The director of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), Peter Breysse, continues to defend his agency's minimal risk levels (MRLs) for perfluorinated chemicals that were released in June 2018 as part of a draft toxicological profile. In response to questions posed at a recent Senate hearing, Breysse noted that ATSDR’s draft MRLs roughly corresponded to drinking water levels of 14 parts per trillion (ppt) for perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and 21 ppt for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Where these levels are exceeded, ATSDR has recommended that residents take steps to lower their exposures and contact state and local authorities. Breysse also recommended that residents consult with physicians and noted that ATSDR has information on its website for physicians to consult regarding exposure risks for these chemicals.
The drinking water levels referenced in the ATSDR toxicological profile (14 ppt for PFOS and 21 ppt for PFOA) correspond generally with regulatory standards implemented in several states, including New Jersey and Vermont, both of which have the lowest regulatory levels for these compounds in the United States. However, the ATSDR MRLs are much stricter than U. S. EPA’s drinking water advisory level of 70 ppt. In addition, many news outlets reported that U.S. EPA had sought to delay ATSDR’s issuance of its June 2018 toxicological profile. Perhaps coincidentally, at about the same time as ATSDR issued its draft report, U.S. EPA announced plans to begin to evaluate the need for a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for PFOA and PFOS.
Although ATSDR and U.S. EPA continue to work cooperatively (at least on paper) to address PFOA and PFOS at contaminated properties throughout the United States, it remains to be seen how well these agencies will cooperate in setting an MCL for these contaminants. The agencies' "cooperative" relationship may face choppy waters, especially in light of ATSDR's continued defense of its MRLs and U.S. EPA's skeptical view regarding same.
A recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska rejected efforts by the Center for Biological Diversity (the “Center”) to challenge the constitutionality of the Congressional Review Act (CRA). The CRA, which was originally enacted in 1996, allows for Congressional disapproval of rules promulgated by administrative agencies under limited circumstances. Historically, the CRA had been used sporadically, but the current Congress has relied on the CRA on at least 16 occasions to roll back Obama administration regulations, and more CRA resolutions may be on the horizon.
In Center for Biological Diversity v. Zinke, the Center challenged the use of the CRA to invalidate a Department of Interior (DOI) rule which limited certain hunting and fishing practices on Alaskan National Wildlife Refuges. More specifically, the Center argued that the CRA unconstitutionally allowed Congress to alter DOI’s authority without using bicameralism and presentment to amend the underlying statutes that gave DOI its authority over the National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska. The Center also argued that the CRA’s prohibition on the issuance of a future rule in “substantially the same form” violates the separation of powers doctrine.
The district court dismissed the Center’s lawsuit, finding that “Public Law 115-20 was passed by both the House and the Senate and submitted to the President for approval as required by the CRA—which was also passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the President. Thus, the requirements of bicameralism and presentment are met and [the Center’s] separation of powers concerns fail to state a plausible claim for relief.” The court further noted that “[a]ny injury caused by DOI’s inability to promulgate a substantially similar rule, in the absence of any assertion that DOI would otherwise do so, is too speculative to constitute a concrete or imminent injury and is insufficient to confer Article III standing.” The court also noted that even if the Center could establish an “injury in fact,” the Center had not adequately alleged how invalidating the CRA would redress the Center’s alleged injuries.
Although the CRA remains in full force and effect, one might wonder whether it will retreat back into the shadows at least until the next administration. The conventional view had been that Congress only has 60 days after a rule takes effect to pass a CRA resolution disapproving it. However, lawmakers in Congress are advancing a more novel interpretation of the CRA to review (and potentially disapprove) older rules (and guidance). If a rule or guidance was not officially “submitted” to Congress for review (and many apparently have not officially been submitted), then the current administration could now submit them for review which would restart the 60-day clock. For example, in April, the Senate voted to disapprove a 2013 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau guidance on auto loan financing. The House has not yet taken action on the resolution. If, however, the guidance were to be disapproved under the CRA, then the effect of that disapproval is that the agency will be unable to enact a “substantially similar” rule or guidance. That is really the true power of the CRA, and word is that members of Congress are reviewing older rules and guidance that could be the target of a CRA resolution. Whether the CRA remains a powerful tool this far into the Trump administration remains to be seen, but one can expect that the Center’s constitutional challenge to the CRA is unlikely to be the last.
On Monday, March 5, 2018, EPA issued a report titled EPA Year in Review 2017-2018. The report contains an introductory letter from Administrator Pruitt, who states that he has been “hard at work enacting President Donald Trump’s agenda during [his] first year as EPA Administrator.” The report highlights accomplishments at EPA over the past year, with a focus on the roll back of regulations from the Obama Administration, such as the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States Rule. Administrator Pruitt stated that “[i]n year one, EPA finalized 22 deregulatory actions, saving Americans more than $1 billion in regulatory costs.”
According to the report, Administrator Scott Pruitt set forth a “back-to-basics agenda” with three objectives:
- Refocusing the Agency back to its core mission
- Restoring power to the states through cooperative federalism
- Adhering to the rule of law and improving Agency processes
The report also identifies EPA’s “core mission” as “clean air, land, and water,” and argues that in recent years, “central responsibilities of the Agency took a backseat to ideological crusades, allowing some environmental threats – like cleaning up toxic land – to go unaddressed.” In light of these alleged lapses, EPA states that:
As 2017 draws to an end, we wanted to thank everyone that follows our Corporate Environmental Lawyer blog. 2017 has been an interesting year and we have enjoyed providing information on critical environmental, health and safety issues for the regulated community. As part of the year in review, we thought it might be interesting to highlight the most popular posts from each of the four quarters in 2017.
- Trump Administration: 2017 Insights
- New State 1,4-Dioxane Drinking Water Standard-New York Threatens to Take Action if U.S. EPA Doesn’t
- World Water Day: Wednesday, March 22, 2017--Jenner & Block Announces Special Water Series
- Trump Administration Issues Freeze on New and Pending Rules – Halting Dozens of Recent EPA Rules
- Great Lakes Compact Council Holds Hearing on Cities Initiative Challenge to Waukesha Diversion of Lake Michigan Water
- Federal Judge Orders Dakota Access Pipeline to Revise Environmental Analysis; Leaves Status of Pipeline Construction Undecided
- Litigation in D.C. Circuit Court Put on Hold While EPA Reconsiders 2015 Ozone Air Quality Standards
- Attorney-Client Privilege Does Not Protect Communications with Environmental Consultants
- News of OECA’s Demise May be Greatly Overstated
- EPA Announces Proposed Rule to Rescind ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule
- Court Decision Remanding FERC’s Evaluation of GHG Emissions May Derail $3.5B Pipeline
- Hurricane Harvey and Act of God Defense—Viable Defense or Futile Prayer
- Who is in Charge of Protecting the Environment—The Role of U.S. EPA and State Environmental Agencies During a Hurricane
- Shell Latest Target of CWA Climate Change Citizen Suit
- New Climate Change Lawsuit: Publicity Stunt or Reasonable Effort to Protect California Property Owners?
- Cities Risk Ratings Downgrade for Failure to Address Climate Change Risks
- Dumpster Diving Results in $9.5M Penalty Recovery for California
- Following Keystone Pipeline Oil Spill, Judge Orders Parties to Prepare Oil Spill Response Plan for Dakota Access Pipeline
- EPA Publishes Proposed Rule on Reporting Requirements for the TSCA Mercury Inventory
- Imagine a Day Without Water
We look forward to continuing to blog on breaking environmental, health and safety issues and we are sure that we will have plenty to blog about in 2018. Warmest wishes for a wonderful holiday season.
Steve Siros and Allison Torrence
U.S. EPA’s Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation (“OSRTI”) recently indicated that it may be looking to the Great Lakes National Program Office’s (“GLNPO”) sediment cleanup program for best practices that might be applicable to Superfund cleanups. OSRTI’s evaluation of GLNPO’s sediment program is consistent with comments submitted by responsible parties and cleanup contractors that U.S. EPA should give more consideration to leveraging public and private funds in Superfund cleanups. The Great Lakes Legacy Act established the GLNPO, which has been working closely with states, local government entities and other stakeholders to address sediment issues at 31 areas of concern in the Great Lakes area. U.S. EPA’s website notes that the Great Lakes Legacy Act program has invested approximately $338 million to address these sediment impacted sites while leveraging an additional $227 million from non-federal parties. Whether this approach can achieve similar results at other Superfund sites remains to be seen, but such flexibility would appear to be consistent with Administrator Pruitt’s priority to more quickly and economically address CERCLA sites.
On Tuesday, November 14, 2017, from 12:30 - 1:30 PM CST. Jenner & Block Partner Steve Siros and Jaana Pietari, PH.D., P.E., Exponent, will present a free webinar titled “What’s Over the Horizon: Emerging Contaminants of Concern.”
Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs) fall into many classes, and encompass an evolving number of chemicals from industrial solvents to pharmaceuticals to endocrine disruptors. CECs may be truly “emerging” chemicals that were previously unregulated, or they may be currently regulated chemicals that have been found to be more toxic or persistent and are subject to new or proposed regulations.
In the absence of federal statutes, varying state standards and advisories create a regulatory minefield for the regulated community. Two examples of CECs receiving increased regulatory and public scrutiny are 1,4-dioxane and poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Although its presence has been known for nearly a decade, 1,4-dioxane has recently become a more frequent regulatory driver in groundwater cleanups and resulted in reopening previously closed sites. PFAS, on the other hand, are only recently emerging as CECs as new information about the toxicology, health effects, persistence, and systemic presence of this large group of widely used synthetic chemicals is discovered.
The purpose of this webinar is to describe current legal, scientific, and technical issues concerning CECs with a focus on groundwater remediation.
This webinar will:
- Examine legal issues including potential affected parties, the ability of regulators to reopen previously closed sites, and the potential liabilities that can result in the absence of clear regulatory standards.
- Describe scientific developments regarding human health and environmental effects and advances in detection and monitoring of select CECs.
- Discuss key technical aspects regarding challenges in treatment and source identification.
- Provide case studies highlighting the critical legal, scientific, and technical issues in addition to recommendations on risk mitigation opportunities.
To register for the free webinar, click here.
By Andi Kenney
On October 26, 2017, EPA published a proposed rule requiring manufacturers and importers of mercury and mercury-added products or any other person who intentionally uses mercury in a manufacturing process to provide EPA with both quantitative and qualitative information about the elemental mercury and mercury compounds involved in their activities. 82 FR 49564 (October 26, 2017).
Under Section 8(b)(10)(B) of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), EPA must publish an inventory of mercury supply, use, and trade in the United States” in 2017 and every year thereafter. This reporting rule is authorized by Section 8(b)(10)(D) of TSCA which requires covered persons to provide EPA with the information the Agency needs to prepare that inventory.
The list of potentially affected industries is wide ranging and includes, among many others, mining, chemical manufacturing, plastics and resin manufacturing, medicinal and pharmaceutical manufacturing, coating and adhesive manufacturing, tire and rubber product manufacturing, fabricated metal products (including ammunition) manufacturing, circuit board and semiconductor manufacturing, office and industrial equipment manufacturing, watch and measuring equipment manufacturing, lighting and household appliance manufacturing, battery and electrical equipment manufacturing, boat and RV manufacturing, toy and jewelry manufacturing, and hazardous and non-hazardous waste facilities.
The reporting requirements focus on those who first manufacture mercury or mercury-added products or otherwise intentionally use mercury in a manufacturing process. The proposed rule would not apply to persons generating, handling or managing mercury-containing waste, unless that person manufactures or recovers mercury and uses it or stores it for use. Nor would it apply to those merely engaged in the trade of mercury, those importing mercury-added products for personal use and not for commercial purposes, those manufacturing mercury incidentally (such as by burning coal) or those importing a product that contains mercury solely as a component in a mercury-added product (such as a toy with a mercury-added battery). It would, however, apply to mercury or mercury-containing by-products manufactured for commercial purposes and to the storage of mercury and mercury-added products after manufacture.
EPA is proposing an initial reporting deadline of July 1, 2019, with subsequent reports due every three years thereafter. Each report would cover only the preceding calendar year.
EPA is accepting comments on the proposed rule until December 26, 2017.
On Thursday, September 14th, from 5 pm to 7 pm, environmental attorneys and professionals will come together for a networking reception at Jenner & Block's offices in Chicago. Complimentary food and drinks will be provided thanks to the event’s sponsors. This is the third year Jenner & Block has hosted this event, which continues to grow every year. Jenner & Block will be joined by a number of bar associations and organizations:
- CBA Environmental Law Committee
- CBA Young Lawyers Section Environmental Law Committee
- ISBA Environmental Law Section
- ABA Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources
- Air & Waste Management Association Lake Michigan States Section
- DRI Toxic Tort and Environmental Law Committee
Jenner & Block partner Allison Torrence is a former Chair of the CBA Environmental Law Committee and will be giving brief welcome remarks.
Details for this event are below. If you would like to join us at this reception, please RSVP here.
Environmental Attorney Reception
September 14, 2017 | 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Jenner & Block Conference Center | 45th Floor | 353 N. Clark St. | Chicago, IL 60654
Pro-Policyholder Talc-Related Asbestos Exposure Case Endorses Favorable Allocation Rule and Rejects Pollution Exclusion
A recent opinion from the Connecticut Appellate Court, R.T. Vanderbilt Co. v. Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co., 156 A.3d 539 (Conn. App. Ct. 2017), aides policyholders seeking coverage for asbestos-related long-tail liability claims under Commercial General Liability policies when responding to certain coverage defenses, including the allocation of risk for uninsured policy periods and the application of the pollution exclusion. In Vanderbilt, the court ruled on two significant issues—first, it endorsed the “unavailability of insurance” exception to the pro rata allocation method to allocate uninsured policy periods to the insurer, and second, it rejected the application of the pollution exclusion to talc-related asbestos exposure. As to the first, the court confronted a novel question under Connecticut law regarding whether the policyholder or the insurer should bear the risk for periods during which insurance coverage was commercial unavailable—commonly known as the “unavailability of insurance” exception to the pro rata allocation method. The court affirmed the existence of the exception, holding that the insurer should bear this risk. As to the second, the court rejected that the pollution exclusion applied, reasoning that the exclusions at issue barred coverage only when the exposure arose from “traditional environmental pollution” migrating through property or into the environment, but did not extend to “inhalation or ingestion of asbestos dust released in small quantities in an indoor environment during everyday activities.”
Jenner & Block's Corporate Environmental Lawyer is pleased to present a guest blog prepared by John Claypool, Director of Project Management at Brown and Caldwell. Brown and Caldwell is a national engineering consulting firm focused on the U.S. environmental sector. The degree to which and manner in which these ASTM standards are incorporated into regulatory standards is an important topic and we appreciate Brown and Caldwell's insight on this topic.
EPA recently issued a direct final rule to amend the requirements for conducting All Appropriate Inquires (AAI) to qualify for the Bona Fide Prospective Purchaser (BFPP) defense under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). The direct final rule allows for the use of ASTM International E2247-16, Standard Practice for Environmental Site Assessments: Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Process for Forestland or Rural Property. When the final rule becomes effective on September 18, 2017, ASTM E2247-16 can be used to satisfy the statutory requirements for conducting AAI.
Since 2008, the AAI rule at 40 CFR Part 312 has allowed the use of E2247-08 on transactions involving forestland or rural properties. As part of its 5-year review and reapproval cycle, ASTM International made significant changes to E2247-08 and reapproved/reissued it under the E2247-16 designation. A summary of the differences between E2247-08 and E2247-16 is available in the USEPA rulemaking docket (Docket EPA-HQ-OLEM-2016-0786).
The revisions to the AAI rule published in the Federal Register on June 20, 2017 allow the use of E2247-08 and E2247-16 for conducting AAI on forestland and rural property. Since E2247-08 is no longer considered an active standard by ASTM International, the practical implication is that AAI for forestland and rural properties will henceforth be conducted per E2247-16. The direct final rule did not make any changes to the AAI requirements for other types of properties, continuing to allow the use of ASTM E1527-13, Practice for Environmental Site Assessments: Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Process.
This addition of E2247-16 to the AAI rule may impact both public and private parties intending to claim a limitation on CERCLA liability in relation to the purchase of large tracts of forested land or large rural property. It may also impact parties conducting site characterizations or assessments on large tracts of forested land or large rural properties, when the parties are intending to use a brownfields grant awarded under CERCLA Section 104(k)(2)(B)(ii), including state, local, and tribal governments receive brownfields site assessment grants.
Brown and Caldwell's John Claypool, Brent Callihan and Julie Byrd contributed to the development of the revised ASTM standard, submitting comments to ASTM that led to the development of a working group to revise the standard, ultimately leading to the revised AAI rule.
New Climate Change Lawsuit: Publicity Stunt or Reasonable Effort to Protect California Property Owners?
Answering this question is likely to engender significant debate, depending on which side of the global warming conundrum one finds oneself. However, a recent lawsuit by two California counties and one California city is likely to prompt such a debate which will play out in California state court. On July 17, 2017, Marin County, San Mateo County, and the City of Imperial Beach filed separate but similar environmental lawsuits in California state court claiming that 37 oil, gas, and coal companies caused (or will cause) billions of dollars in climate-change related damages as a result of their extraction and sale of fossil fuels in California. The multi-count complaints allege a variety of state common law claims, including public nuisance, negligent failure to warn, and trespass. The complaints contend that as result of the activities of these defendants, sea levels will rise which will cause billions of dollars in losses to each of the plaintiffs.
These cases represent the latest in what has been to date a series of unsuccessful efforts to hold energy companies responsible for future speculative damages associated with alleged future environmental impacts associated with climate change. These cases will likely be subject to early dispositive motions seeking to have these cases thrown out of court at an early stage. We will continue to follow these cases and provide additional updates.
New research confirms that the quality of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) disclosures is greatly improved when companies use the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Sustainability Reporting Framework. The Governance & Accountability Institute, Inc. (G&A), the data partner for GRI, also confirms that more companies than ever before are developing and disclosing sustainability reports.
In the first year of its study in 2010, G&A found that 80% of leading U.S. large-cap companies did not publish sustainability reports. The trend has changed over time with 53% of the S&P 500 companies reporting in 2012; 72% reporting in 2013; 75% reporting in 2014; 81% reporting in 2015; and 82% reporting in 2016.
To explore the quality of sustainability reports, G&A worked with The CSR-Sustainability Monitor (CSR-S Monitor) research team at the Weissman Center for International Business, Baruch College/CUNY. The CSR-S Monitor evaluated sustainability reports using a scoring methodology that categorizes the content of each report into 11 components referred to as “contextual elements” including: Chair/Executive Message; Environment; Philanthropy & Community Involvement; External Stakeholder Engagement; Supply Chain; Labor Relations; Governance; Anti-Corruption; Human Rights; Codes of Conduct; and Integrity Assurance. Companies using the GRI framework consistently achieved average contextual element scores higher than the companies not using the GRI for their reporting meaning, in part, that the data provided was of a higher quality and overall more helpful to stakeholders.
Sustainability reporting and ESG disclosures are on the rise. The trend clearly is to encourage and promote more standardized sustainability reporting helping companies provide more reliable, consistent and material information to the public.
Yesterday, the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) released new REACH guidance for companies that import goods containing hazardous substances above 0.1 percent by weight. While aimed at importer notifications, the guidance also addresses registration, notification and communication obligations under the REACH law related to substances in articles.
These REACH requirements apply to 173 “substances of very high concern” contained in goods imported into the EU. The new guidance replaces interim guidance on rules on hazardous substances in products issued by ECHA in December 2015. The guidance also takes into account a European Court of Justice ruling from September 2015 that the 0.1 percent notification threshold for hazardous substances in products should apply to individual components within products, and not only to the whole product.
The new guidance has applicability to an article producer, article importer and article supplier as those terms are defined under REACH. The guidance offers two user friendly tables to assist in interpreting the REACH requirements. These include:
- Table 1: A summary that details the regulatory obligations applicable to producers, importers and suppliers, the legal basis under REACH and possible exemptions that may apply; and
- Figure 1: A flowchart that provides an overview of the process regarding whether and how substances in articles may be regulated under REACH and if so, what obligations are applicable.
For U.S. companies, compliance with REACH presents ongoing challenges and this guidance makes clear that there will be renewed focus on regulatory obligations applicable to importers. According to ECHA, only 365 product notifications covering 39 of the 173 substances of very high concern have been submitted. There is a general belief that many companies are not fully complying with these requirements and that the obligations are not fully understood. The new guidance hopes to provide better direction and a clearer understanding of REACH registration, notification and communication obligations.
The EU REACH import obligations are very similar in nature to existing U.S. TSCA import/export obligations. These, too, have been the subject of confusion and misunderstanding over the years, particularly since these requirements often are managed by shipping and procurement personnel unfamiliar with environmental regulations. EPA’s new TSCA Import Certification Rule also is creating some challenges for U.S. companies particularly in connection with the electronic submissions and certifications now required.
EPA recently extended the effective date of the final reporting and recordkeeping requirements for certain chemical substances when they are manufactured or processed at the nanoscale. EPA has delayed the effective date of the January 12, 2017 final rule from May 12, 2017 to August 14, 2017.
Industry sought to repeal the rule, or at a minimum, obtain an extension of the effective until EPA adopts guidance explaining how to comply with the new two-fold requirements including: 1) companies that make, import or process a distinct or “discrete” form of a nanoscale chemical at some time in the future are to provide information to EPA (135 days before they make, import or process the chemical or within 30 days of deciding to manufacture or process the chemical); and 2) companies must comply with a one-time obligation to report information known or reasonably attainable regarding any nanoscale chemicals made or processed at any time during the past three years. Based upon the information EPA receives, the Agency could decide to require new toxicity, exposure or other data or it could decide to impose restrictions on commercial activity.
Nanomaterials—a diverse category of materials defined mainly by their small size—often exhibit unique properties that can allow for novel applications but also have the potential to negatively impact human health and the environment. Some nanomaterials: more easily penetrate biological barriers than do their bulk counterparts; exhibit toxic effects on the nervous, cardiovascular, pulmonary and reproductive systems; or have antibacterial properties that may negatively impact ecosystems.
Regulation of nanomaterial has created conflict between industry and environmental groups. The Nanomanufacturing Association suggests the rule is a de facto permitting program, while environmental groups believe the rule is long overdue and its impacts are limited by the authorities and procedures already existing under the Toxic Substances and Control Act (TSCA), the federal statute authorizing the new rule. Nanomaterials are used in a variety of commercial and industrial applications including paints, coatings, resins and a host of consumer products ranging from washing machine parts to lithium ion batteries.
A number of scientific organizations have called for the need for the kinds of information on nanomaterials EPA will now be able to collect including the National Academy of Science and the National Nanotechnology Initiative. At this time, it is unclear if the EPA draft guidance will be finalized before the effective date of the new rule.
On Monday, June 12, 2017, Jenner & Block's Environmental and Workplace Health & Safety Practice Group is hosting a special program targeted at environmental lawyers titled Drilling Down on the Risks: Ethics and Liabilities for Environmental Practitioners. The program will be held from 11:45-1:30 at Jenner & Block’s offices, 353 North Clark Street, in Chicago. You may participate in the program in person or via a webinar.
Three exceptional speakers—Deborah Green Shortridge (ALAS), April Otterberg and Gay Sigel (Jenner & Block)—will discuss a variety of ethical concerns often confronted by environmental lawyers. They will address prior work conflicts, joint representation, common interest agreements, retaining environmental consultants in transactional and litigation matters, positional conflicts, contacting government officials, community outreach, and public statements.
The CLE program will be eligible for 1.5 professional responsibility credits in Illinois.
If you would like to join us for this CLE program, please RSVP here.
By and large, Americans are blessed with clean, safe, plentiful and mostly free drinking water sources. The Flint, Michigan contaminated drinking water scandal was a wakeup call for many that drinking water sources we depend upon may not be as reliable, stable, or even as affordable as we think.
On December 19, 2016, Reuters released a startling report about the quality of America’s drinking water. Reuters' investigation found that at least 3,000 water supplies in the U.S. were contaminated with lead at levels at least double the rates detected in Flint’s drinking water. In addition, 1,100 of these communities had rates of elevated lead in blood tests at least four times higher. Reuters concluded that Flint’s water crisis doesn’t even rank among the most dangerous lead hotspots in the U.S. Like Flint, however, many of the other localities are plagued by legacy lead: crumbling paint, plumbing, or industrial wastes left behind. Unlike Flint, many have received little attention or funding to combat poisoning.
Another critical issue looming on the horizon for many will be the affordability of water. A new Michigan State University (MSU) report recently concluded that a variety of compounding factors in the U.S. could easily push large portions of the population out of the financial range to even afford water in the future. The MSU report concludes:
A variety of pressures ranging from climate change, to sanitation and water quality, to infrastructure upgrades, are placing increasing strain on water prices. Estimates of the costs to replace aging infrastructure in the U.S. alone project over $1 trillion dollars are needed in the next 25 years to replace systems built circa World War II, which could triple the cost of household water bills…. Over the next few decades, water prices are anticipated to increase four times current levels. Prices could go higher if cities look to private providers for water services, who have a tendency to charge higher rates than public providers.
The MSU report concludes that 36% of households will be unable to afford water within five years. The highest risk areas in the U.S. are in the South, with the most at-risk communities in Mississippi. The MSU report noted that Ohio is 9th on the list, followed by Michigan at 12th.
Water risks come in many forms and include not only sufficient quantities and acceptable quality, but also affordability. The latter issue has not been addressed in a meaningful manner in the U.S. and will become a growing concern as water risks of all kinds increase in number and scope.
Jenner & Block Partners Gay Sigel, Steve Siros, and Allison Torrence will speak at the upcoming program Environmental, Health, and Safety Issues in 2017: What to Expect From the Trump Administration, hosted by Jenner & Block’s Environmental, Workplace Health & Safety Practice Group on Tuesday, March 7 from 12:00 pm to 1:00 p.m. With the Trump Administration beginning to take shape, federal environmental, health, and safety (EHS) policy is certain to shift to the right. This CLE program will provide an overview of the Trump Administration’s actions impacting EHS matters to date and prognosticate on changes that may be forthcoming. You are invited to join us for this special program in person or via webinar. If you plan to participate, please RSVP as indicated below.
When: Tuesday, March 7, 12:00—1:00 p.m. with lunch starting at 11:45 a.m.
Where: Jenner & Block, 353 North Clark, Chicago, IL—45th Floor Conference Center
For more information about the program and to RSVP, please connect here.
On January 11, 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Volkswagen AG (VW) has agreed to plead guilty to three criminal felony counts and pay a $2.8 billion criminal penalty for selling approximately 590,000 diesel vehicles in the U.S. that had installed defeat devices to cheat on emissions tests mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). VW will be on probation for three years and under an independent corporate compliance monitor who will oversee the company for at least three years. VW has also agreed to pay $1.5 billion to settle separate civil violations under the Clean Air Act (CAA) as well as other customs and financial claims.
The Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures has issued a report detailing is recommendations for helping businesses disclose climate-related financial risks and opportunities within the context of their existing disclosure requirements. The Task Force developed four widely adoptable recommendations on climate-related financial disclosures that are applicable to organizations across sectors and jurisdictions: 1) adoptable by all organizations; 2) included in financial filings; 3) designed to solicit decision-useful, forward-looking information on financial impacts; and 4) strong focus on risks and opportunities related to transition to lower-carbon economy.
The recommendations are incorporated into a comprehensive report that provides good insight into climate-related risks and financial impacts, sector focused guidance, scenario analysis for climate issues and identification of key issues requiring further consideration. Appendices include a summary of select disclosure frameworks and other guidance including fundamental principles for effective disclosure.
In a letter to the Financial Stability Board transmitting the recommendations, Chairman Michael Bloomberg notes “….Warming of the planet caused by greenhouse gas emissions poses serious risks to the global economy and will have an impact across many economic sectors……without effective disclosure of these risks, the financial impacts of climate change may not be correctly priced and as the costs eventually become clearer, the potential for rapid adjustments could have destabilizing effects on markets.” He concludes in his letter that the Task Force’s recommendations “…aim to begin fixing this problem.”
The recommendations are designed to help companies identify and disclose information needed by investors, lenders and insurance underwriters to appropriately assess and price climate related risks and opportunities. Even with the upcoming changes in D.C., it is clear there will be continuing focus on climate change-related disclosures in 2017.
The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has issued draft guidance titled Alternatives Analysis Guide and is seeking comments through January 20, 2017. California’s Safer Consumer Products (SCP) Program challenges product designers and manufacturers to reduce toxic chemicals in their products. According to DTSC, the SCP regulations establish innovative approaches for responsible entities to identify, evaluate, and adopt better alternatives. The SCP approach requires an Alternatives Analysis (AA) that considers important impacts throughout the product’s life cycle and follows up with specific actions to make the product safer. DTSC prepared the Draft Alternatives Analysis Guide to help responsible entities conduct an AA to meet the regulatory requirements. Public comments are specifically requested to provide DTSC with insight on the clarity and usefulness of the Draft Alternatives Analysis Guide.
DTSC’s SCP Program regulations took effect October 1, 2013 and are being implemented based on the various regulatory requirements. The goals of the program are to: 1) reduce toxic chemicals in consumer products; 2) create new business opportunities in the emerging safer consumer products industry; and 3) help consumer and businesses identify what is in the products they buy for their families and customers.
The SCP program implements a four-step process to reduce toxic chemicals in the products that consumers buy and use. It identifies specific products that contain potentially harmful chemicals and asks manufacturers to answer two questions: 1) Is this chemical necessary? 2) Is there a safer alternative? The first step involved publication of a list of candidate chemicals that exhibit a hazard trait and/or an environmental toxicological endpoint. Regulators must then identify potential “priority products” containing chemicals that pose a significant risk to public health or the environment. Once a priority product is declared through a separate rulemaking, regulated entities must conduct an alternative analysis to determine if safer options are available. The final step in the lengthy process is for the department to determine if a regulatory response, such as banning the chemical-product combination, is required.
To learn more about the status of the SCP program and to obtain a copy of the new guidance, visit the DTSC SCP website at http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/SCP/index.cfm.
On December 7, 2016, EPA published a proposed rule to ban certain uses of trichloroethylene (TCE) under section 6(a) of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) due to risks to human health from those uses. The proposed rule would prohibit the manufacture (including import), processing, distribution in commerce and commercial use of TCE for aerosol degreasing and for spot cleaning in dry cleaning facilities.
As we previously reported on this blog, EPA recently included TCE on its list of the first 10 chemicals it will evaluate broadly for potential risks to human health and the environment pursuant to requirements of the 2016 TSCA Reform Act. In a 2014 risk assessment, EPA identified serious risks to workers and consumers associated with TCE uses, concluding that the chemical can cause a range of adverse health effects, including cancer, development and neurotoxicological effects, and toxicity to the liver.
The importance of and how best to report on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues remains uncertain, and what really matters appears to depend upon whether you are a corporate or an investor. The continuing difference of opinion on ESG matters is highlighted in a new survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP titled Investors, Corporates and ESG: Bridging the Gap.
The survey finds that corporates view disclosing ESG data differently—corporates are focused on growth but investors are focused on risk. It is clear that sustainability reporting has become mainstream with 81% of S&P 500 companies publishing sustainability reports in 2015 compared to 20% in 2011.
Some key findings from the survey include:
- 65% of corporates say ESG issues are very important to the core business strategy
- 80% of corporates follow Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards for ESG disclosure reporting
- 31% of investors confirm that ESG data is very important to equity investment decisions
- 43% of investors would like to see ESG information reported using the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) standards
A critical issue identified in the survey relates to trust and transparency of ESG disclosures. Corporates express 100% confidence in the quality of ESG information shared but only 29% of investors are confident in the quality of the ESG information received from companies.
The results of this new survey from PWC confirms that investors are increasingly interested in both financial and nonfinancial disclosures including information related to ESG matters. 36% of investors noted that having such information incorporated into SEC filings would ensure higher quality data. The SEC currently is considering corporate disclosures of ESG issues.
On October 25, 2016, Judge Charles Breyer of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California approved a $14.7 billion partial settlement in the Volkswagen “defeat device” MDL litigation. The settlement resolves injunctive relief claims brought by the United States and the State of California, as well as consumer class action claims related to Volkswagen’s 2.0 liter vehicles.
The United States had sued Volkswagen (and its subsidiaries, including Audi and Porsche) in January 2016, alleging that over 500,000 vehicles sold by Volkswagen in the United States from 2009 through 2016 contained software, known as a “defeat device”, that senses when the vehicle is being tested for compliance with emission standards. The defeat devices produced compliant emission results during testing but then reduced the effectiveness of emission control systems during normal driving. The United States alleged that the defeat devices cause increased NOx emissions up to 40 times allowable levels in 2.0 liter vehicles and 9 times allowable levels in 3.0 liter vehicles.
On October 15, 2016, representatives from 170 countries concluded negotiations in Kigali, Rwanda that resulted in a legally binding accord to limit hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in an effort to combat climate change. HFCs are chemical coolants used in air conditioners and refrigerants. Chemical companies developed HFCs in the late 1980s after the Montreal Protocol banned ozone-depleting coolants called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). HFCs do not harm the ozone layer, but they have 1,000 times the heat trapping potential of carbon dioxide.
The Kigali accord is an amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol (which was ratified by the U.S. Senate during the Regan Administration). Thus, the Kigali accord has the legal force of a treaty without further ratification by the current U.S. Senate. Although HFCs make up a small percentage of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, because of their extremely high warming potential, the reductions called for in the Kigali accord will lead to the reduction of the equivalent of 70 billion tons of carbon dioxide, which is approximately two times the amount of carbon dioxide emitted globally each year.
2016 Democratic Party Platform: Combat Climate Change, Build a Clean Energy Economy, and Secure Environmental Justice
Last week, we examined the key environmental issues raised in the 2016 Republican platform. Now that the political focus has shifted from Cleveland to Philadelphia, where Democrats are holding their convention, we will examine what the Democratic Party has to say about its environmental priorities in the 2016 Democratic Party Platform. One of the Democratic Party platform’s 13 main sections is entitled “Combat Climate Change, Build a Clean Energy Economy, and Secure Environmental Justice.” Environmental issues are also raised in the section titled “Confront Global Threats”, which discusses “Global Climate Leadership.”
In the platform’s preamble, the Democrats state that:
Democrats believe that climate change poses a real and urgent threat to our economy, our national security, and our children’s health and futures, and that Americans deserve the jobs and security that come from becoming the clean energy superpower of the 21st century.
Other key positions from the Democratic environmental platform include: