On Wednesday, February 10, 2015 from 1:00 p.m.-2:30 p.m. (Central), Partner Steven Siros will be presenting at a DRI webinar titled “Relying on Chemical Fingerprinting as a Line of Evidence in Allocation Proceedings”. The webinar will provide insights on the technical aspects of chemical fingerprinting for a variety of contaminants, including PCBs, dioxins, and chlorinated solvents. The webinar will also provide an overview of how courts have treated chemical fingerprinting from an expert witness standpoint as well as a case study demonstrating how this technique can be used to delineate co-mingled plumes. Michael Bock, with Ramboll Environ will also be presenting at the webinar. Here is a link to the webinar brochure.
Yesterday evening, the Department of Health and Human Services designated Dr. Nicole Lurie, an agency assistant secretary, to lead the federal government’s response to the elevated lead levels allegedly found in the drinking water being provided by the City of Flint, Michigan, to its residents. This designation came on the heels of a meeting between Flint’s mayor and Valerie Jarrett in Washington, D.C. The federal government has elected to play a significant role in addressing this crisis, with President Obama signing an emergency declaration on Saturday which provided Flint with access to up to $5 million in federal funds. The crisis began in 2014 when Flint stopped getting water from Detroit and began obtaining its drinking water from the Flint River in an effort to lower costs.
The appointment of a federal “czar” to coordinate a federal response to contamination of a local drinking water system is somewhat unusual. However, it is likely that the political nature of this issue, coupled with the fact that U.S. EPA may have been aware as far back as April 2015 that Flint’s water supply was at risk for lead contamination, likely contributed to this decision. For those that watched the Democratic presidential debate on Sunday, the Flint water issues were discussed by the candidates, with blame not surprisingly being directed at Republican Governor Rick Snyder.
Although Flint has stopped obtaining water from the Flint River, the risk has not necessarily been alleviated due to the damage that the corrosive water likely caused the City's water distribution system, including pipes leading to individual residences. As such, there is a continuing effort to provide residents with bottled water and water filters for their homes while a more long-term solution is investigated. Several class-action lawsuits have already been filed and more are likely as this crisis continues to evolve. In addition, multiple investigations have been launched by both the Michigan State’s Attorney and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan.
President Obama recently signed The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, phasing out the use of microbeads in health and beauty products. This legislation moved swiftly through Congress and was passed by the House and Senate in December 2015 and signed by President Obama on December 28, 2015.
The new law requires the manufacturing of products containing microbeads to end by July 1, 2017 and the sale of them to cease by July 1, 2018. This legislation was supported by various health and beauty products trade and industry groups, many of whose members already had voluntarily committed to replacing microbeads with viable alternatives. The new law amends the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in general banning cosmetics that contain synthetic plastic microbeads.
Microbeads have been the focus of growing environmental and health-related concerns since the very small particles are washed down the drain into waterways, lakes, streams, and rivers. Since the plastic beads do not break down, they are eaten by fish and animals, who often die because these materials cannot be digested.
As discussed a number of times in this blog, microbeads have been the subject of growing regulatory scrutiny. A number of states, as well as Canada, have passed laws working to ban the use, manufacture, and sale of microbeads over time.
The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 is another example of consumer driven changes in products to safeguard and improve the environment.
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.
HSBC Holdings PLC, the fourth largest bank by assets in the world, has issued its first green bonds this month. HSBC France raised $500M, offering instruments at an annual coupon rate of 0.625% for a period of five years. Proceeds of the green bond issue will be used to finance renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy conservation, and climate adaptation projects, among others. Green bonds and the financing of climate-related improvement projects have been a key topic during the ongoing COP21 discussions.
HSBC announced its own internal guidelines for green bonds earlier this year. Eligible projects also may include renewables, sustainable waste and water management, sustainable land use and clean buildings and transportation. The issue will prioritize activities in the Middle East and Africa as well as Europe, particularly France. The bank also has announced plans to invest $1B in a green bond portfolio and already has allocated $350M purchasing climate bonds from development banks.
Earlier this year, the World Bank sold $91 million in green bonds tied to an index of “ethical” companies—its largest offering of green bonds linked to an equity index and the first offered to individual investors. See Corporate Environmental Lawyer blog post dated January 16, 2015, "World Bank Sells Record $91M of Green Bonds Tied to 'Ethical' Companies."
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:
- More than 1600 companies in the U.S. have signed the CERES Climate Declaration calling action on climate change one of the greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century;
- Six major banks including Bank of America, Citi, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo have issued statements calling for cooperation of governments in reaching a global climate agreement;
- 14 major food and beverage company CEOs including Coca-Cola, General Mills, Unilever, Mars and Nestle USA sent a joint letter to U.S. and world leaders pledging to accelerate their own business action on climate change and urging governments to forge a robust international climate agreement in Paris this month;
- 365 companies and investors support EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the biggest carbon reducing measure in the history of the U.S.;
- Nearly 350 global institutional investors managing $24 trillion have called on government leaders to establish a meaningful price on carbon and phase out subsidies for fossil fuels; and
- Nearly 100 Fortune 500 companies have joined the White House-led American Business Act on Climate Pledge, committing them to reduce their own GHG emissions and boosting their investments in low-carbon energy and technologies.
According to CERES, the business community message to world governments in Paris is clear: As the business and financial communities are stepping up on climate, policymakers should do the same. Learn more about the work of CERES and the efforts undertaken by business and financial entities in its November 2015 newsletter.
The real work of the 150 world leaders meeting in Paris starts today in an effort to produce a landmark agreement to limit rising global temperatures to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels this century. While many expect this important decision will be worked out over the next two weeks, there is much work, negotiation and compromise that must take place to achieve the anticipated successful outcome.
We will continue our special series on important developments at the COP21 Paris climate change discussions over the next two weeks.
World leaders and delegates from over 150 nations have converged in Paris, France for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (also referred to as COP21). The conference, which is scheduled to run from November 30th through December 11th, has as its goal achieving a legally binding agreement intended to limit greenhouse gas emissions in order to ensure that global average temperatures do not increase in excess of two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial global temperatures.
Leaders of both the United States and China addressed the conference attendees. President Obama noted that recent economic growth in the United States has come despite a lack of growth in carbon emissions, proving that climate advancements need not come at the expense of the economy or individual livelihoods. Chinese President Xi Jinping struck a somewhat different tone, saying that the conference "is not a finish line, but a new starting point" and that "any agreement must take into account the differences among nations” and that “countries should be allowed to seek their own solutions, according to their national interest."
Prior to the conference, countries had voluntarily submitted climate action plans referred to as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (“INDCs”) that are intended to form the basis for any agreement that might be reached over the next two weeks. According to the United Nations Secretary General, more than 180 countries have submitted their INDCs which covers almost 100% of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, in order to reach the above-referenced goal of less than a two degree temperature increase, the Secretary General noted that developed countries would need to be prepared to expend $100 billion dollars by 2020. What if anything the developing countries would need to contribute is much more nebulous but is a topic that is certain to be discussed at the conference.
We will continue to blog on COP21 over the next several weeks while the conference is in session.
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.
California is the ninth state to ban microbeads with passage of an aggressive new law prohibiting the tiny plastics beads by 2020. As the largest state to ban microbeads, this new California legislation appears to make it a virtual certainty that microbeads will be phased out across the country and possibly even through federal legislation.
Unlike bans enacted in Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, and Wisconsin, A.B. 888 provides no exemptions for biodegradable plastic or a process to win approval for such an exemption. Both Michigan and Washington also are considering microbead bans.
Many personal care product manufacturers already have agreed to phase out the use of microbeads in their products over the next few years. Industry representatives agree there are alternatives and other options to replace the sector’s reliance upon microbeads. A new study concludes that 8 trillion bits of plastic enter oceans and lakes from the U.S. every day. The study also provides further support for the ban on microbeads to improve marine, environmental and public health.