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:
EPA Lacks Authority to Regulate Plastic Microbeads in Water, by E. Lynn Grayson
Court Orders New EPA Spill Prevention Rules, by E. Lynn Grayson
Navigating Hawkes, the Newest Wetlands Ruling from the Supreme Court, by Matt Ampleman
ExxonMobil, 13 State Attorneys General Fight Back Against the Exxon Climate Probes, by Alexander J. Bandza
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.
By E. Lynn Grayson:
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues to implement recent changes to the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program. DHS updated its data platform and portal that will require regulated facilities to resubmit the Top-Screen information that originally was submitted in the 2008 time frame.
The DHS last year issued notice in the Federal Register (81 FR 47001, July 20, 2016) announcing revisions to its CFATS program, effective October 1, 2016. The main objective of the notice was to advise that the DHS was transitioning to revised versions of the applications for the Chemical Security Assessment Tool (CSAT), the CSAT Security Vulnerability Assessment (SVA) and the CSAT Site Security Plan (SSP). DHS implemented a three-step process to transition to these new versions: 1) temporarily suspended, effective July 20, 2106, the requirement for CFATS chemical facilities of interest to submit a Top-Screen and SVA; 2) replaced the current applications with CSAT 2.0 beginning in September 2016; and 3) reinstated the Top-Screen and SVA submission requirements effective October 1, 2016.
At this time, regulated facilities do not need to take any action unless notified by DHS. DHS began sending out notices to individual facilities every two weeks once the roll-out started in October 2016. Each batch of notifications will include sites from all risk-based tiers and also will include sites that have previously tiered out or are otherwise exempt from CFATS.
Other key highlights and insights include:
- While there is no requirement to do so, regulated facilities may choose to proactively resubmit a Top-Screen utilizing the new CFATS CSAT. Once notified, facilities will have 60 days to submit this updated and/or new Top-Screen.
- No changes have been made to the Appendix A identifying the chemicals of interest (COI) and the associated screening threshold quantity (STQ).
- CSAT 2.0 makes some changes in terms of how and when information is reported. For example, information previously collected through the SVA now may be collected through the Top-Screen. Other information collected in the past in the SVA now will be collected in the SSP.
- The new online SSP will come partially pre-populated from the new Top-Screen and the new SVA submissions as well as information from previous submissions.
In general, CFATS requires chemical facilities report COIs at or above the STQ through submission of a Top-Screen to DHS. Thereafter, DHS decides whether to impose security requirements upon the facility at issue. CFATS requirements apply to facility owners and operators that possess, consume, sell or create various chemicals that could be useful to conducting a terrorist event. There are over 300 COIs including commonly used chemicals such as ammonia, propane, hydrogen peroxide, flammables, bromine, aluminum, nitric oxide and vinyl chloride. Original compliance deadlines for submission of Top-Screen information was in 2008 time frame.
Facilities that previously submitted a Top-Screen survey, even those previously determined to be exempt from the CFATS requirements, will be required to resubmit the Top-Screen information using the new data CSAT 2.0 platform and portal. DHS will notify each facility about these new requirements and facilities will have 60 days to submit the new Top-Screen information. Facilities are welcome to be proactive and submit an updated Top-Screen prior to any DHS notification.
For further insight into these new requirements, please see the Federal Register notice at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/07/20/2016-16776/chemical-facility-anti-terrorism-standards or visit the CFATS program website at https://www.dhs.gov/chemical-facility-anti-terrorism-standards .
On January 18, 2017, the Department of Labor published a final rule adjusting civil penalties under the Occupational Safety and Health Act for inflation as required by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 2015. As required by the Act, the adjustment is based on changes to the Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers. Unlike last year’s catch-up adjustment, which increased penalties by 78%, this year’s inflation adjustment is a little over 1%. The new penalties compared to the pre-August 2016 penalties can be found here.
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.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a final rule on Occupational Exposure to Beryllium in the Federal Register on January 9, 2017. The final rule reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium to 0.2 μg/m3, averaged over 8-hours. The previous PEL for beryllium, established more than 40 years ago, was 2.0 μg/m3. The rule also establishes a new short term exposure limit for beryllium of 2.0 μg/m3, over a 15-minute sampling period.
As we discussed previously on this blog, OSHA proposed this rule on August 7, 2015 and took extensive public comment before issuing this final version. OSHA estimates that approximately 62,000 workers are exposed to beryllium in their workplaces and that the rule will save almost 100 lives from beryllium-related diseases and prevent 46 new cases of chronic beryllium disease each year, once the effects of the rule are fully realized.
EPA Proposes Notice of Intent to Proceed with Rulemaking for CERCLA Financial Responsibility Requirements for the Chemical Manufacturing, Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing, and Electric Power Industries
By Alexander Bandza
Yesterday, on January 11, 2017, the EPA issued a notice of intent to proceed with rulemaking regarding whether and to what extent financial responsibility requirements under CERCLA section 108(b) should apply to the Chemical Manufacturing, Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing, and Electric Power Industries.
The rulemaking will have an interesting path forward in light of its history and the upcoming administration change. On January 6, 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) that identified additional classes of facilities within three industry sectors that could warrant developing financial responsibility requirements under CERCLA section 108(b): (1) the Chemical Manufacturing industry (NAICS 325); (2) the Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing industry (NAICS 324); and (3) the Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution industry (NAICS 2211). In August 2014, environmental groups filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, for a writ of mandamus requiring issuance of CERCLA section 108(b) financial responsibility rules for the three additional industries identified by EPA in the ANPRM. EPA and the petitioners submitted and the court approved an Order on Consent, which included a schedule for further administrative proceedings under CERCLA section 108(b). Critically, in granting the motion to enter the Order, the D.C. Circuit recognized that “the content of [the rulemaking required under the Order] is not in any way dictated by the [Order].” Therefore, the upcoming administration may be bound to entertain the process of rulemaking, it appears free to disregard producing any rule as a result of this process.
On January 11, 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Volkswagen AG (VW) has agreed to plead guilty to three criminal felony counts and pay a $2.8 billion criminal penalty for selling approximately 590,000 diesel vehicles in the U.S. that had installed defeat devices to cheat on emissions tests mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). VW will be on probation for three years and under an independent corporate compliance monitor who will oversee the company for at least three years. VW has also agreed to pay $1.5 billion to settle separate civil violations under the Clean Air Act (CAA) as well as other customs and financial claims.
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.
The Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures has issued a report detailing is recommendations for helping businesses disclose climate-related financial risks and opportunities within the context of their existing disclosure requirements. The Task Force developed four widely adoptable recommendations on climate-related financial disclosures that are applicable to organizations across sectors and jurisdictions: 1) adoptable by all organizations; 2) included in financial filings; 3) designed to solicit decision-useful, forward-looking information on financial impacts; and 4) strong focus on risks and opportunities related to transition to lower-carbon economy.
The recommendations are incorporated into a comprehensive report that provides good insight into climate-related risks and financial impacts, sector focused guidance, scenario analysis for climate issues and identification of key issues requiring further consideration. Appendices include a summary of select disclosure frameworks and other guidance including fundamental principles for effective disclosure.
In a letter to the Financial Stability Board transmitting the recommendations, Chairman Michael Bloomberg notes “….Warming of the planet caused by greenhouse gas emissions poses serious risks to the global economy and will have an impact across many economic sectors……without effective disclosure of these risks, the financial impacts of climate change may not be correctly priced and as the costs eventually become clearer, the potential for rapid adjustments could have destabilizing effects on markets.” He concludes in his letter that the Task Force’s recommendations “…aim to begin fixing this problem.”
The recommendations are designed to help companies identify and disclose information needed by investors, lenders and insurance underwriters to appropriately assess and price climate related risks and opportunities. Even with the upcoming changes in D.C., it is clear there will be continuing focus on climate change-related disclosures in 2017.