Last week, President Trump repealed the stream protection rule designed to halt water pollution caused by mountain top removal mining.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.
Friday afternoon, Scott Pruitt was confirmed by the Senate to serve as the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 52 Senators voted for Mr. Pruitt’s confirmation, while 46 Senators voted against him. The vote was largely along party lines, with Democratic Senators Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia voting for Pruitt and Republican Susan Collins of Maine voting against him.
As we previously reported here, Mr. Pruitt has been the Attorney General of Oklahoma since his election to that post in 2011. As Oklahoma Attorney General, Mr. Pruitt has sued EPA numerous times to challenge EPA regulations, including current litigation over the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. Oklahoma is part of the coalition of 28 states challenging EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants – a key component of the Clean Power Plan – in the case of West Virginia v. EPA, Case No. 15-1363. This case is currently pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
In a February 11, 2017 letter to U.S. EPA, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo indicated that if U.S. EPA didn’t move promptly to establish a federal maximum contaminant level (MCL) for 1,4-dioxane, New York would be forced to set its own MCL for drinking water in the state. Governor Cuomo pointed to a perceived regulatory gap, noting that New York has expended tremendous resources to address unregulated emerging contaminants such as 1,4-dioxane, PFOA and PFOS. The Governor also noted that water systems serving fewer than 10,000 people are not required to test for unregulated contaminants such as 1,4-dioxane but that New York was moving forward with a plan to require all public water systems on Long Island to test for these unregulated contaminants regardless of size. 1,4-dioxane is alleged to have been found in 40 percent of the public water supplies in Suffolk County.
1,4-dioxane is one of several emerging contaminants that does not currently have an MCL. 1,4-dioxane is a stabilizer that is commonly associated with the chlorinated solvent trichloroethane (TCA). However, it is also commonly found in shampoos, cosmetics, and other personal care products. In the absence of federal regulation, 1,4-dioxane regulatory levels vary from state to state. For example, Michigan recently lowered its 1,4-dioxane regulatory limit from 85 parts per billion (ppb) to 7.2 ppb. Other states have lower limits still, with Massachusetts having set a regulatory limit for 1,4-dioxane of 0.3 ppb.
This patchwork of standards illustrates the challenges that the regulated community faces in the absence of federal action to set an acceptable MCL for 1,4-dioxane and other emerging contaminants. It remains to be seen if the Trump administration will follow through with its expressed intent of relying to the states to implement and enforce environmental rules and regulations or if the administration will recognize the benefits to the regulated community of consistency, at least with respect to drinking water standards.
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.
Last Friday, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus issued a memorandum directing all agencies, including EPA, to freeze new or pending regulations. The freeze effects regulations at a variety of stages of finality. Under the Administration’s direction, the following actions are being taken by EPA and other agencies:
- Regulations that have been finalized but not yet been sent for publication in the Federal Register will not be sent until reviewed by someone selected by the President.
- Regulations that have been sent to the Federal Register but not published will be withdrawn.
- Regulations that have been published in the Federal Register but have not reached their effective date will be delayed for at least 60 days for review (until March 21, 2017).
Following through on this direction, EPA released a notice that will be published in the Federal Register on January 26, 2017, delaying implementation of all published rules that have yet to take effect until at least March 21, 2017. The delayed rules include EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP) facility safety rule, the 2017 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) targets, and the addition of vapor intrusion to Superfund NPL site scoring.
On Friday, January 13, 2017, notwithstanding its previous promises to take full responsibility for the Gold King Mine environmental spill, U.S. EPA, with guidance from the United States Department of Justice, concluded that it was not legally liable to pay compensation for administrative claims for the Gold King Mine disaster under the Federal Tort Claims Act. According to U.S. EPA, the Federal Tort Claims Act does not authorize damages for discretionary acts by federal agencies (i.e., actions which require the exercise of judgment on the part of the agency). Because U.S. EPA was conducting a site investigation of the gold mine pursuant to CERCLA, the agency’s actions are considered a discretionary function under the law (at least according to U.S. EPA).
Not surprisingly, this action by U.S. EPA was blasted by New Mexico lawmakers and the Navajo nation with lawmakers vowing to continue to press for legislation that would hold U.S. EPA fully accountable for the spill. Moreover, U.S. EPA’s conclusion that it has no responsibility for administrative claims is likely to be challenged as aggrieved parties have six months from the date of denial to challenge U.S. EPA’s decision.
Please click here to see U.S. EPA’s public statement concerning its liability conclusion with respect to the Gold King Mine spill.
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.
According to U.S. EPA’s annual enforcement report, U.S. EPA collected approximately $6 billion in civil penalties and required companies to expend in excess of $13.7 billion for pollution control investments in 2016. U.S. EPA’s 2016 collections represented a significant increase over 2015, when U.S. EPA only collected $207 million in civil penalties. The significant increase in 2016 was mainly attributable to a record $5.6 billion Clean Water Act penalty assessed against BP for the Deepwater Horizon event. It is also important to note that the $13.7 billion in pollution control investments doesn’t include the approximately $15 billion that Volkswagen has agreed to expend, because those amounts will primarily be expended in 2017.
Notwithstanding the spike in civil penalties, inspections and evaluations continue their downward trend with approximately 13,500 inspections and evaluations taking place in 2016, as compared with nearly 20,000 in 2012. Pollution reduction also continues to its downward trend with U.S. EPA only requiring companies to reduce releases of pollution by 324 million pounds per year—a result that U.S. EPA attributes to a continuing focus on toxic pollutants which come from smaller volume emitters.
Please click here to see a copy of U.S. EPA’s 2016 enforcement report.
On December 20, 2016, President Obama announced that he was using his authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (43 U.S.C. §§ 1331 et seq.) to prohibit drilling and oil exploration in certain areas of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. President Obama’s action was coordinated with Canada, where Prime Minister Trudeau announced a similar ban in Canada’s Arctic waters. The action will ban drilling in approximately 115 million acres of the Arctic Ocean, which represents 98% of federally owned Arctic waters, and 3.8 million acres of the Atlantic coast around a series of sensitive coral canyons.
The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (“OCS Act”) was passed in 1953 to protect the waters above the outer continental shelf – submerged lands beginning 3 miles from shore and extending to the 200-mile international-waters boundary. 43 U.S.C. § 1331(a). The OCS Act states that:
"The outer Continental Shelf is a vital national resource reserve held by the Federal Government for the public, which should be made available for expeditious and orderly development, subject to environmental safeguards, in a manner which is consistent with the maintenance of competition and other national needs." 43 U.S.C. § 1332(3).
In a move that should not come as a great surprise, on December 7, 2016, U.S. EPA published a final rule which added a "subsurface intrusion” or “SsI" component to CERCLA’s Hazard Ranking System (HRS). More specifically, SsI can include either groundwater or vapor intrusion although vapor intrusion is the much more common exposure pathway. The new rule, which can be found here, will become effective within 30 days of publication in the federal register. According to U.S. EPA Waste Chief Mathy Stanislaus, the new rule expands the types of sites that be assessed by U.S. EPA to now include sites that solely have SsI issues, as well as sites that have SsI issues that are coincident with a groundwater or soil contamination problem.
The final rule is substantially similar to the draft rule but does have minor adjustments that were made in response to comments which U.S. EPA contends will better “help refine the mechanics of assigning an HRS site score.” Importantly, the new rule doesn’t change the existing HRS cutoff score of 28.5 for a site to qualify for listing on the NPL, nor does the new rule apply to sites that are already on or proposed to be listed on the NPL.
Industry groups and the Department of Defense had objected to the draft rule, and it is unclear whether the new rule will be retained or modified under the incoming Trump administration. We will continue to track this and other rulemaking efforts on the part of U.S. EPA as the administration continues to transition.
Several news outlets are reporting that President-elect Donald Trump will nominate Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to serve as the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Pruitt has been the Attorney General of Oklahoma since his election to that post in 2011. In his role as Oklahoma Attorney General, Mr. Pruitt has been active in litigation challenging current EPA regulations in court, most significant of which have been challenges to the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan.
Mr. Pruitt and Oklahoma are part of the coalition of 28 states challenging EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants – a key component of the Clean Power Plan – in the case of West Virginia v. EPA, Case No. 15-1363. This case is currently pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which recently heard nearly seven hours of oral arguments and is expected to issue a ruling soon.
Environmental groups have been quick to react to Mr. Pruitt’s apparent nomination. Sierra Club Executive Director, Michael Brune released a statement critical of the pick:
Having Scott Pruitt in charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is like putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires…We strongly urge Senators, who are elected to represent and protect the American people, to stand up for families across the nation and oppose this nomination.
Mr. Pruitt’s appointment must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Several Democratic Senators have already raised concerns over his nomination, including Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), who tweeted that he “will do everything I can to stop this.”
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.
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.
Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative Requests Hearing on City of Waukesha Lake Michigan Water Diversion
On August 19, 2016, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative (the GLSL Cities Initiative) requested a hearing before the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Council (the Compact Council) regarding the Compact Council’s June 21, 2016 decision to approve the City of Waukesha’s application for a diversion of Great Lakes Basin Water.
The Compact Council was established in 2008 pursuant to the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact (the Compact). The Compact details how the States will work together to manage and protect the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin. The Compact Council is comprised of the Governors of each of the eight Great Lakes States (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin).
The Compact prohibits diversions of Great Lakes water outside of the Great Lakes Basin, with limited exceptions. One exception allows a community that is not located within the Great Lakes Basin, but is located within a county that is partly within the Great Lakes Basin, such as the City of Waukesha, to apply for a diversion of Great Lakes water if that community can meet strict conditions. The City of Waukesha submitted an application for a diversion of Great Lakes water in 2011, and a revised application in 2013. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources approved Waukesha’s diversion application and sent the application to the Compact Council in January 2015. The Compact Council approved Waukesha’s Great Lakes diversion application, with conditions, on June 21, 2016.
The GLSL Cities Initiative is a binational coalition of over 120 U.S. and Canadian mayors and local officials, representing over 17 million people, working to advance the protection and restoration of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. The GLSL Cities Initiative maintains that the Compact Council’s decision to approve Waukesha’s diversion of Lake Michigan water fails to protect the integrity of the Compact. The request for hearing states that:
Allowing a Diversion that is contrary to the strict requirements of the Compact threatens the resource that provides drinking water for 40 million people and is the foundation upon which a strong regional economy is based, to the detriment of the members of the GLSL Cities Initiative.
To date, the Compact Council has not responded to the request for hearing.
A recently issued PHMSA advisory bulletin seeks to clarify the regulatory requirements that apply to mothballed or idled unused gas or hazardous liquid pipelines. As required by the Pipeline Safety Bill that was signed into law on June 22, 2016, PHMSA recently issued an advisory bulletin providing guidance to owners and operators of gas or hazardous liquid pipelines regarding the requirements for idle and/or unused pipelines.
Although the bulletin recognizes that owners and operators often refer to pipelines that are not in operation but that might be used again in the future as “idled,” “inactive,” or “decommissioned,” the PHMSA regulations do not recognize “idle” or “inactive” status for hazardous liquid or gas pipelines. Instead, the regulations consider such pipelines to either be active and fully subject to all relevant parts of the safety regulations or abandoned. Assuming that these pipelines have not been abandoned in accordance with the requirements set forth at 49 CFR §§ 192.727 and 195.402, these pipelines must comply with all relevant safety requirements, including periodic maintenance, integrity management assessments, damage prevention programs, and public awareness programs.
The bulletin goes on to suggest, however, that in situations where the pipeline has been purged of all hazardous materials but not yet abandoned because of an expectation that the pipeline may later be used, the owner/operator may be able to defer certain of these safety requirements. Although PHMSA indicated that it intends to engage in a future rulemaking to provide further guidance as to which requirements might be deferred, in the interim the bulletin suggests that owners or operators planning to defer certain activities coordinate the deferral in advance with the regulators.
The guidance also reiterates that notwithstanding that companies might not have access to records relating to where historical pipelines might be located and/or if these pipelines were properly purged of combustibles, the owners and operators still have a responsibility to assure facilities for which they are responsible or last owned do not present a hazard to people, property, or the environment.
Please click here to see PHMSA's advisory bulletin.
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
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.
2016 Democratic Party Platform: Combat Climate Change, Build a Clean Energy Economy, and Secure Environmental Justice
Last week, we examined the key environmental issues raised in the 2016 Republican platform. Now that the political focus has shifted from Cleveland to Philadelphia, where Democrats are holding their convention, we will examine what the Democratic Party has to say about its environmental priorities in the 2016 Democratic Party Platform. One of the Democratic Party platform’s 13 main sections is entitled “Combat Climate Change, Build a Clean Energy Economy, and Secure Environmental Justice.” Environmental issues are also raised in the section titled “Confront Global Threats”, which discusses “Global Climate Leadership.”
In the platform’s preamble, the Democrats state that:
Democrats believe that climate change poses a real and urgent threat to our economy, our national security, and our children’s health and futures, and that Americans deserve the jobs and security that come from becoming the clean energy superpower of the 21st century.
Other key positions from the Democratic environmental platform include:
On Monday, Republicans gathered in Cleveland to kick off the Republican National Convention and adopt the official 2016 platform of the Republican Party. One of the platform’s six main sections is titled “American Natural Resources: Agriculture, Energy, and the Environment.” Republicans summarize their environmental platform by stating:
“We firmly believe environmental problems are best solved by giving incentives for human ingenuity and the development of new technologies, not through top-down, command-and-control regulations that stifle economic growth and cost thousands of jobs.”
Key positions from the Republican environmental platform include:
By: Matt Ampleman, J.D. Candidate, 2017, Yale Law School
The Supreme Court last Tuesday ruled in favor of landowners seeking the right to challenge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (the Corps) wetlands determinations in federal courts. In U.S. Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes Co., Inc., 578 U.S. ____ (2016), the owner of a peat mining company in North Dakota, Hawkes, sought to expand its operations to wetlands in northwest Minnesota and sell the peat for golf courses, sports turf, landscaping, and gardening. Unfortunately for Hawkes, the Corps issued a “jurisdictional determination” (JD), which stated that the wetlands on its property were “waters of the U.S.” under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and thus Hawkes would be subject to costly CWA Section 404 permitting requirements. The Corps argued that its determination could not be challenged in federal courts because it was not a final agency action. The Supreme Court disagreed, upholding the Eighth Circuit ruling that the JD, as issued by the Corps, constituted a final agency action and could be challenged in federal court.
EPA’s woes over alleged mismanagement of the Gold King Mine spill in August 2015 continue with a new lawsuit recently filed by the State of New Mexico in federal district court in Albuquerque. The lawsuit names the EPA as a defendant, along with an EPA environmental contractor and mine owners contributing to the mismanagement of reclamation waters. New Mexico contends that the Agency has not done enough to remedy the toxic release of a flood of wastewater contaminated with an estimated 880,000 pounds of heavy metals into local rivers.
New Mexico’s suit seeks a declaratory judgment that the contractor and mine owners violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, as well as compensatory and punitive damages for alleged negligence and gross negligence. New Mexico also is asking for a declaratory judgment against all defendants under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.
Although the suit does not specify damages, attorneys for New Mexico said communities are owed at least $7 million for emergency response costs and third-party monitoring of water quality. They said the defendants should pay another $140 million in damages for estimated economic harm. This calculation estimated the harm done to rivers that are critical for agricultural and ranching use; to the Navajo Nation, which owns a tract of land the size of a small state that was affected; and to recreation that provides a significant amount of New Mexico’s income.
The New Mexico Attorney General is requesting full and just compensation for the environmental and economic damage caused by EPA’s spill. The lawsuit alleges that the effects of EPA’s spill were far worse than reported. New Mexico Environmental Department Cabinet Secretary Ryan Flynn has stated publicly that “from the very beginning, the EPA failed to hold itself accountable in the same way that it would a private business.”
While EPA declined to formally comment on the lawsuit, an Agency spokesperson advised that the EPA has taken responsibility for the spill and already paid the State of New Mexico $1.3 million.
The lawsuit is the first state litigation against the EPA over the spill. Other states impacted include Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and the Navajo Nation.
Last week the Regional Body for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact agreed that the City of Waukesha, WI met the compact exception criteria—moving one step closer to approval for a diversion of Great Lakes water outside of the boundaries of the river basin. Many are concerned that this move may establish a bad precedent for others seeking diversion of water from the Great Lakes to address growing water quality and quantity challenges.
The City of Waukesha, located in southeast Wisconsin 17 miles west of Lake Michigan, seeks an exception from the prohibition of diversions under the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact and Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement. The Compact and Agreement prohibit diversions of Great Lakes water, with limited exceptions. One exception allows a “community within a straddling county,” such as Waukesha, to apply for a diversion of Great Lakes water.
On January 7, 2016, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources forwarded the City of Waukesha’s diversion application to the other Great Lakes states, and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec for regional review. On May 18, 2016 the Regional Body approved a Declaration of Finding concluding that, with conditions, the City of Waukesha’s diversion application meets the Compact exception criteria. Conditions included a reduced maximum diversion volume of 8.2 million gallons per day and a reduced area the diverted water can be served. The Compact Council will make the final decision with a vote on whether to approve, approve with conditions, or deny the City of Waukesha’s diversion application. The Compact Council is scheduled to meet June 21, 2016 in Chicago, IL.
The Compact was passed in 2008 to protect the Great Lakes from attempted water grabs. The Waukesha, WI proposal to pump water from Lake Michigan, 15 miles to the east, as a replacement water supply for its radium-contaminated wells is the first such application under the compact. The proposal has been the subject of critical review as environmental groups and others worry about setting an inappropriate precedent for access to water from the Great Lakes.
The underlying documentation is available from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources as well as more detail about the upcoming meeting of the Compact Council in Chicago.
One of the more challenging issues for companies dealing with contaminated groundwater sites near public drinking water supplies is how to handle contaminants for which there are uncertain or evolving regulatory action levels. For example, perfluorinated chemicals (“PFCs”) have garnered a lot of publicity recently after these contaminants were detected in several municipal drinking water supplies. However, there currently is no federal maximum contaminant level (“MCL”) for PFCs generally, and more specifically, for perfluorooctanoic acid (“PFOA”). Instead, there are conflicting health advisory levels that vary drastically between U.S. EPA and the individual states, ranging between 20 and 400 parts per trillion (“PPT”). Similarly, 1,4-dioxane is another contaminant that is the subject of conflicting regulatory standards in drinking water. There is no MCL for 1,4-dioxane but it, along with PFOA, is on U.S. EPA’s Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List 4. As such, if detected, the municipality is required to provide notification to the public via its Consumer Confidence Report. However, the health advisory and/or clean-up level for 1,4-dioxane in groundwater varies greatly from state to state, ranging from .3 to 5 parts per billion, and as such, there is no consistent regulatory standard for 1,4-dioxane in drinking water.