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March 2021

California Federal District Court Grants Preliminary Injunction in Proposition 65 Acrylamide Case

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BSteven M. Siros, Co-Chair, Environmental and Workplace Health & Safety Law Practice Prop65

 

On the heels of a 2020 decision in National Association of Wheat Growers, et al. v. Becerra that barred the State of California from requiring Proposition 65 warnings for glyphosate-based pesticides because those warnings violated the First Amendment, another California District Court has thrown up a First Amendment roadblock for Proposition 65 claims relating to acrylamide in food and beverage products.  As explained in more detail below, on March 29, 2021, the District Court granted a preliminary injunction in favor of the California Chamber of Commerce (Chamber) barring future State and private party Proposition 65 lawsuits alleging a  failure to warn of acrylamide in food and beverage products. 

The Chamber filed its lawsuit in October 2019 alleging that because the State did not “know” that eating food with acrylamide causes cancer in people, Proposition 65 violated the First Amendment because it mandated that businesses place warnings on food and beverage products stating that acrylamide is known to the State to cause cancer.  The Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT)--a nonprofit organization that frequently files private party Proposition 65 lawsuits--intervened in the matter. 

The Chamber requested a preliminary injunction  to bar the State and any private litigant from filing new lawsuits to enforce Proposition 65 against businesses that do not warn consumers that acrylamide in food is “known to the State of California to cause cancer”.  Both the State and CERT opposed the request for a preliminary injunction, arguing that the Chamber had not met its burden.  CERT also argued that the preliminary injunction would be an unconstitutional prior restraint on its First Amendment right to bring Proposition 65 enforcement claims. 

The Court quickly dismissed CERT’s unconstitutional restraint argument noting that if the Chamber is correct that Proposition 65 lawsuits targeting acrylamide are violative of the First Amendment, then the lawsuit has an illegal objective and therefore can be enjoined without violating the First Amendment.  In considering whether the Chamber was likely to succeed on the merits of the complaint, the Court then proceeded to examine the Proposition 65 safe harbor warning which states as follows:  “Consuming this product can expose you to [acrylamide], which is … known to the State of California to cause cancer.”     After examining the scientific evidence presented to the Court, the Court found that the State had not shown that this warning was purely factual and uncontroversial. 

Although the Court acknowledged that high exposure animal studies showed an increased incidence of cancer, dozens of epidemiological studies had failed to tie human cancer to a diet of food containing acrylamide.  After considering the competing expert testimony, the Court concluded that the “safe harbor warning is controversial because it elevates one side of a legitimately unresolved scientific debate about whether eating goods and drinks containing acrylamide increases risk of cancer.”  The Court recognized California’s substantial government interest in protecting the health and safety of consumers but concluded that at this stage of the litigation, the Chamber had shown that the Proposition 65 warning that the State demands does not directly advance that interest and is more extensive than necessary. 

Finally, in evaluating whether the Chamber had demonstrated that it would suffer irreparable harm, the Court acknowledged the significant increase in Proposition 65 acrylamide pre-litigation notices and lawsuits over the past several years.  As the Court noted, irreparable harm is relatively easy to establish in a First Amendment case like this and this burden was met by the Chamber.   As such, the Court granted the Chamber's request for a preliminary injunction.  

Again, it is important to note that this is just a preliminary injunction that bars future State and private party Proposition 65 acrylamide lawsuits while the case proceeds on the merits.  However, this decision, along with the 2020 Wheat Growers decision noted above, may evidence a willingness on the part of California courts to give serious credence to First Amendment challenges to Proposition 65 warning requirements and may represent a light at the end of the Proposition 65 tunnel for entities that sell food and beverage products in California (and this time, it may not be the light from a train). 

 


Congressional Review Act Resolution Introduced to Revoke EPA Methane Rule—Does this Open the CRA Floodgates?

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BSteven M. Siros, Co-Chair, Environmental and Workplace Health & Safety Law Practice

PipelineOn March 25, 2021, Democrats in the Senate and House of Representatives introduced joint resolutions pursuant to the Congressional Review Act (CRA) that if approved by Congress and signed by President Biden would rescind the Trump-era rollback of Obama-era regulations that (1) imposed methane-specific emission limits on “production and processing” segments of the oil and gas industry and (2) required that transmission lines and storage equipment be inspected for methane leaks and repaired in a timely manner in accordance with the New Source Performance Standards for the Oil and Natural Gas Industry.  The CRA resolution, if approved by Congress and signed by President Biden, would reinstate these Obama-era regulations for the oil and gas industry.

The CRA, which was enacted in 1996, is a tool that allows Congress to disapprove a range of regulatory rules issued by federal agencies by first approving a joint resolution of disapproval that then goes to the President for signature. If signed by the President, the disapproved rule either does not take effect or does not continue.  In addition, once a joint resolution of disapproval is enacted, the CRA provides that a new rule may not be issued in “substantially the same form” as the disapproved rule.  Congress has a limited window to act—the CRA requires that a joint resolution of disapproval must be introduced within 60 legislative working days of the date that the rule was submitted to Congress.

The CRA had not been widely used prior to the Trump administration and the Democrats had widely criticized President Trump's prior use of the CRA to rescind Obama-era regulations.  As such, there had been some uncertainty as to whether the Democrats would embrace this tool in light of their prior opposition and hostility to the use of the CRA by many environmental groups.  However, with this joint resolution and another March 23rd CRA resolution to disapprove of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s conciliation rule, the CRA floodgates may have opened.  The resulting deluge will likely be of short duration, however, as the window for CRA disapprovals for Trump-era actions is expected to close on April 4th

EPA Finalizes Revised Cross-State Air Pollution Rule Update: Emissions Reductions Required at Certain Power Plants Beginning in May

Torrence_jpgBy Allison A. Torrence

Pexels-pixabay-257775On March 15, 2021, EPA finalized the Revised Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (“CSAPR”) Update for the 2008 ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (“NAAQS”). This final rule is issued pursuant to the “good neighbor provision” of the Clean Air Act and in response to  the D.C. Circuit’s remand of the previous version of the CSAPR Update in Wisconsin v. EPA on September 13, 2019. The previous version of the CSAPR Update was issued in October 2016, and was found to be unlawful because it allowed certain states to continue their significant contributions to downwind ozone problems beyond the statutory dates by which the downwind states were required to be in compliance with the NAAQS. The Revised CSAPR Update attempts to address the deficiencies identified by the D.C. Circuit.

Beginning in the 2021 ozone season (the ozone season is May 1 through September 30), the Revised CSAPR Update will require additional emissions reductions of nitrogen oxides (“NOX”) from power plants in 12 states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. EPA determined that additional emissions reductions were necessary in these 12 states because projected 2021 ozone season NOX emissions from these states were found to significantly contribute to downwind states’ nonattainment and/or maintenance problems for the 2008 ozone NAAQS. NOX is an ozone precursor, which can react with other ozone precursors in the atmosphere to create ground-level ozone pollution (a/k/a smog). These pollutants can travel great distances, often crossing state lines and making it difficult for downwind states to meet or maintain the ozone NAAQS.

Continue reading "EPA Finalizes Revised Cross-State Air Pollution Rule Update: Emissions Reductions Required at Certain Power Plants Beginning in May" »


Where is OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS? No Where the Ides of March.

Sigel

By Gabrielle Sigel, Co-Chair, Environmental and Workplace Health and Safety Law Practice

Covid-19

On his first full day in office, President Biden issued an Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety, which required OSHA to “consider whether any emergency temporary standards on COVID‑19, including with respect to masks in the workplace, are necessary,” and if so, to issue such emergency temporary standards (ETS) by March 15, 2021. Executive Order 13999, § 2(b) (Jan. 21, 2021), 86 FR 7211 (Jan. 26, 2021). An ETS, which skips the initial notice and comment process before it is in effect, can be issued pursuant to Section 6(c) of the OSH Act if OSHA determines that employees are exposed to “grave danger” and that an emergency standard is “necessary” to protect them from the grave danger. 29 USC § 655(c).

March 15, 2021 came and went; no ETS was issued. As of this writing, OSHA has not made a public statement as to why it did not issue an ETS on March 15, or the agency’s considerations and future plans regarding an ETS. Why might OSHA have chosen not to act now? What has OSHA done instead? What ETS might be on the horizon?

Why Might OSHA Have Decided Not to Issue an ETS Now?

There is considerable legal risk that a COVID-19 ETS will not hold up in court. OSHA has not successfully issued an ETS since 1978. Its last attempt to issue an ETS would have regulated asbestos exposure and was invalidated by the US Court of Appeals in 1984. In Asbestos Info. Ass’n v. OSHA, 727 F.2d 415 (5th Cir. 1984), the court rejected the ETS because OSHA did not  sufficiently support its conclusion of a “grave danger,” i.e., that 80 people would die in the next six months without the ETS and that OSHA could not show that an asbestos ETS was “necessary” given its existing respiratory standard.

As an additional legal hurdle, OSHA, in the last administration, has already gone on record that an ETS is unnecessary, and won that position in federal court. On June 11, 2020, the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied the AFL-CIO’s petition for a writ of mandamus to compel OSHA to issue an ETS for Infectious Diseases. The three-judge panel found that “OSHA reasonably determined that an ETS is not necessary at this time” given the “unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the regulatory tools that the OSHA has at its disposal to ensure that employers are maintaining hazard-free work environments, see 29 U.S.C. § 654(a).” The panel held that “OSHA’s decision not to issue an ETS is entitled to considerable deference.”

Continue reading "Where is OSHA’s COVID-19 ETS? No Where the Ides of March." »


OSHA Issues Immediately Effective COVID-19 National Enforcement Program and Updated Enforcement Guidance: No ETS Yet

Sigel

By Gabrielle Sigel, Co-Chair, Environmental and Workplace Health and Safety Law Practice

Covid-19

On March 12, 2021, OSHA took two significant new actions to enhance its enforcement actions regarding COVID-19 workplace safety: (1) establishing the National Emphasis Program – COVID-19 (the NEP) targeting higher hazard industries for OSHA enforcement action; and (2) updating and replacing its former Interim Enforcement Response Plan for COVID-19 (the Enforcement Plan) to prioritize in-person worksite inspections by OSHA Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CSHO). This action is in response to President Biden’s January 21, 2021 Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety, in which he directed OSHA to “launch a national program to focus OSHA enforcement efforts related to COVID-19 on violations that put the largest number of workers at serious risk or are contrary to anti-retaliation principles.” Executive Order (EO) No. 13999, § 2(d), 86 FR 7211 (Jan. 26, 2021). Although the Executive Order (§ 2(b)) also required OSHA to consider whether to issue a COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), and to do so by March 15, 2021 if determined necessary, these two new OSHA policy documents are not an ETS. Instead, OSHA has buried in the text of both the NEP and the Enforcement Plan that “in the event that” OSHA issues an ETS, the ETS will be used instead of a General Duty Clause violation as the basis for citations with respect to COVID-19 safety violations, which will be enforced through the new NEP and Enforcement Plan.

A National Emphasis Program is an OSHA enforcement policy procedure, developed in accordance with OSHA’s Directives System, through which OSHA decides how it is selecting sites for enforcement initiatives. An OSHA enforcement response plan informs CSHO how to conduct their enforcement activities, whether in regard to an NEP, a particular hazard, or otherwise. In this case, the NEP and the Enforcement Plan together tell employers the categories of workplaces and the types of enforcement procedures that are OSHA’s highest COVID-19 safety priorities.

In the NEP, OSHA is targeting those specified industries whose workers “have increased potential exposure to [a COVID-19] hazard, and that puts the largest number of workers at serious risk.” NEP, p. 1. The NEP also focuses on making sure that “workers are protected from retaliation,” including by referring allegations of retaliation to OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. Id. OSHA makes clear that its NEP is to “augment” its continuing enforcement actions at all workplaces where it receives a complaint, severe incident report, or referral involving COVID-19 safety issues.

Continue reading "OSHA Issues Immediately Effective COVID-19 National Enforcement Program and Updated Enforcement Guidance: No ETS Yet" »


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Releases Updated Public Health Guidelines for Vaccinated Individuals, Including Recommendations for the Workplace

HeadshotBy Matthew G. Lawson CDC


On Monday, March 8, 2021, the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) released its first set of public health recommendations for individuals fully vaccinated against COVID-19, titled “Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People.”  The CDC’s newly published guidelines are intended to replace the CDC’s existing public health guidance specifically for those individuals fully vaccinated for COVID-19.  By “fully vaccinated”, CDC means ≥2 weeks after an individual has received the second dose in a 2-dose series (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna), or ≥2 weeks after an individual has received a single-dose vaccine (Johnson and Johnson [J&J]/Janssen).  The updated guidance includes specific recommendations for vaccinated individuals in the non-healthcare workplace, public spaces and private and/or family settings.  While the CDC guidance is only intended to provide recommended best practices, it is anticipated that the CDC’s newest guidance will be relied on by states, municipalities, school systems, and private employers as these entities continue to update and implement their own respective health guidance and COVID-19 policies and protocols. 

        According to the updated guidelines, vaccinated persons can now engage in a number of new activities, including:

  • Visiting with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing;
  • Visiting with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing; and
  • Refraining from quarantine and testing following a known exposure to COVID-19 if asymptomatic.

Notably, the new guidelines leave in place many of CDC’s existing recommendations for both vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals.  For example, the CDC recommends that fully vaccinated individuals continue to wear a mask in public, physical distance, avoid crowds and avoid poorly ventilated spaces.  In addition, the CDC is continuing to recommend that vaccinated individuals delay domestic and international travel, and, if they do travel, continue to follow all CDC requirements and recommendations when doing so.

        CDC’s guidelines for vaccinated individuals include a number of implications for private employers.  In the context of non-healthcare workplaces, the CDC is now recommending that fully vaccinated employees do not need to quarantine following a known or suspected exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace unless that the vaccinated individual develops “COVID-like symptoms.”  However, the guidelines still recommend that vaccinated persons receive testing “through routine workplace screening programs” following an exposure to COVID-19.  Notably, CDC’s no quarantine recommendation does not extend to vaccinated employees working in congregate settings or other high-density workplaces (e.g., meat and poultry processing and manufacturing plants), and as a result vaccinated employees in congregate work environments should continue to adhere to the quarantine requirements following exposure.  Employers should therefore evaluate their respective work environment to determine the appropriate quarantine procedures for employees who have received a vaccine.  Under the guidelines, vaccinated individuals also need to comply with any existing COVID-19 health and safety rules issued by their employer.  Thus, an employee’s vaccination status should not allow the employee to avoid his or her workplaces’ COVID-19 policies and procedures.  Finally, CDC’s new guidelines do not update the CDC’s prior recommendation (issued December 30, 2020) regarding business travel.  The CDC is continuing to recommend that employers “minimize non-essential travel” for all employees and, if resuming non-essential travel, ensure their employees continue to follow all state and local COVID-19 regulations and guidance regardless of their vaccination status.

       In the accompanying scientific brief to its newly released guidance, the CDC cites to existing studies demonstrating the highly effective nature of the approved mRNA COVID-19 vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 infection (including both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections).  Despite early evidence of the effectiveness of the approved vaccines, the CDC noted that only “approximately two-thirds of U.S. adults state that they [are] at least somewhat likely to receive a COVID-19 vaccine (or had received one already).”  Because maintaining requirements to continue COVID-19 prevention measures after vaccination “may disincentive vaccine uptake,” the CDC explained that its new guidance intends to communicate additional advantages, to the individual and the community, from vaccination.  The CDC advised that its guidance for vaccinated individuals will continue to be updated and modified “based on the level of community spread of SARS-CoV-2, the proportion of the population that is fully vaccinated, and the rapidly evolving science on COVID-19 vaccines.” 


10th Circuit Lifts Injunction in Colorado Challenge of Trump Waters of the United States Rule

Torrence_jpgBy Allison A. Torrence

Pexels-omer-havivi-4084714On March 2, 2021, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a ruling from the United States District Court for the District of Colorado in the case of Colorado v. EPA, et al., Nos. 20-1238, 20-1262, and 20-1263, that had issued a preliminary injunction blocking implementation of the Trump Administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule (“NWPR”) in the State of Colorado. Under the Tenth Circuit ruling, the NWPR was put back into force, and the State of Colorado’s case was remanded back to district court for further proceedings challenging the rule.

The NWPR is the latest attempt by EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to define “Waters of the United States” and thereby define the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. The agencies have been grappling with this definition for nearly 50 years, and have faced nearly constant legal challenges along the way. In 2017, the Trump Administration rescinded the definition that had been promulgated under the Obama Administration, and in 2020, offered up its own definition in the NWPR. The NWPR narrows the definition of “Waters of the United States” from past definitions–notably by excluding certain wetlands and ephemeral streams from the definition and thus excluding them from the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

A number of lawsuits were filed challenging the NWPR, including Colorado v.  EPA. The Colorado case was significant because Colorado sought, and was granted, a preliminary injunction blocking implementation of the NWPR in the State of Colorado. The State had argued that by reducing the reach of the Clean Water Act, the NWPR caused irreparable injury to the State because Colorado would be forced to undertake additional enforcement actions in place of the federal government to protect the quality of its waterways. While the district court had found this to be sufficient injury to support the State’s preliminary injunction, the Tenth Circuit found that it was too speculative and uncertain. Thus, the preliminary injunction was rejected and reversed because the State of Colorado could not show irreparable injury. Notably, the Tenth Circuit did not address the merits of the State’s challenge to the NWPR.

Additionally, prior to the Tenth Circuit’s ruling, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers had requested the court hold the appeal in abeyance for 60 days in light of the new leadership at the agencies following the election of President Biden. The court denied the request and issued its ruling lifting the preliminary injunction the following day. The Biden Administration has indicated it is reviewing the NWPR and may want to make changes to broaden the definition of “Waters of the United States” once again. If that is the case, the agencies may look to settle the Colorado case and other similar litigation with a promise of changes to come. The Corporate Environmental Lawyer Blog will monitor and report on these matters as they develop.

OSHA under Deadline for a Nationwide COVID 19 Workplace Safety Rule: Four States’ Existing Laws and New Federal Guidance and Orders Foretell the Future

Sigel

By Gabrielle Sigel, Co-Chair, Environmental and Workplace Health and Safety Law Practice

Covid-19

On his first full day in office, President Biden issued an Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety, which required OSHA to “consider whether any emergency temporary standards on COVID‑19, including with respect to masks in the workplace, are necessary,” and if so, to issue such emergency temporary standards (ETS) by March 15, 2021. Executive Order 13999, § 2(b) (Jan. 21, 2021), 86 FR 7211 (Jan. 26, 2021). An ETS, which skips the initial notice and comment process before it is in effect, can be issued pursuant to Section 6(c) of the OSH Act if OSHA determines that employees are exposed to “grave danger” and that an emergency standard is necessary to protect them from the grave danger. 29 U.S.C. § 655(c).

Putting aside that OSHA has not successfully issued an ETS since 1978, including that the last attempt to issue an ETS, regulating asbestos exposure, was invalidated by the US Court of Appeals in 1984,[1] OSHA now has several models for a COVID‑19 ETS from which it may draw. Specifically, California, Michigan, Oregon, and Virginia are among the 22 states and territories that administer and enforce their own state-plan OSHA, rather than rely solely on federal standards and enforcement.[2] These four states have developed their own COVID‑19 safety regulations that apply to most, if not all, workplaces in their respective states, and have both distinctive features and commonalities. Employers would be well-advised to be aware of each of the states’ specific standards, not only to comply with regulatory requirements in that state, but to consider whether their workplace is ready for potential, nationwide regulations which may incorporate elements of these states’ approaches.

With OSHA under a Presidential deadline to issue a nationwide COVID-19 safety regulation, we review the current status of OSHA guidance; describe the basic elements of the four states’ regulations; and look at recent federal orders by other agencies to anticipate what employers nationwide may soon be facing.

US OSHA: COVID‑19 Regulation and Guidance in the Prior Administration

Continue reading "OSHA under Deadline for a Nationwide COVID 19 Workplace Safety Rule: Four States’ Existing Laws and New Federal Guidance and Orders Foretell the Future" »