, at which point it is filtered one more time. The latest model can yield 86,000 liters of pure drinking water each day.
- The remaining solids are then fed into an incinerator, yielding a high-powered steam that drives a generator, which in turn produces the very electricity that runs the plant (the Dakar unit produces 150 kW per day), plus excess energy that can be diverted back to the surrounding community. Another byproduct is a phosphorus-rich, disease-free ash that can be used as fertilizer. And the circle of life continues.
While some solutions exist, water remains a precious natural resource and there is no alternative. Every sector of society needs to do their part to conserve, protect and restore water resources in conjunction with governmental action to regulate quality concerns, improve infrastructure and water distribution systems, and address use limitations when appropriate.
For more information about water security, recent developments, and ongoing efforts to ensure the availability of access to safe water for everyone, visit Water.org at http://water.org or World Water Council at http://worldwatercouncil.org/.
On October 5, 2012, President Obama signed into law the Hazardous Waste Electronic Manifest Establishment Act (PDF), which authorizes the EPA to implement a national electronic manifest system. Commonly referred to as "e-Manifest," this national system is envisioned to be implemented by the EPA in partnership with industry and states.
EPA issued the e-manifest final rule, effective August 6, 2014, authorizing the use of electronic hazardous waste manifests that will become available when EPA establishes a new electronic hazardous waste manifest system (79 Fed. Reg. 7518, February 7, 2014). The modification will provide waste handlers with the option to complete, sign, transmit, and store manifest information electronically in the electronic system. States that currently receive and collect paper manifest copies will receive copies of manifest data electronically from the system.
EPA Connect, the Agency's official blog, provided some updates this week on the status of the e-Manifest implementation process. EPA reported that an important next step is to establish the initial fee structure for users of the system. EPA is working with states and stakeholders to create this fee proposal. According to the blog, EPA anticipates the proposed rule establishing the fee model for the system to be available for public comment by May 2016.
When implemented, EPA estimates this rule will impact 160,000 entities in at least 45 industries that ship off-site, transport, or receive approximately 5.9 million tons of RCRA hazardous wastes annually. These entities currently use between 4.6 and 5.6 million EPA Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifests.
Further insights and regulatory developments are detailed at http://www.epa.gov/osw/hazard/transportation/manifest/e-man.htm.