Air Feed

Remote Sensing as a Supplement to Emissions Monitoring and Quantification

Feltman-Frank  By:  Arie Feltman-Frank

GHGSat CO2 sensor

According to a recent Bloomberg article, a company did not report an August 2023 air emissions event to state environmental regulators until December, just days after the company was asked by Bloomberg Green about a methane plume detected in August over one of its compressor stations.

The methane plume was observed via a remote sensing instrument onboard the International Space Station (“ISS”) and publicized in November 2023 by Carbon Mapper, a California non-profit that is planning to launch satellites that it states will persistently (i.e., on a daily to weekly basis) pinpoint, track, and make available to the public methane and carbon dioxide emissions at individual facilities located within “high-priority areas.”

The launch of the first Carbon Mapper Coalition satellites is expected in 2024. These satellites will join other recently launched or soon-to-be launched satellites with sensors that can detect methane and carbon dioxide emissions (e.g., GHGSat, MethaneSat). Notably, GHGSat describes its sensor, Vanguard, launched into orbit on November 10, 2023, as the first orbital sensor able to pinpoint carbon dioxide emissions from individual industrial facilities.  

With Carbon Mapper’s satellites not yet launched, the organization’s online data portal includes data from airborne surveys, as well as global observations by NASA’s Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (“EMIT”) instrument onboard the ISS (which is the instrument that observed the methane plume over the compressor station).

What’s New?

Pollution monitoring by satellite is not new. What is new is the fact that remote sensing technologies are advancing in their ability to continuously monitor, detect, and quantify emissions and attribute the emissions to individual sources. Moreover, satellite data is becoming increasingly accessible to enforcement agencies and the public. As a result, we are seeing an increased effort by governments, non-profit organizations, and industry to harness remote sensing technologies to better understand and reduce pollution.

The incident highlighted above is but one example of what happens when satellite-derived data goes public, allowing a third party to discover an emissions event—in some cases, before the source. This type of incident is not necessarily rare.

For example, the possibility of third-party detection is incorporated into EPA’s final rule setting new source performance standards and emissions guidelines for oil and natural gas facilities under the Clean Air Act (the “Methane Rule”). Under this rule, EPA-certified third parties will be able to use EPA-approved remote sensing technologies to notify the Agency of “super-emitter events” (100 kg/hr of methane or greater), ultimately requiring owners and operators to investigate the events and, if necessary, take corrective actions.

Legal Risks

The availability of advanced satellite-derived emissions data can lead to legal risks that can materialize in enforcement actions (which are likely to become more common, particularly with respect to methane emissions at oil and natural gas operations and landfills), as well as citizen suits and tort actions. Third-party detection can also make it harder to favorably resolve violations pursuant to enforcement policies that favor voluntary self-disclosure. Finally, third-party detection is not good for a company’s reputation and can lead to increased public scrutiny.   

Importantly, these legal risks are not limited to oil and natural gas production operations and landfills (though methane emissions from these sources are certainty a primary focus so far). Nor are these legal risks limited to methane and carbon dioxide emissions. For example, Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution (“TEMPO”), an instrument that was launched into space in August 2023, measures pollutants including nitrogen dioxide, ozone, aerosols, and sulfur dioxide on an hourly basis during the daytime over North America at neighborhood scales.

Preparing for What’s to Come

Companies and investors associated with emissions-intensive operations should do the following to prepare for what’s to come.

  • Familiarize yourself with what remote sensing technologies are out there (or may be soon) that can detect emissions, as well as the extent to which the detected emissions can be attributed to the relevant operations and reliably quantified. Also, consider whether the emissions data will be available to the public.
  • If necessary, conduct a tailored analysis of the legal risks that remote sensing technologies pose to your current and future operations and consider the admissibility of satellite data in administrative and civil proceedings.
  • Consider whether it is worth utilizing remote sensing technologies to supplement current pollution monitoring and quantification efforts (e.g., to comply with monitoring requirements, as well as future climate reporting requirements). Indeed, under EPA’s Methane Rule, referenced above, owners and operators of oil and natural gas facilities will be able to use advanced methane detection technologies as an alternative to ground-based methods to comply with monitoring requirements. With respect to climate reporting, remote sensing technologies may be especially helpful for companies seeking to better understand emissions that are outside of their direct control.

Also, note that remote sensing technologies may make their way into settlements. For example, on December 12, 2023, the owner of a municipal sanitary landfill agreed to spend approximately $30,000 to use drone technology to monitor methane emissions to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act. This was the first settlement involving the use of drones for surface emissions monitoring.

We will continue to track remote sensing technologies on the Corporate Environmental Lawyer. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have questions.

U.S. EPA Finalized PFAS Reporting Rule Requires Submittal of 12 Years of PFAS Data

Siros

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

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) | FDA

On September 28, 2023, U.S. EPA released its final reporting rule that will require manufacturers (and importers) of PFAS and PFAS-containing articles to submit detailed PFAS-information going back as far as 2011.  Putting aside the difficulties posed by a reporting rule with a 12-year look-back, the final rule also adopts a structure-based PFAS definition.  Specifically, rather than listing out specific PFAS, the final rule defines PFAS as “including at least one of these three structures:  R-(CF2)-CF(R’)R”, where both the CF2 and CF moieties are saturated carbon; R-CF2OCF2-R’ where R and R’ can either be F, O or saturated carbons; and CF3C(CF3)R’R’, where R’ and R” can either be F or saturated carbons”.  U.S. EPA explains that it adopted this structure-based definition to “expand the universe of PFAS to include additional substances of potential concern” that U.S. EPA believes are likely to be persistent and to “capture certain fluorinated ethers”.

The final rule applies to the “manufacture for commercial purposes” of PFAS.  “Manufacture for commercial purposes” is defined to include the import, production, or manufacturing of a chemical substance or mixture containing a chemical substance for the purpose of obtaining an immediate or eventual commercial advantage for the manufacturer and includes the coincidental manufacture of PFAS as byproducts or impurities.   

Importantly, the final rule does not apply to entities that process, distribute in commerce, use, and/or dispose of PFAS and specifically exempts non-commercial R&D activities.  The comments accompanying the final rule further clarify that “waste management activities involving imported municipal solid waste streams for the purpose of disposal or destruction are not within the scope of the rule’s reporting requirements.”  The final rule does however, apply to waste management sites that import PFAS-containing waste (include municipal solid waste) for the purposes of recycling or reuse. 

The final rule requires that the following information be reported within 18 months of the effective date of the rule:

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New EPA Rule Removes Emergency Defense Waiver in Title V Air Permits

 Daniel BLOG image from environblog.jenner.comBy: Daniel L. Robertson and Allison A. Torrence

On July 21, 2023, the Environmental Protection Agency published a final rule eliminating an affirmative defense for Clean Air Act permit emissions violations caused by
Smokestack“emergency” circumstances.

“Major sources” (i.e. sources with actual or potential emissions above certain emission thresholds) are required under Title V of the Clean Air Act to obtain operating permits. When the EPA originally promulgated rules implementing Title V, the proposed rules did not include an emergency affirmative defense provision. However, the EPA included the provisions in its final rule following requests from commenters. Specifically, 40 C.F.R. Parts 70.6(g) (state operating permit program) and 71.6(g) (federal operating permit program) contained identical affirmative defense provisions whereby a source could avoid liability for an emission violation if the violation was caused by an emergency “arising from sudden and reasonably unforeseeable events beyond the control of the source.” This included “acts of God, which situation requires immediate corrective action to restore normal operation, and that causes the source to exceed a technology-based emission limitation under the permit, due to unavoidable increases in emissions attributable to the emergency.” In such circumstances, a source could demonstrate an emergency affirmative defense by providing evidence that:

  1. An emergency occurred and the cause was identified;
  2. The facility was at the time being properly operated;
  3. The facility took all reasonable steps to minimize emission level exceedances and permit requirements during the emergency; and
  4. The permittee submitted notice of the emergency to the permitting authority within two working days.

The EPA’s attempt to remove the Title V emergency affirmative defense has been around since an initial rule proposal in 2016. However, later administrations did not pursue the proposal until a revised version was introduced in 2022. According to the EPA, the affirmative defense is “inconsistent with the EPA’s interpretation of the enforcement structure of the Clean Air Act in light of prior court decisions.” In one of those court decisions, Natural Resources Defense Council v. EPA, 749 F.3d 1055 (D.C. Cir. 2014), the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a Title V permit provision that specified an affirmative defense for unavoidable malfunctions. The court held that the EPA exceeded its authority, as only the courts have the authority to decide whether to assess penalties for civil suit violations. The 2014 ruling was upheld in 2016, when the D.C. Circuit in U.S. Sugar Corp. v. EPA, 830 F.3d 579 (D.C. Cir. 2016), reaffirmed that the EPA’s affirmative defense provision at issue intruded on the judiciary’s role in determining Title V permit violation penalties. Similarly, the D.C. Circuit in a 2008 case, Sierra Club v. EPA, 551 F.3d 1019 (D.C. Cir. 2008), vacated an EPA rule exempting emission standards requirements during startup, shutdown or malfunction, finding such exemption in violation of Clean Air Act requirements. These decisions led EPA to revisit similar affirmative defense provisions, resulting in the latest rule.

The EPA states that the provisions’ removal is consistent with other EPA actions, specifically referencing removal or omission of similar affirmative defenses for New Source Performance Standards, emission guidelines for existing sources, and regulations for National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP). According to the EPA, the latest action “would harmonize the EPA’s treatment of affirmative defenses across different [Clean Air Act] programs.”

As described in the rule summary, “any impermissible affirmative defense provisions within individual operating permits that are based on a Title V authority and that apply to federally-enforceable requirements will need to be removed.” The EPA has therefore instructed “any states that have adopted similar affirmative defense provisions” in operating permit programs to remove those provisions from their programs within twelve months of the rule’s August 21, 2023 effective date. The EPA expects the same revisions by local and tribal permit programs. Existing Title V operating permits “will eventually need to be revised” to remove language regarding affirmative defense provisions. These changes will likely occur during permit renewals or revisions.

The EPA does not believe the revisions will have a significant impact on sources, noting in the final rule that the Title V emergency defense provisions “have rarely, if ever, been asserted in enforcement proceedings.” Instead, sources more often assert affirmative defenses based on malfunctions, which were not addressed in this rule. In response to the potential chilling effect the rule may have on sources operating to provide vital services during an emergency, the EPA emphasized the enforcement discretion of oversight authorities, as well as accounting for emergency situations in determining remedies. The EPA further stated that the revisions will not restrict a source’s “ability to defend itself in an enforcement action” and that sources will still be able to seek the reduction or elimination of monetary penalties “based on the specific facts and circumstances of the emergency event.”

The proposed rule received significant comments, and legal challenges are likely to be forthcoming. We will continue to track this and other Clean Air Act developments on the Corporate Environmental Lawyer.


Embracing Environmental Justice Initiatives to Advance Corporate Objectives

Siros  Tatjana   Daniel BLOG Feltman-Frank  By    Steven M. Siros, Tatjana Vujic, Daniel L. Robertson and Arie Feltman-Frank

Earth Week 2023 brought with it two significant environmental justice developments. The week began with New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announcing the adoption of regulations aimed at reducing pollution in historically overburdened communities and those disproportionately impacted by health and environmental stressors. President Biden White House then capped the week off by issuing an Executive Order on Revitalizing Our Nation’s Commitment to Environmental Justice for All which further embeds environmental justice initiatives throughout the federal government (read our analysis of that order here). These actions display the heightened emphasis on environmental justice that has led to these and other significant developments at the federal and state levels.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” With increased funding provided by the Inflation Reduction Act, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and the American Rescue Plan Act, federal agencies are investing at unprecedented levels to advance environmental justice.

The Biden administration also developed the Justice40 Initiative, with a goal of ensuring that 40% of the overall benefits of certain federal investments flow to “disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution.” The Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool geospatially identifies such disadvantaged communities, which include federally recognized Tribes and Alaska Native villages.

As companies face increased scrutiny all along the supply chain, including from regulators, customers, investors, and the public, one thing is clear: failure to consider environmental justice implications of corporate activities can significantly hinder the advancement of corporate objectives, including the achievement of climate targets, the effects of which are quite significant. By way of example, in September 2022, a company’s air permits to build a $9.4 billion plastics manufacturing complex were vacated in part because the state Department of Environmental Quality’s environmental justice analysis was found to be arbitrary and capricious, and therefore failed to uphold the “public trust doctrine” of Louisiana’s constitution.

The increased scrutiny and risks associated with failing to consider environmental justice issues is causing some companies to reevaluate corporate policies and develop business practices that embrace environmental justice and community stakeholder initiatives. In this client alert, our team explains how embracing environmental justice and community stakeholder concerns can advance corporate objectives.

A Recent History of Environmental Justice Developments

While the concept of environmental justice has long had its roots in American civil rights history, President Biden brought the topic to the forefront of federal governance as part of the administration’s “whole-of-government” approach to addressing health and environmental impacts on disproportionately affected communities. Through various executive orders, the Biden administration has put its policy of prioritizing environmental justice initiatives and directing federal agencies to make achieving environmental justice a part of their missions into practice. Federal developments thus far have taken the form of plans, new offices and positions, grant programs, mapping tools, reviews of existing legal authority, permitting guidance, and enforcement policies.

Federal, state, and local developments that are particularly relevant to the regulated community are reviewed below.

USEPA’s Legal Authorities to Advance Environmental Justice

USEPA published a May 2022 report, followed by a January 2023 addendum, that reviewed the agency’s legal authority to advance environmental justice and take steps to mitigate the cumulative impacts of federal actions taken under its various programs. The takeaway is that USEPA has existing legal authority to advance and address these topics in decision-making. This authority encompasses the full breadth of the agency’s activities, including its oversight of state programs.

USEPA also has the authority to advance environmental justice through civil rights laws. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for instance, prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from intentionally discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin (including limited English proficiency) in their programs or activities.

USEPA’s implementing regulations also prohibit recipients of federal financial assistance from taking actions that have a discriminatory effect. The regulations offer a mechanism for a person who believes they have been discriminated against to file a complaint with any USEPA office, as well as authorize USEPA’s Office of Civil Rights to periodically conduct compliance reviews. If a recipient is found to be noncompliant, the recipient may elect to take corrective actions to mitigate the risk of losing financial assistance.

Permitting Guidance

USEPA recently issued interim guidance for addressing environmental justice and civil rights during permitting, as well as specific guidance for addressing environmental justice concerns specific to air permitting. The guidance emphasizes that compliance with federal environmental laws does not necessarily provide a shield against allegations of non-compliance with federal civil rights laws.   

For example, in Chicago, the city allegedly agreed to permit a scrap metal recycling facility’s relocation from a predominantly White neighborhood into a predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhood. After a two year investigation, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development found the city in violation of the Civil Rights Act and the Housing and Community Development Act, stating that the city’s involvement in the relocation of the facility, approval of the new site, and methods used to achieve these objectives were shaped by the race and national origin of the residents of each neighborhood.

Therefore, even beyond what is legally required by the applicable permitting statute and regulations, companies should consider taking steps throughout the permitting process to ensure that environmental justice and civil rights concerns are being sufficiently analyzed and adequately addressed, as well as ensuring sufficient community engagement.   

Enforcement Policies

As outlined in USEPA’s Fiscal Year 2022-2026 Strategic Plan, new environmental justice-focused enforcement policies emphasize increased inspections in communities with environmental justice concerns, prioritizing enforcement in overburdened communities, and identifying remedies for noncompliance that offer tangible benefits to those communities. USEPA also emphasized acting through emergency orders to secure early relief where possible. Enforcement remedies include increased or additional fence-line monitoring, public availability of monitoring data, and encouraging supplemental environmental projects that are tied to addressing adverse environmental impacts on local communities. 

State and Local Developments

In addition to various states that have enacted or are in the process of enacting environmental justice-related legislation, New York recently joined Montana and Pennsylvania by explicitly including a “right to clean air and water, and a healthy environment” in the New York Bill of Rights. Several other states have proposed ballot initiatives to incorporate environmental rights into their constitutions.

At the local level, the focus on environmental justice has propelled some municipalities to address the topic in similar as well as different ways. As a 2019 report prepared by the Tishman Environment and Design Center indicates, municipalities have addressed environmental injustice through various land use measures, including bans on polluting facilities; policies that incorporate environmental justice goals and considerations into municipal activities; environmental review processes; and proactive planning, zoning, and public health codes.

For example, in 2020, Washington, DC amended its comprehensive plan to incorporate environmental justice objectives. Among other things, the plan states that environmental justice principles should inform public policy decisions on the siting of municipal and industrial facilities.

Embracing Environmental Justice as Part of a Company’s Corporate Culture

Considering the heightened focus on environmental justice outcomes, companies would be well served to ensure that their environmental, health, and safety programs adequately consider potential environmental justice issues and concerns and are designed in ways that strengthen community and stakeholder relationships, such as by incorporating environmental justice commitments into a company’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals. Below, we outline some recommendations and best practices. 

Keep Abreast of Environmental Justice Developments that May Affect Your Operations

Track environmental justice issues. Not all environmental justice issues will apply to a specific business. However, being aware of national and local developments will allow a company to minimize regulatory, permitting, and community concerns and challenges that may otherwise catch it off-guard, including potential risks of objections to permits and litigation.

Understand your geographical area. By taking steps to better understand the communities in the areas where a company operates or may operate, a company can evaluate risks and make better informed business decisions. For example, companies can take advantage of resources such as USEPA’s EJScreen Mapping Tool, which provides demographic, socioeconomic, and environmental information for chosen geographic areas. Other mapping tools, such as the Council on Environmental Quality’s Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool and state-specific tools are also available.

Companies with current or future operations in areas with higher percentiles of socioeconomic or environmental quality factors should prepare for the potential legal risks this may pose, including increased government and public scrutiny, and consider how to mitigate potential issues ahead of time. The tools can also be used to aid a company in analyzing health, social, and economic effects of a specific project.

Build a Proactive Environmental Plan

Create an environmental policy or revise an existing one. The rise of corporate accountability has resulted in companies revising their business plans to incorporate ESG criteria into their decision-making. A way to ensure that environmental justice is included in a company’s ESG plan is to make environmental justice part of a company’s social objectives.

In particular, as we discussed in a prior client alert, a company may wish to organize its social criteria objectives so that environmental justice commitments are treated as under the company’s direct control, much like scope 1 greenhouse gas emissions are under the direct control of the company. Companies should also consider developing a public involvement plan as part of their social criteria. Environmental justice can be measured by the amount and quality of direct community engagement and community service. In this way, companies that develop robust engagement plans that further environmental justice objectives of the local community can fold those plans into the social criteria aspects of a greater ESG policy.

Perhaps the most important takeaway is that companies should be cognizant of the interconnectedness of their environmental goals to environmental justice and social/stakeholder concerns. A good environmental justice policy means a good social policy which means a more robust and effective environmental policy and greater chance of meeting environmental objectives.

Develop a robust compliance plan. Enforcement and litigation risk will be higher for companies with operations in communities with environmental justice concerns. Therefore, it is especially important that these companies have robust compliance programs in place. As we previously discussed here, companies can benefit from consistently monitoring their operations and considering the availability of advanced monitoring technologies and methodologies (such as monitoring by aircraft and satellite) that may catch violations and prevent ongoing ones.

Companies should also strictly comply with all applicable monitoring, recordkeeping, and reporting requirements, and consider voluntary disclosure policies. USEPA’s Audit Policy provides several major incentives, including reduction of 100% of gravity-based penalties, for regulated entities to voluntarily discover and fix federal environmental violations. Moreover, the US Department of Justice, Environmental Crimes Section’s Voluntary Self-Disclosure Policy offers beneficial treatment to companies that disclose potentially criminal environmental violations.

Review suppliers and other entities with which the company contracts. In a prior client alert, and as mentioned above, we discussed how a company can define the social aspect of its ESG plan to assist in developing a baseline standard against which a company can measure itself. This includes a company taking steps to establish a standard by which it expects those with which it contracts to behave, reviewing its supply chains to identify any potential areas of inequity against such a standard, and subsequently holding suppliers and other entities with which it transacts accountable, while being particularly mindful of actions that could be tied back to the company.

Use Existing Tools and Resources to Assist in Siting and Permitting Decisions

Be aware of evolving siting and permitting requirements. As discussed above, companies making siting or permitting decisions should consider that projects in or near communities disproportionately burdened by pollution will receive scrutinized attention. Therefore, companies should ensure that environmental justice and civil rights concerns are being proactively evaluated and sufficiently addressed under environmental, civil rights, and environmental justice laws and seek out any available guidance to rectify such concerns. Failure to do so may result in unforeseen project hurdles, wasted resources, and an eventual siting or permit denial. We previously discussed how USEPA incorporates these concerns into the permitting process. Considering recent USEPA guidance on this topic, companies should develop their own best practices for permitting oversight, which should include the following: 

  • Use available screening tools to assess the existence of environmental justice or civil rights concerns early in the permitting process.
  • Perform an appropriately scoped environmental justice analysis or disparate impact analysis (which should consider cumulative impacts) where concerns exist.
  • Know what questions to ask, such as who is being affected by the action? How, and by how much? Compared to whom? Can we mitigate the effects and, if so, how?
  • Develop a public involvement plan and engage communities and tribes to ensure that their views are accounted for (discussed further below).

Failure to take these measures as part of the project scoping process may result in significant hurdles to project development. This includes the possibility of pressure being exerted on state and local regulators to change their course of action with respect to a proposed project. In the Chicago example discussed earlier, the city denied a scrap metal recycling facility’s permit to begin operating an $80 million facility after USEPA issued a letter raising health impact concerns in the surrounding community. The city’s decision, which is currently the subject of a lengthy and ongoing appeal, followed an alleged agreement between the facility operator and city that would have allowed the operator to move to the site.

This also includes active opposition to a project, which may turn into litigation. For example, developer Air Products recently sued Livingston Parish after the parish attempted to restrict the company’s proposed hydrogen/carbon capture and storage project through a moratorium. Ultimately, the parties came to a resolution, whereby the parish agreed that the moratorium was invalid and unenforceable, and the parties agreed that each would bear its own fees and costs related to the litigation.

Review existing permit conditions. Companies with existing facilities that will be applying for permit renewals should be prepared for the possibility of new and more stringent permit obligations being imposed by regulators at the time of their permit renewal. The recently enacted New Jersey environmental justice regulations, for example, set forth a step-by-step process for reviewing future permit applications, including specifically stating that existing permit holders may be subject to additional permit conditions to reduce health and environmental impacts.

More stringent requirements of which companies should be mindful may include, among other obligations: additional monitoring, recordkeeping, and reporting requirements; additional pollution controls and/or more stringent limits; and the inclusion of enforceable work practices, operating plans, and/or best practices for minimizing emissions and/or discharges.

Companies should address environmental justice-related concerns sooner than later, by taking advantage of the existing tools discussed above, to avoid unforeseen complications arising during the permit renewal process. For example, if particulate emissions are a specific concern in your area (e.g., EJScreen shows a particularly high EJ Index percentile for particulate matter 2.5), taking proactive measures to mitigate any increased particulate emissions may streamline the permit renewal process.

Engage the Local Community

Be proactive in engaging the community. Governmental environmental justice policies typically entail expectations of robust engagement with the local community and opportunities for community actors to provide input into company decisions that will affect their communities. Companies may want to similarly engage with the local community prior to taking steps to expand or modify existing operations. This is particularly true for the permitting process; however, companies are well served by engaging with communities and local tribes as a vehicle for making more informed business decisions generally.

This can include learning from a community about a company’s impact, creating strategic partnerships within the community, and collaborating with the community to advance shared goals and establish outcomes that will benefit the community overall. For example, a company can help communities finance environmental justice initiatives or help eligible applicants apply for available grants and help formulate how these community-driven initiatives will take shape.

Being proactive will better prepare a company for what issues, if any, a governmental agency may uncover during its own public engagement process. Ultimately, by strengthening its bond with the local community, companies are better situated to identify community concerns early and take appropriate action that will satisfy both company and community needs while building trust into the future.

Review existing community relationships. The community engagement discussed above should include a review of existing community relationships, specifically where potential environmental justice concerns may not have previously been addressed. To stay on track with such engagement and to ensure the maintenance of strong relationships, making periodic reviews and assessments of existing community relationships could be incorporated into a company’s ESG criteria.

Engage internal stakeholders. Community engagement goes beyond external forces at a specific facility. A company should also cultivate internal discussions with workers, unions, and other stakeholders affected by the company’s actions. Initiatives to consider include informational meetings, listening sessions, and trainings. Environmental health and safety managers should also engage upper management to ensure leadership buy-in for environmental justice initiatives. This guarantees that all levels of the company are aware of and striving towards the same goals.

Conclusion

By embracing environmental justice, companies minimize environmental oversight risks, are likely to achieve environmental goals more quickly, build community relationships, help reduce inequity and ultimately, create a solid foundation for long-term strength, all of which are accretive to an improved bottom line. As federal, state, and local governments continue embedding environmental justice and related initiatives in their regulations, policies, and programs, companies would be well served to do the same. 

Jenner & Block’s Environmental and Workplace Health and Safety and Transitions in Energy and Climate Solutions practice teams are made up of former federal regulatory commissioners, state regulators, regulatory compliance attorneys, and internal counsel and project developers, and are able to help companies achieve environmental justice objectives. Please reach out to a member of one or both of our teams with any questions.

 

 

EPA Finalizes “Good Neighbor Plan” Targeting Ozone-Creating NOx Emissions in 23 States

Torrence_Allison_BLUE
By
Allison A. Torrence 

 

On March 15, 2023, EPA finalized its Good Neighbor Plan under the Clean Air Act (“CAA”), a rule designed to reduce smog-forming nitrogen oxide ("NOx") pollution from power plants and other industrial facilities in 23 upwind states that impact compliance with ambient air quality standards in downwind states. This rule will have a significant impact on power plants emissions in 22 states beginning in 2023, and will impose additional emission limits on certain industries, such as cement manufacturing, mining and solid waste combustion, in 20 states beginning in 2026.

Background

The CAA requires each state to submit State Implementation Plans (“SIPs”) that contain rules, plans and programs that will lead to compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (“NAAQS”). In these SIPs, states are required to ensure that air pollution sources in the state do not contribute to nonattainment of the NAAQS in other states. This requirement is known as the “Good Neighbor” provision of the CAA. On January 31, 2023, EPA determined that 21 states failed to meet the Good Neighbor requirements by failing to address interstate transport of ozone-creating NOx pollution in their SIPs. That action paved the way for EPA to institute Federal Implementation Plans (“FIPs”) in a total of 23 states to ensure that the Good Neighbor provisions were being addressed.

States Impacted

EPA will ensure that NOx emissions reductions are achieved by issuing FIP requirements for 23 states: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Good Neighbor MapSource: https://www.epa.gov/csapr/good-neighbor-plan-2015-ozone-naaqs

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Existing Clean Power and Eligibility for Hydrogen Production Tax Credits: “Additionality” Doesn’t Add Up


By Matthew Price

        The Inflation Reduction Act promises to transform the energy sector in many ways, but among the most exciting is the hydrogen production tax credit, which provides a production tax credit, over a ten year period beginning with the date a facility is placed in service, of up to 60 cents per kilogram of “clean hydrogen” – that is, hydrogen “produced through a process” with a life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions rate below specified thresholds. 26 U.S.C. § 45V.   The credit is enhanced five-fold, up to $3 per kilogram, for clean hydrogen produced at facilities complying with certain prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements.  Clean hydrogen can be used to decarbonize hard-to-electrify sectors, such as steel, cement, and chemical production, that today are responsible for a significant share of the Nation’s carbon emissions.  

        The Treasury Department is currently reviewing comments on the implementation of the hydrogen tax credit under Section 45V.  See IRS Notice 2022-58.  Several commenters have urged the agency to limit tax credits to hydrogen production powered by new renewable generation – thus eliminating the ability for hydrogen producers to receive tax credits if they source their electricity from existing renewable or nuclear plants.  Similar arguments are being raised at the Department of Energy as it seeks to finalize its Clean Hydrogen Production Standard to guide funding decisions under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. 

        The policy rationale for this limitation – which its proponents call “additionality” – is that if existing renewable or nuclear plants are used to produce hydrogen, they will no longer be available to serve the grid, and the result will be increased dispatch of fossil fuel plants to fill the gap, resulting in increased carbon emissions overall.  In their view, only “additional” clean generation – generation that would not otherwise exist, but for the electricity demand created by hydrogen production – should be allowed to be used by hydrogen producers claiming tax credits or federal funding. 

        An “additionality” requirement, however, is simply inconsistent with the statutory scheme.  If one is adopted, it is almost certain to be challenged in court – creating uncertainty that will discourage clean hydrogen production.  And, for the reasons I describe below, such a challenge is likely to succeed.

        First, the text of the Inflation Reduction Act forecloses such a requirement.  The statute makes tax credits available to “any qualified clean hydrogen,” 26 U.S.C. § 45V(b)(2)(A), (B), (C), (D) (emphasis added), and defines “qualified clean hydrogen” to focus on the process used to produce the hydrogen – not the indirect effects like the potential for other power sources to be dispatched to serve other load on the electric grid.  Thus, hydrogen counts as “clean hydrogen” if it is “produced through a process that results in a lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions rate” below a specified threshold.  Id. § 45V(c)(2)(A).  Lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions are to be calculated using a model known as “GREET,” developed by Argonne National Labs, and “shall only include emissions through the point of production” as determined by the GREET model.  Id. § 45V(b)(1) (emphasis added).  In calculating emissions through the point of production, the GREET model makes no distinction between sources of electricity based on whether they are existing or new.  Thus, there is no room for an “additionality” requirement in the definitions establishing eligibility for the tax credit.

        Second, if Congress had wanted to impose an “additionality” requirement, it knew how to do so.  For example, Section 45V contains other vintage-related requirements: a “qualified clean hydrogen production facility” is defined as one that begins construction before 2033.  § 45V(c)(3)(C).  Vintage requirements also limit which hydrogen production facilities are eligible for the increased credit amounts on account of compliance with certain prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements.  § 45V(e)(2)(A).  But there is no vintage limitation on the resources used to provide energy to a clean hydrogen production facility. 

        Moreover, other provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act make clear that Congress anticipated the use of electricity generated by existing nuclear facilities to produce hydrogen and coordinated other clean energy credits with Section 45V on that assumption.  Section 45U, for example, establishes a nuclear production tax credit that is only available to nuclear facilities placed in service prior to enactment of the Inflation Reduction Act.  In Section 45U(c)(2), Congress incorporated special rules (set forth in Section 45(e)(13)) that would allow nuclear facilities receiving credits under Section 45U to use the electricity they generate to produce clean hydrogen receiving credits under Section 45V.  Congress would not have done so if it intended to limit Section 45V credits to hydrogen produced using energy generated by “additional” resources.  Indeed, an “additionality” requirement would make Section 45U(c)(2)’s incorporation of Section 45(e)(13) superfluous, conflicting with a basic principle of statutory interpretation and negating Congress’s intent. 

        Third, Congress sought to promote new renewable generation directly in the Inflation Reduction Act, through tax credit programs aimed directly at new clean generation, in Sections 45Y and 48E.  Especially in light of Sections 45Y and 48E, imposing an “additionality” requirement on Section 45V would be arbitrary.  After all, the purpose of Sections 45Y and 48E is to massively increase the amount of new renewable generation.  Against the backdrop of that expected influx, there is no reason to believe that new renewable generation providing electricity to hydrogen producers is “additional” just because it is new.  Such new renewable generation likely would have come online anyway.  And from the standpoint of the grid, such new renewable resources are just as available to serve load as existing renewable and nuclear resources are.  Consequently, the main effect of grafting an “additionality” requirement onto Section 45V is simply to favor one group of clean generators that otherwise would be serving load (new generators) over other clean generators that would otherwise would be serving load (existing generators).  That would be at odds with the purpose of Section 45V, which is to encourage hydrogen production—not promote new renewable generation.  From the standpoint of hydrogen producers, the main effect of an “additionality” requirement is to limit the options available to them in sourcing electricity—and thereby potentially make it more costly to produce clean hydrogen.  That is directly contrary to Congress’s objectives in Section 45V.

        Imposing an “additionality” requirement under the DOE’s Clean Hydrogen Production Standard, see 42 U.S.C. § 16166, which will guide funding decisions under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, would face similar legal hurdles.  The Clean Hydrogen Production Standard concerns “the carbon intensity of clean hydrogen production that shall apply” to the various hydrogen-related activities carried out under 42 U.S.C. subchapter 8, id. § 16166(a), including the selection of regional clean hydrogen hubs. 

        An “additionality” requirement has no place there.  Section 16166(b) directs that the clean hydrogen production standard should “support clean hydrogen production from each source” listed in Section 16154(e)(2).  That provision, in turn, makes no distinction between new energy sources and existing energy sources, but instead lists “diverse energy sources” including “fossil fuels with carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration” and “nuclear energy.”  Id. § 16154(e)(2), (2)(A), (2)(D); see also id. § 16166(c) (listing numerous sources to which “the standard” shall apply, but making no distinction among resources based on vintage).  Similarly, Section 16166(b) requires “clean hydrogen” to be defined in terms of carbon emissions “produced at the site of production per kilogram of hydrogen produced.”  Id. § 16166(b)(1)(B) (emphasis added).  In other words, hydrogen’s carbon intensity is to be assessed based on the energy source used to produce the hydrogen—not the indirect effects that using that energy source for hydrogen production may have on the carbon intensity of the grid as a whole.  An “additionality” requirement would be inconsistent with this statutory text.   What is more, the purposes of the statute are squarely focused on promoting the development and commercialization of hydrogen technology.   42 U.S.C. § 16151.  Nothing in those purposes suggest that hydrogen should be pursued only to the extent it can be created by new carbon-free resources.

        The Inflation Reduction Act amounts to a once-in-a-generation opportunity to kick-start hydrogen production.  It could have a transformational effect on our energy economy.  Unless already committed to other uses, existing clean resources should be available to American manufacturers seeking to realize that transformation.  It would be unfortunate indeed if the transition to a hydrogen-based economy were delayed or thwarted because of an “additionality” requirement limiting hydrogen producers to electricity procured from new resources that need to be constructed and interconnected.  Moreover, an additionality requirement is likely to face litigation that will create significant regulatory uncertainty for this nascent industry.  The resulting chilling effect is exactly the opposite of what Congress hoped to achieve.

EPA Proposes Significant Change to Particulate Matter Air Quality Standards

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By
Allison A. Torrence 

 

On January 6, 2023, EPA announced that is was issuing a proposed rule to lower the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (“NAAQS”) for fine particulate matter (“PM2.5”), also referred to as soot. The current primary annual NAAQS for PM2.5 is 12 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3). EPA’s proposal will accept comments on reducing that annual NAAQS to a level between 9 and 10 µg/m3. EPA is proposing to keep in place the existing secondary annual standard for PM2.5, the primary and secondary 24-hour standards for PM2.5, and the primary and secondary standards for PM10.

The current standards have been in place since 2012, and were most recently reaffirmed by EPA in 2020. Then, in June of 2021, EPA announced it was reconsidering that 2020 decision, starting the process that lead to the current proposed rule. The NAAQS are national air quality goals set by EPA for criteria air pollutants (like particulate matter), at levels that will that will protect the public health with an adequate margin of safety (primary NAAQS) and protect the public welfare (secondary NAAQS). Notably, the NAAQS are set without consideration of cost or technical feasibility of compliance. Section 109(d)(1) of the Clean Air Act requires EPA to review existing NAAQS at 5-year intervals.

Particulate matter emissions come from a variety of sources, including power plants, unpaved roads, construction sites, mobile sources, and other industrial sites. Particulate matter pollution can cause significant health effects, primarily lung and other respiratory disease. Particulate matter also has environmental impacts, including as the primary cause of haze. EPA estimates that if finalized, a lowered primary annual PM2.5 standard at a level of 9 µg/m3, the lower end of the proposed range, would prevent:

  • Up to 4,200 premature deaths per year;
  • 270,000 lost workdays per year; and
  • Result in as much as $43 billion in net health benefits in 2032.

Currently, most of the country is in attainment of the annual PM2.5 NAAQS, with the exception of several counties in California and one county in Pennsylvania. However, that attainment status may change drastically if the standard is lowered by up to 25%. Once the new PM2.5 NAAQS is set, states will have to determine what areas are in attainment or nonattainment, and then update their State Implementation Plans with rules or other plans that will allow the states to maintain attainment or reduce PM2.5 emissions and achieve attainment for any areas that are above the new standards.

PM Map

The proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register in the next few weeks, and EPA will accept public comment for 60 days after publication. EPA also plans to conduct a virtual public hearing on the proposed rulemaking over several days, but the exact timing has not been determined yet. EPA plans to review the public comments and issue a final rulemaking later this year. Additional information about the proposed rule is available on EPA’s website.


Proposed Fugitive Emissions Amendments Bring Clarity to Major Source Permitting Requirements

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By:  Daniel Robertson

 

 

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On October 14, 2022, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) published proposed revisions to the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review (NSR) permitting regulations. The proposal seeks to repeal specific 2008 Clean Air Act (Act) amendments and require all existing major stationary sources to include fugitive emissions when determining whether a change at the source constitutes a major modification subject to NSR permitting requirements.

The USEPA’s NSR program requires certain stationary sources to obtain air pollution permits prior to construction. The goal of the program is to ensure that air quality does not worsen in areas where the air is considered unhealthy (known as “non-attainment areas”) or is not significantly degraded in areas where the air is considered clean (“attainment areas”).

A new source construction or modification of an existing source that increases emissions of regulated NSR pollutants above NSR regulation thresholds is subject to NSR “major source” requirements. How stringent these requirements are depends on whether the facility falls in an attainment or non-attainment area and what NSR permitting program applies. A major source in an attainment area is subject to the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) program and may be required to perform air quality and impact analysis, as well as install Best Available Control Technology. A major source in a non-attainment area is subject to the Nonattainment NSR program and may be required to perform emission offsets and meet Lowest Achievable Emission Rates. Both programs require opportunities for public involvement.

“Fugitive emissions” are emissions that cannot reasonably pass through a stack, chimney, vent, or similar opening (e.g. windblown dust from surface mines or volatile organic compounds emitting from leaking pipes). Whether a source must consider fugitive emissions for modification purposes has had an inconsistent history dating back to 1978, when the USEPA first established the foundations for the NSR program. Under the recent 2008 permitting amendments, only facilities in certain industrial source categories were required to include fugitive emissions when determining whether a change was a major modification. These source categories include petroleum refineries, large fossil fuel-fired steam electric plants, and Portland cement plants, among others. Sources in other industrial source categories, therefore, did not have to count fugitive emissions towards the major modification thresholds.

Section 111(a)(4) of the Act defines “modification” as “any physical change in, or change in the method of operation of, a stationary source which increases the amount of any air pollutant emitted by such source or which results in the emission of any air pollutant not previously emitted.” The current USEPA proposal interprets Section 111(a)(4) of the Act “to require that all sources consider increases in all types of emissions (including fugitive emissions) in determining whether a proposed change would constitute a major modification.” The USEPA contends that its proposal will “affirm its longstanding position that all existing major sources (regardless of source category) must include fugitive emissions when determining if a modification is major.”

While the 2008 amendments only applied fugitive emission calculations to certain sources, a petition for reconsideration and multiple administrative stays of applicable provisions of those amendments mean the USEPA has effectively been instituting the current proposal since 2009. The proposed revisions will release the stay on specified 2008 provisions and then repeal them, a move that the USEPA states will “bring closure to the reconsideration proceeding” and “have a limited practical impact” on regulated entities given the ongoing stay.

The USEPA did not receive any requests for a public hearing prior to the October 19, 2022 request cutoff date. However, interested parties can still submit comments on the proposal through December 13, 2022. The USEPA specifically seeks “comments from stakeholders on the practical impact of the proposed action, including the scope of overall programmatic impacts (e.g. how many sources might be affected).” We will continue to monitor permitting developments on the Corporate Environmental Lawyer.

 


Jenner & Block Wishes Bon Voyage to Gay Sigel as She Starts Her Next Adventure with the City of Chicago

G. Sigel SuperwomanAs Gay Sigel walked through the doors at One IBM Plaza in Chicago, fresh out of law school and ready to launch her career as an attorney at Jenner & Block, she could not have envisioned the tremendous impact she would have on her clients, her colleagues, and her community over the next 39 years. Gay started her legal career as a general litigator, but Gay and Bob Graham were quick to realize how the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) was creating a new and exciting area of the law that was increasingly important for the firm’s clients: Environmental Law. Gay and Bob saw an opportunity to specialize in that area and founded Jenner & Block’s Environmental Health and Safety Practice. Gay has been an ever-present force in the EHS community ever since.

Over her 39-year career at Jenner & Block, Gay has worked on some of the most significant environmental cases in the country for clients ranging from global Fortune 50 corporations to environmental organizations to individuals. For more than a decade, she taught environmental law at Northwestern University, helping shape the next generation of environmental lawyers. She has worked on issues of global impact, like those affecting climate change, issues of local impact like those related to combined sewer overflows to the Chicago River, and issues of individual impact like those involving employee safety and health. No matter the subject, Gay has always been a tireless advocate for her clients. We often describe her as the Energizer Bunny of environmental lawyers: she is the hardest working attorney we have ever met. 

Gay’s true passion is to make this world a better, more just place for others. So, throughout her career as an environmental, health, and safety lawyer, Gay has devoted her time, energy, and emotional resources to innumerable pro bono cases and charitable and advocacy organizations. Her pro bono work includes successfully protecting asylum applicants, defending criminal cases, asserting parental rights, and defending arts organizations in OSHA matters. Among her many civic endeavors, Gay was a founding member of the AIDS Legal Council of Chicago (n/k/a as the Legal Council for Health Justice); she was the Secretary and active member of the Board of Directors for the Chicago Foundation for Women; and she was on the Board of the New Israel Fund. Gay continues to promote justice wherever she sees injustice, including as an advocate for women’s rights, particularly for women’s reproductive rights.

In both her environmental, health, and safety practice as well as her pro bono and charitable work, Gay is a tremendous mentor to younger (and even older) attorneys. She is curious, committed, exacting, fearless, and demanding (though more of herself than of others). We all give Gay much credit for making us the lawyers we are today.

Gay is leaving Jenner & Block to embark on her next adventure. She is returning to public service as Assistant Corporation Counsel Supervisor with the City of Chicago's Department of Law where she will be focusing on environmental issues. The City and its residents will be well served as Gay will bring her vast experience and unparalleled energy to work tirelessly to protect the City and its environment. We will miss working with and learning from Gay on a daily basis, but we look forward to seeing the great things she will accomplish for the City of Chicago. We know we speak for the entire firm as we wish Gay bon voyage—we will miss you! 

Steven M. Siros, Allison A. Torrence, Andi S. Kenney

EHS

Inflation Reduction Act: Is the U.S. Finally Poised to Tackle Climate Change?

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By
Allison A. Torrence 


CapitalIn a compromise move many months in the making, on August 7, 2022, the Senate passed a spending bill dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which contains provisions aimed at lowering drug prices and health care premiums, reducing inflation, and most notably for our readers, investing approximately $369 billion in energy security and climate change programs over the next ten years. The Inflation Reduction Act, which is the Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Reconciliation bill, passed on entirely partisan lines in the Senate, with all 50 Democratic senators voting in favor, all 50 Republicans voting against, and Vice President Harris breaking the tie in favor of the Democrats. The bill is currently pending before the House of Representatives, where it is expected to be hotly contested but ultimately pass.

According to Senate Democrats, the Inflation Reduction Act “would put the U.S. on a path to roughly 40% emissions reduction [below 2005 levels] by 2030, and would represent the single biggest climate investment in U.S. history, by far.” There are a wide variety of programs in this bill aimed at achieving these lofty goals, including:

  • Clean Building and Vehicle Incentives
    • Consumer home energy rebate programs and tax credits, to electrify home appliances, for energy efficient retrofits, and make homes more energy efficient.
    • Tax credits for purchasing new and used “clean” vehicles.
    • Grants to make affordable housing more energy efficient.
  • Clean Energy Investment
    • Tax credits to accelerate manufacturing and build new manufacturing plants for clean energy like electric vehicles, wind turbines, and solar panels.
    • Grants and loans to retool or build new vehicle manufacturing plants to manufacture clean vehicles.
    • Funding for EPA, DOE and NOAA to facilitate faster siting and permitting of new energy generation and transmission projects.
    • Investment in the National Labs to accelerate breakthrough energy research.
  • Reducing Carbon Emissions Throughout the Economy
    • Tax credits for states and electric utilities to accelerate the transition to clean electricity.
    • Grants and tax credits to reduce emissions from industrial manufacturing processes like chemical, steel and cement plants.
    • Funding for Federal procurement of American-made clean technologies to create a stable market for clean products—including purchasing zero-emission postal vehicles.
  • Environmental Justice
    • Investment in community led projects in disadvantaged communities, including projects aimed at affordable transportation access.
    • Grants to support the purchase of zero-emission equipment and technology at ports.
    • Grants for clean heavy-duty trucks, like busses and garbage trucks.
  • Farm and Rural Investment
    • Funding to support climate-smart agriculture practices and forest conservation.
    • Tax credits and grants to support the domestic production of biofuels.
    • Grants to conserve and restore coastal habitats.
    • Requires sale of 60 million acres to oil and gas industry for offshore wind lease issuance.

Drilling down on some of these many provisions, the clean vehicle consumer tax credit has already sparked controversy due to the requirement that certain manufacturing or components be sourced in North America. The Inflation Reduction Act would maintain the existing $7,500 consumer tax credit for the purchase of a qualified new clean vehicle. The Act would get rid of the previous limit that a single manufacturer could only offer up to 200,000 clean vehicle tax credits—a limit that many manufacturers were hitting. However, under the new bill, that tax credit is reduced or eliminated for electric vehicles if the vehicle is not assembled in North America or if the majority of battery components are sourced outside of North America and if a certain percentage of the critical minerals utilized in battery components are not extracted or processed in a Free Trade Agreement country or recycled in North America. Manufacturers have indicated these battery sourcing requirements are currently difficult to meet, and may result in many electric vehicles being ineligible for this tax credit in the near term.

Another controversial point in the Act is the handling of oil and gas rights vis-à-vis wind farm projects. The Act would allow the sale of tens of millions of acres of public waters to the oil and gas industry as part of an overall plan to require offshore oil and gas projects to allow installation of wind turbines. A group of 350 climate groups, including Senator Bernie Sanders, criticized this and other provisions they saw as favorable to the oil and gas industry in the Act. Despite his criticism of certain aspects of the Inflation Reduction Act, Senator Sanders ultimately voted for the bill.

The House is expect to vote on the Inflation Reduction Act very soon and if it is passed by the House, President Biden will sign it into law. We will continue to track the Act’s progress and its impact on the regulated community. You can follow the Corporate Environmental Lawyer Blog for all of the latest developments.

West Virginia v. EPA: The Major Questions Doctrine Arrives to Rein in Administrative Powers

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By
Allison A. Torrence and Tatjana Vujic

 

On the final day of its 2022 term, the Supreme Court issued its highly-anticipated opinion in the case of West Virginia v. EPA, 579 U.S. __ (2022), addressing EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases (“GHGs”) under the Clean Air Act (“CAA”), but having much broader implications for the authority of all administrative agencies. The opinion signals a significant shift in the standards used to review administrative actions. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the opinion for the Court, joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett. Justice Gorsuch filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Alito joined, and Justice Kagan filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Breyer and Sotomayor joined.

Major Questions Doctrine Has its Day in the Sun

In a significant yet long-predicted move, the six-to-three opinion rejected EPA’s approach to regulating GHG emissions under the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan (“CPP”), under which EPA intended to regulate existing coal-and natural-gas-fired power plants pursuant to Section 111(d) of the CAA.[1] Of greater significance, however, the Court took the opportunity to fully embrace the “major questions doctrine,” a standard several Justices had endorsed but which had not yet been fully unveiled by the Court. The doctrine now requires agencies, in instances in which a regulation will have major economic and political consequences, to point to clear statutory language showing congressional authorization for the power claimed by the agency. In particular, in “extraordinary cases” in which “the history and the breadth of the authority that the agency has asserted and the economic and political significance of that assertion” is significant or major, courts have “a reason to hesitate before concluding that Congress meant to confer such authority.” Slip op. at 17. In such extraordinary cases, the Court will not read into ambiguous statutory text authority that is not clearly spelled out. Instead, “something more than a merely plausible textual basis for the agency action is necessary”; specifically, “[t]he agency instead must point to clear congressional authorization for the power it claims.” Slip op. at 19.

As support for the adoption and application of the major questions doctrine, the Court cited numerous cases in which agency authority was curtailed because of extraordinary circumstances that it determined required a clear congressional directive. The cases included the FDA’s attempt to regulate tobacco (FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 529 U.S. 120 (2000), the CDC’s effort to issue an eviction moratorium during the COVID-19 pandemic (Alabama Assn. of Realtors v. Dept. of Health & Human Servs., 594 U.S. __ (2021)), EPA’s assertion of permitting authority over millions of small sources like hotels and office buildings (Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, 573 U.S. 302 (2014)), and OSHA’s endeavor to require 84 million Americans either obtain a COVID-19 vaccine or undergo weekly testing (National Federation of Independent Business v. OSHA, 595 U.S. __ (2021)), all of which, according to the Court, involved an agency overstepping its authority to act in situations not dissimilar from the extraordinary circumstances presented in West Virginia v. EPA. The dissent, on the other hand, regarded the majority’s use of the major questions doctrine to be without precedent, observing that “[t]he Court has never even used the term ‘major questions doctrine’ before.” Dissent at 15.

As discussed below, when the Court determines that the major questions doctrine applies, even if the administrative action arguably fits within what may seem like a broad grant of statutory authority, it is not necessarily enough to authorize the agency to act. Rather, if the court finds that the administrative rule is an “extraordinary case”, i.e., will have a significant economic or political impact, the agency must base its action on very clear congressional authorization to justify the power it is attempting to assert.

Clean Power Plan is Out But Regulating GHGs Still OK

Turning back to the regulation at issue in West Virginia, the Court reviewed the Clean Power Plan, which dates back to the Obama Administration’s EPA. At that time, EPA promulgated the CPP pursuant to its authority under the New Source Performance Standards (“NSPS”) in Section 111(d) of the CAA. The Court’s review thus centered on Section 111(d), which gives EPA authority to select the “best system of emission reduction” for existing sources of pollution, like power plants. 42 U.S.C. § 7411(d). Under the CPP, the Obama Administration’s EPA used the NSPS to set GHG emission standards for existing power plants which would require many operators to shut down older coal-fired units and/or shift generation to lower-emitting natural gas units or renewable sources of electricity. The Court viewed EPA’s CPP, which would have required power producers to significantly change the generation mix, as an “extraordinary case” because it would have a major impact on the economy and was a “transformative expansion in [EPA’s] regulatory authority” based on “vague language” in the CAA. Slip op. at 20. In addition, the Court noted that EPA was using an “ancillary provision” in the CAA to regulate GHGs and stated that “the Agency’s discovery [of Section 111(d)]”—which the Court described as a “gap filler”—"allowed it to adopt a regulatory program that Congress had conspicuously and repeatedly declined to enact itself.” Slip op. at 20.

Best System of Emission Reduction

Notably, the Court acknowledged that “as a matter of definitional possibilities, generation shifting can be described as a system” (and thus a “best system of emission reduction”), but nevertheless determined that the CAA’s grant of authority was too vague. Slip op. at 28. According to the Court, almost anything could be described as a “system”, and therefore the CPP was based on a vague grant of authority and did not pass the major questions doctrine test. Slip op. at 28. The majority found such a broad grant of authority questionable, particularly because climate change legislation has been debated in Congress for years with no action, signaling that EPA could not exercise such broad authority when Congress had clearly declined to take such action itself.

By contrast and contrary to the majority’s narrow reading of “best system of emission reduction,” the dissent argued that the generation shifting prescribed by the CPP was precisely the type of “system” of emission reduction permitted under the CAA. In particular, the dissent contended that the term “system” is not vague (which Justice Kagan defined as unclear, ambiguous or hazy) but intentionally expansive to allow for such system-wide programs. Thus, the crux of the disagreement between the majority and dissent is that the dissent saw the CAA as having bestowed broad authority on EPA to regulate complex and important issues of air pollution—including and especially climate change, particularly considering the severity of the problem—in the manner that EPA determines is most appropriate, while the majority required further scrutiny for large-scale administrative endeavors like the CPP, which it held require very clear and specific authorization.

What’s Next?

In terms of the implications of West Virginia, what is clear is that the major questions doctrine is here to stay and EPA’s ability to regulate GHG’s under Section 111(d) of the CAA may be curtailed but has not been rejected. In fact, the Court specifically endorsed EPA’s authority to regulate GHGs. So, what does this mean, not only for GHG regulation but also for agency rulemaking in general?

First, while the ruling marks a significant setback for EPA, it does not shut the door on the agency’s ability to regulate GHGs. The CPP rules at issue raised the specter of the major questions doctrine because the regulation would have required generation shifting across the entire energy industry—an action viewed by the Court as having a significant impact on the national economy. The Court, however, declined to opine on “how far our opinion constrains EPA,” indicating that EPA’s authority had not been disallowed. Slip op. at 31, fn5. In fact, the opinion unequivocally states that it is within EPA’s purview to set a specific limit on GHG emissions. Slip op. at 6 (“Although the States set the actual rules governing existing power plants, EPA itself still retains the primary regulatory role in Section 111(d). The Agency, not the States, decides the amount of pollution reduction that must ultimately be achieved.”) Nothing in the opinion suggests that EPA cannot choose to regulate GHGs at power plants with more traditional technology-based requirements. Indeed, an inside-the-fence-line regulation that requires technology like carbon-capture would likely be within EPA’s traditional expertise and less likely to implicate large swaths of the economy like generation switching, and hence not be struck down.

Looking beyond EPA and GHG regulation, additional fallout from the Court’s embrace of the major questions doctrine is sure to occur. In addition to the Court’s explicit adoption of the major questions doctrine, Justice Gorsuch—a longstanding proponent of the doctrine—used his concurring opinion to lay out what he saw as the appropriate elements to consider when evaluating administrative rules under the doctrine. While Justice Gorsuch’s concurrence is not binding, future courts and administrative agencies likely will look to both the Court’s majority opinion and the Gorsuch concurrence for guidance. Administrative regulations will face increased challenges and heightened judicial scrutiny thanks to the major questions doctrine, and we can expect to see not only the number of challenges increase but also the number of successful challenges rise. Additionally, administrative agencies may proactively rein in regulatory actions they were planning to promulgate—keeping the rules more modest or tailored in an attempt to avoid challenges based on the major questions doctrine.

Undoubtedly, this will not be the last word on EPA regulation of GHGs or the use of the major questions doctrine. EPA will issue new GHG regulations, which certainly will invite future litigation. The decision will also certainly trigger many more challenges of agency authority under the newly minted major questions doctrine.

 

[1] Notably, the CPP was revoked by the Trump EPA, and the Biden EPA has stated that it intends to promulgate new GHG regulations different from the previous rules under past administrations. Nevertheless, the Court held that the parties had standing to proceed and the case was not moot. Slip op. at 14, 16.


Embracing the Winds of Change Through Investments in the United States’ Energy Future

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By 
Matthew G. Lawson

 

Earth Week
“When the wind of change blows, some people build walls, others build windmills.” While this ancient Chinese proverb most likely did not envision the construction of large-scale, offshore wind farms, its wisdom remains strikingly applicable to the United States’ energy and infrastructure policies in the 21st Century.  At a time of growing concern over fossil fuel availability, climate change and energy grid security, the Corporate Environmental Lawyer is taking a moment during Earth Day 2022 to look towards our nation’s investment into improved infrastructure and clean, self-sustaining energy sources.

Undoubtably one of the largest recent, public investments in the United States’ infrastructure and energy future occurred on November 15, 2021, when President Biden signed into law the bipartisan and highly anticipated $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.  According to the bill’s Summary, over the next five years, the legislation will provide significant infrastructure investments, including an additional $110 Billion in funding towards bridge and roadway repairs, along with approximately $30 Billion in public transportation.  In addition, the bill allocates approximately $65 Billion to the Country’s power infrastructure, with nearly $29 billion dedicated solely to bolstering and protecting the electric grid.  Finally, the bill includes $7.5 billion to deploy a national network of electric vehicle chargers across highway corridors throughout the United States.

Perhaps even more critical than the legislation’s investment is infrastructure spending, is its investment in future clean energy sources.  Funds allocated through 2025 for clean energy projects include $84,000,000 for enhanced geothermal systems, $100,000,000 for wind energy, and $80,000,000 for solar energy. Moreover, the Biden Administration is betting big on “Clean hydrogen”—an emerging form of clean energy that utilizes surplus from other renewable sources to create additional power by splitting water molecules—by earmarking approximately $8 million in funding for investment in the technology.

Looking beyond the United States’ public infrastructure investments, private investment into clean-energy assets also skyrocketed in 2021, reaching a record $105 billion.  This investment represents an 11% jump from 2020 and a 70% surge during the past five years, according to the Business Council for Sustainable Energy. Private backing into U.S. assets such as wind farms and solar plants represents about 14% of the $755 billion in global private investment made last year, including investment in the United States’ first commercial-scale offshore windfarm, the 30 MW Block Island Wind Farm, which is set to supply power to the energy grid by 2023.  The project is the first of what the Department of Energy (DOE) anticipates being a major rollout of privately-funded offshore wind, including an estimated addition of more than 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by the year 2030.

At a time when Americans are increasingly feeling pessimistic about the future of our Country, it is important to embrace the opportunity for bilateral agreement presented through future investments in the nation’s infrastructure and clean energy.  Safe roads, reliable energy grids, clean air and new jobs are an area of common agreement between Americans at a time when such agreements appear to be increasingly rare.  As a nation, we would do well to embrace our changing world and new challenges by investing in ourselves and our future.

Earth Week Series: The Future of Environmental Regulation

Torrence_jpgBy Allison A. Torrence

Earth Week
As we near Earth Day 2022, the United States may be headed toward a profound change in the way EPA and similar administrative agencies regulate the complex areas of environmental law. EPA began operating more than 50 years ago in 1970, and has been tasked with promulgating and enforcing some of the most complex regulations on the books. From the Clean Air Act to the Clean Water Act; to CERCLA and RCRA and TSCA; and everything in between.

EPA has penned voluminous regulations over the past 50 years to implement vital environmental policies handed down from Congress—to remarkable effect. While there is certainly progress left to be done, improvements in air and water quality in the United States, along with hazardous waste management, has been impressive. For example, according to EPA data, from 1970 to 2020, a period in which gross domestic product rose 272% and US population rose 61%, aggregate emissions of the six criteria pollutants decreased by 78%.

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(source: epa.gov)

For the past 50 years the environmental administrative law process has worked mostly the same way: First, Congress passes a law covering a certain environmental subject matter (e.g., water quality), which provides policy objectives and a framework of restrictions, prohibitions and affirmative obligations. Second, EPA, the administrative agency tasked with implementing the environmental law, promulgates detailed regulations defining terms used in the law and explaining in a more comprehensive fashion how to comply with the obligations outlined in the statute. Depending on the subject matter being addressed, Congress may leave more details up to EPA, as the subject matter expert, to fill in via regulation. In some instances, there is a third step, where additional authority is delegated to the states and tribes to implement environmental regulations at the state-level based on the framework established by Congress and EPA. Occasionally someone thinks EPA overstepped its authority under a given statute, or failed to act when it was supposed to, and litigation follows to correct the over or under action.

Currently, this system of administrative law is facing challenges from parties that believe administrative agencies like EPA have moved from implementing Congress’s policy to setting their own. The most significant such challenge has come in the consolidated Clean Air Act (“CAA”) cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, West Virginia v. EPA, Nos. 20-1530, 20-1531, 20-1778, 20-1780.[1] In West Virginia v. EPA, challengers object to the Obama-EPA’s Clean Power Plan (“CPP”), which used a provision in the New Source Performance Standards (“NSPS”) section of the CAA to set greenhouse gas emission standards for existing power plants. The biggest issue with the CPP, according to challengers, is that the new standards would require many operators to shut down older coal-fired units and shift generation to lower-emitting natural gas or renewable units. Challengers, which include several states, power companies and coal companies, argue the CPP implicates the “major questions doctrine” or “non-delegation doctrine”. These doctrines provide that large-scale initiatives that have broad impacts can't be based on vague, minor, or obscure provisions of law. Challengers argue that the NSPS provision used as the basis for the CPP is a minor provision of law that is being used by EPA to create a large-scale shift in energy policy. EPA argues that, although it is currently revising its greenhouse gas regulations, the actions taken in the CPP were authorized by Congress in the CAA, are consistent with with the text of the CAA as written, and do not raise the specter of the major questions or non-delegations doctrines.

While this case will certainly dictate how EPA is permitted to regulate greenhouse gases under the CAA, it will likely have broader impacts on administrative law. On the one hand, the Court may issue a narrow opinion that evaluates the CPP based on the regulations being inconsistent with the text or intent of the CAA. On the other hand, the Supreme Court may issue a broader opinion that invokes the major questions or non-delegation doctrines to hold that based on the significant-impacts of the regulation, it is an area that should be governed by Congress, not an administrative agency. If the Supreme Court takes the latter route, it could set more limits on Congress’s ability to delegate regulatory authority to administrative agencies like EPA.

Indeed, in the Supreme Court’s recent decision on the OSHA emergency temporary standard on employer vaccine or test mandate (“the OSHA ETS”), Ohio v. Dept. of Labor, et al., 595 U.S. ____ (2022), the Court struck down an administrative regulation in a preview of what might be coming in the EPA CAA case. As everyone knows by now, the Supreme Court struck down the OSHA ETS, holding it was an overstep of the agency’s authority to regulate safety issues in the workplace. The Court’s opinion focused on the impact of the OSHA ETS—that it will impact 84 million employees and it went beyond the workplace—instead of the statutory language. The Court stated, “[i]t is telling that OSHA, in its half century of existence, has never before adopted a broad public health regulation of this kind—addressing a threat that is untethered, in any causal sense, from the workplace.” Slip op. at 8.  

Justices Thomas, Alito and Gorsuch invoked the major questions doctrine in their concurring opinion, stating that Congress must speak clearly if it wishes to delegate to an administrative agency decisions of vast economic and political import. In the case of OSHA and COVID-19, the Justices maintained that Congress did not clearly assign to OSHA the power to deal with COVID-19 because it had not done so over the past two years of the pandemic. Notably, the fact that when Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act, it authorized OSHA to issue emergency regulations upon determining that “employees are exposed to grave danger from exposure to substances or agents determined to be toxic or physically harmful” and “that such emergency standard[s] [are] necessary to protect employees from such danger[s]”, was not a sufficient basis for the Court or the three consenting Justices. In their view, in order to authorize OSHA to issue this vaccine or test mandate, Congress had to do more than delegate to OSHA general emergency powers 50 years ago, but instead would have had to delegate authority specific to the current pandemic.

Applying this logic to EPA and the currently-pending CAA case, Justices Thomas, Alito and Gorsuch may conclude that provisions of the CAA written 50 or 30 years ago, before climate change was fully on Congress’s radar, should not be used to as the basis for regulations that impact important climate and energy policy. Of course, many questions remain: Will a majority of the court adopt this view, and how far they will take it? If Congress can’t delegate climate change and energy policy, what else is off the table—water rights? Hazardous waste? Chemical management? If Congress can’t delegate to EPA and other administrative agencies at the same frequency as in the past, how will Congress manage passing laws dealing with complex and technical areas of law?

All of these questions and more may arise, depending on how the Supreme Court rules in West Virginia v. EPA. For now, we are waiting to see what will happen, in anticipation of some potentially significant changes on the horizon.

 

[1] Jenner & Block filed an Amicus Curiae brief in this case on behalf of Former Power Industry Executives in support of EPA.

Earth Week Series: Imagine a Day Without Environmental Lawyers

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

Earth Week
On this 52nd anniversary of Earth Day, I am not writing yet another, typically not very funny, riff on one of Shakespeare’s most famous lines.[1] Instead, I am inspired by one of the most popular of our blogs, written in 2017 by our talented former partner, E. Lynn Grayson, “Imagine a Day Without Water.” To start our Earth Week series of daily blogs by our firm’s EHS department, I offer words of hope and gratitude for the vast amount of work that has been done to improve and protect the environment – work done by lawyers, scientists, policy makers, and members of the public, to name a few.

Imagine what lawyers and scientists faced in 1970, the year of the first Earth Day. There was oppressive soot and polluted air throughout urban and industrial areas in the United States. The Cuyahoga River was so blighted it had caught fire. Although there was a new federal Environmental Protection Agency and two new environmental statutes – the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Air Act, one of the most highly complex and technical statutes ever written – both needed an entire regulatory structure to be created in order to be operationalized and enforced. This foundational work had to be done when there was not even an accepted method for determining, much less regulating, environmental and public health risk. Then two years later, in 1972, a comprehensively overhauled Clean Water Act was enacted, followed within the next decade by TSCA, RCRA, and CERCLA, to address the consequences of past waste and chemical use, and to control their future more prudently. Other laws were also passed in that time period, including the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Although Earth Day was created in the U.S. – the idea of Senator Gaylord Nelson (WI-D) and supported by Representative Pete McCloskey (CA-R) (both lawyers) and grass roots organizers – environmental consciousness also was growing worldwide. The 1972 Stockholm Declaration, from the first UN Conference of the Human Environment, recognized the importance of environmental protection amid the challenge of economic disparities. That work, including of the United Nations Environment Programme, led to the 1992 “Earth Summit” issuing the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, which adopted a focus on sustainable development and the precautionary approach to protecting the environment in the face of scientific uncertainty, and creating the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which itself led to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement, as well as other global efforts focusing on climate change and resource conservation.

Thus, within a split-second on our earth’s timeline, humans were able to tangibly improve and focus attention on the environment, through laws, agreements, governmental and private commitments, and public support. I note these developments, which were stimulated by lawyers on all sides, not to naively suggest that the global climate change, water accessibility, toxic exposure, and other environmental challenges that we face today can easily be solved, nor do I suggest that only lawyers can provide the solution. Instead, let’s take hope from the fact that in fewer years than the average for human life expectancy, there have been significant environmental improvements in our air, land, and water, and our collective focus on preserving the planet has been ignited.

These past efforts have improved the environment – not perfectly, but demonstrably. The legal structure that helped make these improvements happen has worked – not perfectly, but demonstrably. Hopefully, we will continue to work on these issues, despite their seeming intractability, under a system of national laws and global agreements. The alternative is too painful to contemplate.

Closing on a personal note, our firm’s Environmental Law Practice lost one of the best environmental lawyers in the profession, when Stephen H. Armstrong passed away last week. Steve was one of the first in-house environmental counsel I had the opportunity to work with when I began my focus on environmental law in the 1980s. He demonstrated how to respect the science, embrace the legal challenges, fight hard for your client, and always act with integrity. Although I was a young woman in a relatively new field, he consistently valued my opinions, supported my professional development, and with his deep, melodious laugh and sparkle in his eye, made working together feel like we shared a mission. And a ”mission” it was for him; I have never met any lawyer who cared more or wrestled harder about their clients’ position, while always undergirded by a deep reverence for doing the right thing. Once he joined our firm more than a decade ago, he continued being a role model for all of us. Our firm’s Environmental Law Practice, and all those who worked with him, will miss having him as a devoted colleague, friend, and mentor. Our earth has been made better for his life on it.

 

[1]“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 2, Act Iv, Scene 2 (circa 1591).

U.S. EPA’s Addition of 1-BP to CERCLA Hazardous Substance List Likely Precursor to Similar Actions on PFAS

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

Epa

On April 8, 2022, U.S. EPA added the industrial solvent 1-bromopropane (1-BP) to its list of CERCLA hazardous substances; this listing was triggered by U.S. EPA’s decision to add 1-BP to the Clean Air Act’s list of hazardous air pollutants in January 2022. The addition of 1-BP to the Clean Air Act’s list of hazardous air pollutants may have come as a bit of a surprise since U.S. EPA hasn’t added a new pollutant to the hazardous air pollutant list since the list was originally promulgated in 1990. However, once on the Clean Air Act list of hazardous air pollutants, the pollutant automatically falls with the CERCLA definition of “hazardous substances”. In addition to adding 1-BP to the list of hazardous substances in Table 302.4 in the Code of Federal Regulations, U.S. EPA set a CERCLA reportable quantity for 1-BP at one pound (the CERCLA statutory default).

The manner in which U.S. EPA treats 1-BP at CERCLA sites may be illustrative as to how U.S. EPA will treat PFOS and PFOA, two PFAS compounds that are currently under consideration for listing as CERCLA hazardous substances. Will U.S. EPA add 1-BP to the CERCLA required analyte list at all Superfund sites or will U.S. EPA adopt a more selective approach by relying on Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data to identify nearby sites or manufacturing facilities that may have used the industrial solvent? The more likely scenario is that U.S. EPA will utilize some screening criteria to determine whether to sample for 1-BP but how wide of a  1-BP net that U.S. EPA decides to cast remains to be seen.

1-BP is also a volatile substance so U.S. EPA could also rely on the new listing to reopen and investigate sites for potential vapor intrusion concerns. However, it is unlikely that a site would be reopened solely on the basis of 1-BP vapor intrusion risks.

We will continue to track how U.S. EPA elects to address 1-BP at Superfund sites in an effort to gain insight as to how U.S. EPA may approach future hazardous substance designations at the Corporate Environmental Lawyer.

U.S. EPA Releases “ECHO Notify” to Increase Public Awareness of Enforcement Related Information

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

Echo

On March 22, 2022, U.S. EPA released a new web tool designed to ensure that information regarding environmental violations and enforcement actions is more readily available to the public. The new tool, called ECHO Notify, allows users to sign up for weekly emails when new information is available with respect to violations of environmental statutes or enforcement actions in a specific geographic area or with respect to a particular facility. 

ECHO Notify provides information on both state and federal enforcement and compliance activities under the following programs: Clean Air Act (stationary sources), Clean Water Act (point sources), Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (hazardous waste handlers), and Safe Drinking Water Act (public water system). The tool provides U.S. EPA-specific enforcement-related information with respect to other environmental statutes. 

In a press release that accompanied the release of the new tool, U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan stated that “EPA is committed to empowering communities with the information they need to understand and make informed decisions about their health and environment.” Administrator Regan went on to state “EPA has developed ECHO Notify so that finding updates on environmental enforcement and compliance activities is as easy as checking your email.” 

This new tool is another example of U.S. EPA’s continued focus on environmental justice communities and its desire to ensure that information regarding environmental compliance and enforcement activities is readily available to those communities. We will continue to provide updates regarding U.S. EPA initiatives at the Corporate Environmental Lawyer.

Heightened Risk to the Regulated Community: U.S. EPA Overfiling

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

EpaIn what could portend significant risk to the regulated community, a recent “overfiling” by U.S. EPA in connection with a Clean Air Act (CAA) settlement between the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) and a steel plant should at a minimum cause the regulated community to be cautious when entering into settlement agreements with state regulators. On January 24, 2022, U.S. EPA Region 6 filed a Notice of Violation (NOV) alleging that a steel plant in Louisiana was emitting excess hydrogen sulfide, sulfuric acid mist and sulfur dioxide in violation of the plant’s CAA Title V permit. 

Back in October 2021, the Tulane Environmental Clinic had filed a formal request that U.S. EPA exercise its overfiling and supervisory authority pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 7413(a)(a), (b), and (d) on the basis that the LDEQ settlement agreement imposed insufficient penalties and mitigation measures to ensure future compliance. It is interesting to note that the U.S. EPA NOV does not specifically reference the LDEQ settlement nor directly challenge its provisions. Moreover, the three pollutants identified in the NOV were not specifically called out in the LDEQ settlement, and, in fact, hydrogen sulfide and sulfuric acid mist are not currently part of the plant’s Title V permit.

However, it would be naïve to believe that U.S. EPA’s NOV is unrelated to the request filed by the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic. In fact, U.S. EPA held a number of meetings with the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic and other environmental groups following the overfiling request. U.S. EPA’s decision to overfile may be an indication of more aggressive enforcement oversight over state regulatory agencies, especially in situations involving vulnerable communities. As such, when evaluating whether to enter into settlements with state regulatory entities to address compliance issues with federal environmental statutes, companies should carefully consider the possibility of U.S. EPA overfiling, especially in situations where objections to the settlement have been raised by environmental groups, or in circumstances involving vulnerable communities.   

We will continue to provide updates on U.S. EPA enforcement trends on the Corporate Environmental Lawyer.

The Need to Be Green: Focus on Environmental Sustainability Can Inure to Bottom Line for Cannabis Industry

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

A recent article published in Politico highlights some of the potential impacts of cannabis production on the environment.   As the production of cannabis accelerates across the United States, it is becoming increasingly likely that the environmental impacts of cannabis production will become more regulated especially in the areas of energy use and water reliance.   Cannabis companies would be well served to ensure that they have effective environmental management strategies in place to not only ensure continued compliance but also to reduce the companies’ environmental footprint that could in turn result in significant cost savings.   

For example, according to the article, a typical growing operation can consume up to 2,000 watts of electricity per square meter for indoor growing operations as compared to 50 watts of electricity for growing other leafy greens such as lettuce.  According to a recent study, at least one expert estimates that cannabis production accounts for about one percent of electricity consumption in the United States.  Depending on the source of electricity, greenhouse gas emissions may be generated in the course of energy production that could be attributable to the cannabis operation’s carbon footprint.  President Biden is focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and one the key focus industries for President Biden is the agricultural industry.  Implementing an energy efficiency program with a focus on renewable energy sources may allow cannabis companies to be better positioned to comply with future regulations while at the same time reducing overall energy costs.       

Although not discussed in the article, cannabis production can be a fairly water intensive process with some studies estimating usage as high as six gallons per plant.  A recent study concluded that by 2025, total water use in the legal cannabis market is expected to increase by 86%.  As water scarcity issues become more prevalent especially in light of the changing climate, ensuring adequate sources of water will be critical to ensuring the ability to continue to grow cannabis plants.  At the same time, adopting effective water conservation procedures will allow facilities to reduce their environmental footprint with resulting cost savings. 

For more detailed insight on these issues, please click here for an article that was recently published in the Cannabis Law Journal. 

Industry Organization Challenges EPA Cross State Air Pollution Rule

Torrence_jpgBy Allison A. Torrence

SmokeAs the saying goes, “no good neighbor rule goes unpunished.” Thus, the latest attempt by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to promulgate a Revised Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (“CSAPR”) Update under 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 has been challenged in court. On June 25, 2021, Midwest Ozone Group—an affiliation of companies, trade organizations, and associations created to advance its members interests regarding national ambient air quality programs—filed a petition for review of the final rule of EPA published in the Federal Register at 86 Fed. Reg. 23,054 (April 30, 2021) entitled the “Revised Cross-State Air Pollution Rule Update for the 2008 Ozone NAAQS.” The petition does not provide any details at this point regarding the basis for the group’s challenge to the Revised CSAPR Update.

As we previously reported on this Blog, the Revised CSAPR Update became effective 60 days after it was published (effective on June 29, 2021), and has requirements that begin right away in the 2021 ozone season (the ozone season is May 1 through September 30). The rule requires 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 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (“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.

One part of the Revised CSAPR Update that may be of particular interest to the challengers is that EPA issued new or amended Federal Implementation Plans (“FIPs”) for these 12 states that replaces those states’ existing CSAPR emissions budgets for power plants. The revised emission budgets take effect immediately with the 2021 ozone season and will adjust through 2024. The 2021 emission budgets will require power plants in these states to take advantage of existing, already-installed selective catalytic reduction (“SCR”) and selective non-catalytic reduction (“SNCR”) controls. Emissions reductions in the 2022 budgets will require installation or upgrade of state-of-the-art NOX combustion controls at power plants. Emission budgets will continue to be adjusted, through 2024, until air quality projections demonstrate that the upwind states are no longer significantly contributing to downwind states’ nonattainment of the 2008 ozone NAAQS.

Midwest Ozone Group is required to submit a Statement of Issues to be Raised by July 28, 2021, which should shed more light on the strengths or weaknesses of the petitioner’s challenges to this rule. Stay tuned to the Corporate Environmental Lawyer Blog for additional analysis at that time and if any other significant developments arise in the meantime.


EPA Announces Plans to Require Additional Chemical Reporting under its Toxic Release Inventory

LawsonBy Matthew G. Lawson

EpaOn Friday, April 30, 2021, the Biden Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced significant steps the agency intends to take under the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Program to implement expanded reporting requirements for companies that store and utilize hazardous chemicals, including new obligations to report the storage, use and any releases of ethylene oxide, a commonly used industrial chemical and sterilant for medical equipment and supplies.  The TRI Program, which was established under Section 313 of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), serves as a resource for the public to learn about annual chemical releases, waste management, and pollution prevention activities reported by nearly 22,000 industrial and federal facilities.  Under the TRI Program, U.S. facilities operating in various industry sectors must report annually the quantity of certain chemicals they release to the environment and/or manage through recycling, energy recovery and treatment.  A “release” of a chemical in the context of the TRI Program means that the chemical is emitted to the air or water, or placed in some type of land disposal.

A major component of EPA’s announcement is the agency’s intent to regulate ethylene oxide. The use and release of ethylene oxide by medical device sterilization companies have prompted a number of recent high-profile lawsuits alleging that releases of the chemical into the environment have caused increased cancer rates in communities adjacent to the facilities.  EPA’s announcement notes that many existing sterilization facilities “are located near areas with Environmental Justice concerns,” and that individuals living adjacent to these facilities may be at a heightened risk from exposure to ethylene oxide.  “Every person in the United States has a right to know about what chemicals are released into their communities,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan stated.  “By requiring new and more data on chemical releases from facilities, EPA and its partners will be better equipped to protect the health of every individual, including people of color and low-income communities that are often located near these facilities but have been left out of the conversation for too long.”  In the coming months, EPA will provide further details regarding the specific actions the agency intends to take to require sterilization facilities that use ethylene oxide to report under the TRI Program.

In addition to implementing new reporting requirements for companies utilizing ethylene oxide, EPA announced several other steps the agency plans to take that will increase reporting and public access to information under the TRI Program, including:

  • Finalizing a longstanding proposed rule that will add natural gas processing facilities to the industry sectors covered under the TRI Program thereby increasing the publicly available information on chemical releases and other waste management activities of TRI-listed chemicals from this sector;
  • Continuing to add new per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”) to the list of chemicals that require reporting under the TRI Program, including the addition of perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS) following EPA’s toxicity assessment of the substance;
  • Proposing a new rule to add high-priority substances under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and chemicals included in the TSCA workplan to the list of chemicals that require reporting under the TRI Program; and
  • Increasing public access to TRI data through improved search functionality and improved website interface.

EPA’s announcement marks the most recent step by the agency to implement the Biden Administration’s focus on environmental justice as a top priority of its environmental agenda.  On the same day that EPA announced the agency’s updated TRI policy, EPA circulated a memorandum to all EPA-staff, indicating the additional actions the agency intends to take to fulfill its environmental justice commitment.  These actions include: (1) increasing inspections of facilities that pose the most serious threats to overburdened communities; (2) focusing on implementing remedies that benefit communities, including through the incorporation of supplemental environmental projects; (3) increasing communications with overburdened communities to develop improved cleanup and non-compliance solutions; and (4) identifying locations where state regulators are not adequately protecting local communities and taking increased enforcement actions to “pick up the slack” if state regulators have not taken appropriate or timely actions.

The Corporate Environmental Blog will continue to follow developments on this issue in the coming months as EPA provides additional details on the specific actions it intends to take to expand the TRI Program.

Jenner & Block to Host Webinar on EHS Issues Facing the Cannabis Industry

CannabisOn May 4, Jenner & Block Partner Steven M. Siros and Associate Leah M. Song will present a CLE webinar on environmental, health, and safety (EHS) issues facing the cannabis industry. The market value of the cannabis industry in the United States is expected to reach $30 billion by 2025. Currently, 36 states allow the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes and 15 states allow the recreational use of cannabis. To sustain this rapid industry growth, and avoid potential penalties and lawsuits, it is crucial that cannabis companies ensure consistent compliance with EHS rules and regulations.

In this CLE Program, Mr. Siros and Ms. Song will cover the particular EHS challenges that the cannabis industry currently faces, including issues related to emissions, water resources, waste regulation, and pesticides. The program will also address worker safety issues and the state and federal OSHA regulations cannabis operations are subject to as well as post-consumer issues cannabis companies face such as packaging issues and recycling. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in attending. Space is limited.

Mr. Siros is chair of the Environmental Litigation Practice and co-chair of the Environmental Workplace Health & Safety Law Practice. He focuses primarily on environmental and toxic tort matters.

Ms. Song is an associate in the firm’s Environmental and Workplace Health & Safety Law Practice.

Earth Day 2021: Heightened Chemical Regulation under the Biden Administration

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


EarthA key platform of President Biden’s environmental agenda is increased regulatory scrutiny with respect to chemical substances under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  Regulating chemicals in order to minimize the threat to human health and the environment is clearly also critical to achieving the aims and goals of Earth Day, especially considering that the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring helped spark the global environmental movement that eventually culminated in the first Earth Day in 1970. 

Turning now to the present, in the waning months of the Trump administration, there was a flurry of U.S. EPA activity under TSCA, including the issuance of risk evaluations for a number of high-priority chemical substances, including asbestos, 1,4-dioxane, and  trichloroethylene. Notwithstanding that these risk evaluations concluded that at least some uses of each of the ten high priority chemicals posed an unreasonable risk, these risk evaluations were widely criticized for failing to take into consideration reasonably foreseeable uses or failing to adequately consider various scientific studies. There had been much speculation that President Biden would reject  all of the Trump-era TSCA risk evaluations and in fact, one of President Biden’s first actions in the White House was to direct U.S. EPA to review the TSCA risk evaluation process as well as the methylene chloride risk evaluation specifically. 

Rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, however, U.S. EPA is moving forward to develop risk mitigation plans for each of these high priority chemicals. At the same time, Michal Freedhoff, the acting assistant administrator for U.S. EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution, noted that U.S. EPA would be taking a hard look at these risk evaluations. In a prepared statement, Ms. Freedhoff stated:

Our goal is to allow risk management actions on these first ten chemicals to move forward as much as possible, while looking back surgically at specific areas in some of the risk evaluations to supplement them as appropriate in order to ensure we are meeting our statutory obligations and using the best available science to truly protect human health and the environment. 

As to the next 20 chemicals in the risk assessment pipeline, U.S. EPA has already announced that it will reassess its TSCA risk evaluation process, including refining its approach for selecting and reviewing scientific studies. U.S. EPA noted that it would not rely on U.S. EPA’s Application of Systematic Review in TSCA Risk Evaluations, a guidance document issued by U.S. EPA in 2018 that was  much maligned by the National Academy of Scientists. 

One can also expect an increased focus on environmental justice issues by U.S. EPA in connection with evaluating the risks posed by chemical substances. This will most likely play out in connection with an increased focus on chemical substance exposure for fence-line and front-line communities during the risk evaluation process.

Finally, there will also be increasing pressure on the Biden Administration to regulate new emerging contaminants such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) under both TSCA and the Safe Drinking Water Act. PFAS compounds have not yet been considered for prioritization under TSCA but are likely to be on a list of high priority chemicals in the future. In the meantime, U.S. EPA is likely to move forward with designating at least PFAS compounds as hazardous substances under CERCLA as well as evaluating whether to set an MCL for these compounds under the Safe Drinking Water Act.   

Please check back on Jenner & Block’s Corporate Environmental Lawyer for more Earth Day content throughout the week.

Earth Day 2021: Climate Change under the Biden Administration

Song
By Leah Song 


EarthPresident Biden has made climate change a main focus of his administration.  At the beginning of his term, President Biden issued several executive orders addressing climate change: “Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis” (January 20, 2021) and “Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad” (January 27, 2021) (“Day 7 Environmental Executive Order”). This article will highlight the administration’s international focus, climate justice, climate litigation, and several priorities of the recent executive orders.

As President Biden promised prior to inauguration, he recommitted the U.S. to the Paris Climate Agreement, which is intended to limit the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Trump had announced his intent to terminate the U.S.’s involvement in the Paris Climate Agreement shortly after taking office, but due to the rules, was not able to formally withdraw until November 4, 2019, which became final a year later on November 4, 2020. The U.S. had originally committed to cut GHG emissions by at least 26% below 2005 levels by 2025. Countries were supposed to submit new targets for 2030 by the end of 2020. The Biden administration will likely submit its updated Nationally Determined Contribution (“NDC”) by the end of 2021 in time for the COP26 event scheduled at the end of the year. Given the rollbacks during the Trump administration and predicted increase in emissions as the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, President Biden will need to carefully consider the new target NDCs.

Keeping with the international focus, the Biden administration committed to treating climate change as a national security threat and fully integrating climate change into foreign policy and national security strategies. President Biden selected former Secretary of State John Kerry as the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate and to sit on the National Security Council. Kerry’s role is complemented by Gina McCarthy, White House National Climate Advisor, and Ali Zaidi, Deputy White House National Climate Advisor, in the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy. The Day 7 Environmental Executive Order also discusses the establishment of a National Climate Task Force, working across 21 federal agencies and departments to enable a “whole-of-government” approach to combatting the climate crisis. For summaries of the recent National Climate Task Force meetings, click here and here.

During his campaign and into his presidency, President Biden has made clear his focus on environmental and climate justice. The Day 7 Environmental Executive Order establishes the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council in order to prioritize environmental justice and ensure a “whole-of-government” approach to addressing current and historical environmental injustices. There will be a focus on environmental justice monitoring and enforcement through new or strengthened offices at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice, and Department of Health and Human Services.

In time for Earth Day, the administration invited 40 world leaders to the Leaders Summit on Climate that will be hosted on April 22 and 23. The virtual Leaders Summit will be live streamed for public viewing. For an initial overview of the Leaders Summit, click here.

Check back on Jenner & Block’s Corporate Environmental Lawyer for more Earth Day content throughout the week.


Reflections on Earth Day, 2021

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

This week, as we celebrate Earth Day on April 22, Jenner & Block’s Environmental and Workplace Health and Safety Law Practice will be focusing, each day, on a different aspect of the environment and how this year will affect our planet. I thought I would begin our week-long focus on Earth Day with a more personal reflection.

This past pandemic year on Earth gave me a chance to spend more time reading and lots more time thinking about our society and how we communicate with each other. Purely by coincidence, I had a chance to read two pieces of fiction that focus on both the environment and communication. In Richard Powers’s Pulitzer Prize winning, “The Overstory,” we learn about trees’ ability to communicate with each other as part of their survival network. The female scientist who makes this discovery in “The Overstory” calls to mind the work of Dr. Suzanne Simard, a professor of in the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences at the University of British Columbia, who demonstrated how trees, even of different species, communicate and support each other through underground networks of fungi, known as mycorrhizal networks. The need to communicate, to support each other, to have deep, underground roots is central to all living things. Our ability to communicate as humans starts and ends with our planet.

A complementary novel to “The Overstory” is “A Children’s Bible” by Lydia Millet. Millet’s dystopian view of our planet’s future also has an understory about each generation’s inability to communicate their perspectives about their roles in taking care of each other and society. In my reading of “Children’s Bible,” the ultimate collapse occurs not just because of an environmental disaster, but because the generations stopped being able to communicate with and rely on each other.

Using one of our most useful forms of communication—humor, our first Earth Day cartoonist, Walt Kelly, tied together the need for both protection and connection in an elegant and powerful drawing:

Pogo

We are all like trees in a giant forest called Earth. We have tentacles and roots touching each other in ways we cannot see, and we cannot continue living if we fail to acknowledge these connections. As we care for each other, we are also caring for our common home. As we communicate with each other, we must remember that we are connected to each other in ways that science is continuing to discover and that our personal experience is still learning.

As with many yearly events, Earth Day gives us an opportunity to reflect, discuss, and share. Thank you for letting me have the opportunity to connect with you.


Environmental Organizations Petition EPA to Expand Enforcement of Clean Air Act’s General Duty Clause

LawsonBy Matthew G. Lawson

Air pollutionVarious environmental organizations, led by the Environmental Integrity Project (“EIP”), are urging the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to expand enforcement of Section 112(r)(1) of the Clean Air Act (CAA)—commonly known as the General Duty Clause (“GDC”)—in order to more closely regulate the handling of hazardous substances at industrial facilities permitted under the CAA. EIP’s ongoing efforts include petitioning EPA to require that the obligations of the GDC be incorporated in state-issued Title V air emission permits, such that these obligations may be enforced against permit holders by state regulators or through citizen suits. As explained below, efforts to expand enforcement of the GDC were for the most part blocked under the Trump Administration’s EPA, but it remains to be seen whether these efforts may achieve renewed success under the Biden Administration.

The GDC, which was first enacted as part of the 1990 amendments to the CAA, requires that owners and operators of regulated facilities that handle, process, or store “extremely hazardous substances” take certain actions to “prevent the accidental release and … minimize the consequences of any [] release” of such substances. Specifically, the GDC requires facility owners and operators to: (i) conduct a hazardous risk assessment to identify potential risks from extremely hazardous substances at their facilities; (ii) design and maintain safe facilities that protect against releases; and (iii) develop and implement protocols to minimize the consequences from any accidental releases. While “extremely hazardous substances” is not defined by the GDC, the Senate Report from the 1990 CAA amendments provides that “extremely hazardous substance” includes any agent “which may as the result of short-term exposures associated with releases to the air cause death, injury or property damage due to its toxicity, reactivity, flammability, volatility, or corrosivity.” Although not necessarily exhaustive, EPA has created a list of extremely hazardous substances in 40 CFR part 68. Jurisdiction for enforcement of the GDC remains an issue of contention between EPA and environmental organizations. While enforcement of the GDC has traditionally been left to the exclusive purview of EPA, environmental groups are increasingly arguing that state air authorities can and should request delegation authority from the EPA to enforce the GDC at permitted facilities within their jurisdiction. 

A key example of EIP’s efforts to increase enforcement of the GDC is provided in the organization’s April 14, 2020 Petition Objecting to a Title V Permit issued to Hazlehurst Wood Pellets LLC (“Hazlehurst”), a wood pellet mill operating in the State of Georgia. At the time of the petition, Hazlehurst’s Title V permit had been approved by state authorities, but remained subject to final review by EPA. EIP’s Petition asked EPA to deny Hazlehurst’s air emissions permit on the grounds that the permit failed to recognize or incorporate the requirements of the GDC. According to the Petition, ensuring compliance with the GDC was critical due to the fact that Hazlehurst regularly handles hazardous products, including “copious amount of wood dust,” which had previously caused flash fires at the facility. The Trump Administration EPA’s subsequent Order Denying the Petition rejected EIP’s request, finding that the GDC is not an “applicable requirement” for the purposes of Title V, and as such, “Title V permits need not—and should not—include terms to assure compliance with the [GDC] as it is an independent requirement…” EPA reasoned that if the requirements of the GDC were integrated into a Title V permit, the obligations would ostensibly be enforceable through citizen suits. Concluding that “neither citizens nor state and local air agencies may enforce the [GDC] under the CAA,” EPA rejected the Petition. At the same time, EPA clarified that because the GDC is “self-implementing,” it is independently enforceable by EPA and applies even when it is not expressed as part of a facility’s air permit.

While EPA’s Order denied the environmental organization’s request to expressly require GDC compliance in Title V permits, the Order did make clear that facilities holding Title V permits are still subject to the GDC’s requirements which may be enforced by EPA. According to recently issued EPA Guidance on the GDC, owners and operators who maintain extremely hazardous substances must adhere, at a minimum, to recognized industry standards and any applicable government regulations for handling such substances. While it remains to be seen whether the Biden Administration EPA will continue to resist expressly incorporating the GDC in Title V permits, the Biden Administration’s emphasis on regulatory compliance and environmental justice indicates that future enforcement of the GDC is likely to increase. For this reason, facilities holding air emission permits should review their existing protocols for handling and storing hazardous substances and ensure these protocols are consistent with prevailing industry standards and the requirements of the GDC.


Oil Industry Scores Big Win in Second Circuit Greenhouse Gas Litigation

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

Oil and gasBreaking from the pack and potentially creating a circuit split, the Second Circuit’s decision in City of New York v. Chevron, et al. dismissing New York’s City’s climate change lawsuit is a significant victory for the oil and gas industry.  The unanimous ruling from the Second Circuit affirmed a district’s court decision dismissing New York’s common law claims, finding that issues such as global warming and greenhouse gas emissions invoked questions of federal law that are not well suited to the application of state law.

Taking a slightly different tact than state and local plaintiffs in other climate change lawsuits, the State of New York sued five oil producers in federal court asserting causes of action for (1) public nuisance, (2) private nuisance, and (3) trespass under New York law stemming from the defendants’ production, promotion and sale of fossil fuels.  New York sought both compensatory damages as well as a possible injunction that would require defendants to abate the public nuisance and trespass.  Defendants filed motions to dismiss that were granted.  The district court determined that New York’s state-law claims were displaced by federal common law and that those federal common law claims were in turn displaced by the Clean Air Act.  The district court also concluded that judicial caution counseled against permitting New York to bring federal common law claims against defendants for foreign greenhouse gas emissions. 

The Second Circuit agreed with the district court, noting that the problems facing New York can’t be attributed solely to greenhouse gas emissions in the state nor the emissions of the five defendants. Rather, the greenhouse gas emissions that New York alleges required the City to launch a “$20 billion-plus multilayered investment program in climate resiliency across all five boroughs” are a byproduct of emissions around the world for the past several hundred years. 

As the Second Circuit noted, “[t]he question before it is whether municipalities may utilize state tort law to hold multinational oil companies liable for the damages caused by greenhouse gas emissions.  Given the nature of the harm and the existence of a complex web of federal and international environmental law regulating such emissions, we hold that the answer is ‘no.’” 

Finding that New York’s state common law claims were displaced by federal common law, the Second Circuit then considered whether the Clean Air Act displaced these federal common law claims.  The Second Circuit noted that the Supreme Court in Am. Elec. Power Co. v. Connecticut (AEP) (2011) had previously held that the “’Clean Air Act and the EPA actions it authorizes displace any federal common-law right to seek abatement’ of greenhouse gas emissions.”    As to the State’s damage claims, the Second Circuit agreed with the Ninth Circuit’s reasoning in Native Vill. Of Kivalina v. Exxonmobil Corp. (9th Cir. 2012) that the “displacement of federal common law does not turn on the nature of the remedy but rather on the cause of action.”  As such, the Second Circuit held that “whether styled as an action for injunctive relief against the Producers to stop them from producing fossil fuels, or an action for damages that would have the same practical effect, the City’s claims are clearly barred by the Clean Air Act. 

The Second Circuit was careful to distinguish its holding from the holdings reached by the First, Fourth, Ninth and Tenth circuits in prior climate change cases, noting that in those other cases, the plaintiffs had brought state-law claims in state court and defendants then sought to remove the cases to federal courts.  The single issue in those cases was whether defendants’ federal preemption defenses singlehandedly created federal question jurisdiction.   Here, because New York elected to file in federal as opposed to state court, the Second Circuit was free to consider defendants’ preemption defense on its own terms and not under the heightened standard applicable to a removal inquiry. 

Whether the Second Circuit’s decision has any impact on BP PLC, et al. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, a case that has now been fully briefed and argued before the Supreme Court remains to be seen.  The Baltimore case was one of the state court cases discussed above that was removed to federal court.  The defendants had alleged a number of different grounds for removal, one of which is known as the “federal officer removal statute” that allows removal to federal court of any lawsuit filed against an officer or person acting under that office of the United States or an agency thereof.  The limited issue before the Supreme Court was whether the appellate court could only consider the federal-officer removal ground or whether it could instead review any of the grounds relied upon in defendants’ removal petition. 

Some commenters have noted that the Second Circuit’s decision creates a circuit split that may embolden the Supreme Court to address these climate change cases in one fell swoop.  The more likely scenario, however, is that the Supreme Court limits its opinion to the narrow issue before it and leaves resolution of whether state law climate change nuisance actions are preempted by federal law for another day.