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.
On June 22, 2016, President Obama signed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (a/k/a the TSCA Reform Act) into law. The TSCA Reform Act received bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, passing both bodies by wide margins. The TSCA Reform Act is a major overhaul of the 40-year-old chemical law, which had fallen short of its goal to protect people and the environment from dangerous chemicals.
In an article posted on EPA’s blog, Administrator Gina McCarthy praised the TSCA Reform Act, stating:
The updated law gives EPA the authorities we need to protect American families from the health effects of dangerous chemicals. I welcome this bipartisan bill as a major step forward to protect Americans’ health. And at EPA, we’re excited to get to work putting it into action.
Key provisions of the TSCA Reform Act include:
Late on June 7, 2016, the Senate voted in favor of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (HR 2576) (a/k/a the TSCA Reform Act). The TSCA Reform Act regulates the manufacture, transportation, sale and use of thousands of chemicals, and provides a much needed update to the 40 year old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The TSCA Reform Act had been passed by the House in May, with overwhelming support. It was held up recently in the Senate by an objection from Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who argued that he needed more time to review the complex new law. But, Senator Paul dropped his objection on June 7th, and a vote was quickly held.
The TSCA Reform Act is widely seen as an improvement over the outdated TSCA. The American Chemical Counsel praised the TSCA Reform Act as “truly historic”. Others, however, were disappointed that the TSCA Reform Act preempted state laws on chemical safety, instead of setting a floor and letting state’s set more stringent standards.
President Obama is expected to sign the TSCA Reform Act into law very soon, as the White House had endorsed the Act after it passed the House of Representatives in May.
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.
EPA recently took action under the Toxic Substances and Control Act (TSCA) to ensure no TCE containing consumer products enter the marketplace before the Agency has the opportunity to evaluate the intended use and take appropriate action. The new rule issued April 6, 2016, known as a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR), requires any company intending to make certain TCE containing consumer products provide EPA 90-day notice before making the product.
The final rule applies to TCE manufactured (including import) or processed for use in any consumer product, except for use in cleaners and solvent degreasers, film cleaners, hoof polishes, lubricants, mirror edge sealants, and pepper spray. A consumer product is defined at 40 CFR 721.3 as “a chemical substance that is directly, or as part of a mixture, sold or made available to consumers for their use in or around a permanent or temporary household or residence, in or around a school, or in recreation.”
EPA’s June 2014 Work Plan Chemical Risk Assessment for TCE identified health risks associated with several TCE uses, including the arts and craft spray fixative use, aerosol and vapor degreasing, and as a spotting agent in dry cleaning facilities. In 2015, EPA worked with the only U.S. manufacturer of the TCE spray fixative product, PLZ Aeroscience Corporation of Addison, Illinois, resulting in an agreement to stop production of the TCE containing product and to reformulate the product with an alternate chemical.
It is important to note that this regulatory action may affect certain entities with pre-existing import certifications and export notifications required under TSCA.
The rule becomes effective 60 days from its publication in the Federal Register.
As required by the Hazardous Waste Electronic Establishment Act (Act), EPA’s efforts are ongoing to develop an e-manifest system. EPA issued its final rule in February 2014 (79 Fed. Reg. 7518, February 7, 2014) seeking to implement the Act’s requirement to create a national electronic manifest system and impose user fees as a means to fund its development and operation. Most recently, EPA has developed an e-manifest listserv to manage communications with the regulated community.
According to EPA, the listserv will: 1) provide stakeholders with program announcements and updates; and 2) facilitate e-manifest conversations among users and other stakeholders. There will be significant progress on the e-manifest program throughout 2016-2017, so participation in the listserv will be a good way to stay informed.
Interested parties may subscribe to EPA’s listserv at https://www3.epa.gov/epawaste/hazard/transportation/manifest/e-man.htm.
EPA conducted a webinar on developments with the e-manifest system in December 2015, and the presentation provides a good overview of the program and related schedule.
Along with the hazardous waste management changes for generators recently proposed by EPA, the e-manifest system will be another significant new development for thousands of companies regulated by RCRA and subject to hazardous waste manifest requirements.
EPA recently announced seven National Enforcement Initiatives (NEIs) for FY 2017-2019. Every three years, EPA identifies NEIs to focus resources on national environmental problems where there is significant non-compliance with laws, and where federal enforcement efforts can make a difference. According to EPA, the NEIs are selected with input from the public and other stakeholders across EPA’s state, local and tribal partners.
Starting October 1, 2016 and continuing for three fiscal years, the following are the NEIs:
- Reducing air pollution from the largest sources
- Cutting hazardous air pollutants*
- Ensuring energy extraction activities comply with environmental laws
- Reducing risks of accidental releases at industrial and chemical facilities*
- Keeping raw sewage and contaminated stormwater out of our nation’s waters
- Preventing animal waste from contaminating surface and groundwater
- Keeping industrial pollutants out of the nation’s waters*
*New for FY2017-2019 as of February 2016.
It is interesting to note that the newly identified NEIs appear to correspond to challenges that EPA recently confronted, including the Gold King Mine wastewater spill, the spill prevention litigation and settlement in New York, and the Flint, MI lead contaminated water matter, where recent government reports concluded EPA failed in its regulatory obligations to this community.
For more information, see EPA’s news release announcing these NEIs.
EPA has agreed to initiate rulemaking to better address industrial waste spills as part of a settlement with a coalition of environmental groups. The Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform (EJHA), People Concerned About Chemical Safety (PCACS), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), sued EPA last July alleging that the Agency had failed to prevent hazardous substance spills from industrial facilities, including above ground storage tanks. See Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform et al. v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, et al., case number 1:15-cv-05705, in the U.S District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Jenner & Block Webinar: The Top Environmental, Health and Safety Issues for 2016 - What You Need to Know
On Tuesday, February 23rd, from 12:00– 1:15 pm CT, Jenner & Block Partners Lynn Grayson and Steven Siros will present a CLE webinar on The Top Environmental, Health and Safety Issues for 2016 - What You Need to Know. The webinar will provide an overview of key environmental, health and safety issues in 2016 including the following topics:
- Issues relating to the Corps’ jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act;
- Fallout under the Safe Drinking Water Act after Flint;
- U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan regulations, UNFCCC COP 21, and the potential regulation of aircraft GHG emissions;
- Status of TSCA reform efforts;
- Litigation relating to GMOs under FIFRA;
- RCRA waste regulation amendments;
- OSHA penalty updates;
- U.S. EPA challenges;
- Water scarcity and sustainability; and
- Technological innovation and its impact on environmental practitioners.
To register for this free Webinar click here.
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.