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:
On June 22, 2016, President Obama signed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (a/k/a the TSCA Reform Act) into law. The TSCA Reform Act received bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, passing both bodies by wide margins. The TSCA Reform Act is a major overhaul of the 40-year-old chemical law, which had fallen short of its goal to protect people and the environment from dangerous chemicals.
In an article posted on EPA’s blog, Administrator Gina McCarthy praised the TSCA Reform Act, stating:
The updated law gives EPA the authorities we need to protect American families from the health effects of dangerous chemicals. I welcome this bipartisan bill as a major step forward to protect Americans’ health. And at EPA, we’re excited to get to work putting it into action.
Key provisions of the TSCA Reform Act include:
As previously reported by my colleague Lynn Grayson, ExxonMobil has faced a recent onslaught of scrutiny over allegations that fossil fuel companies had committed fraud by downplaying the effect of climate change on their businesses. These matters include a subpoena issued by the U.S. Virgin Islands’ Attorney General’s office related to allegations of violating two state laws by obtaining money under false pretenses and conspiring to do so; and New York Attorney General Schneiderman’s investigation where documents have been subpoenaed to determine whether the company misled investors about the dangers climate change posed to its operations.
Two events last week suggest that this fight will not end anytime soon.
- ExxonMobil filed suit in the Northern District of Texas, seeking an injunction barring the enforcement of a civil investigative demand issued by the Massachusetts Attorney General to ExxonMobil, and a declaration that this demand violates ExxonMobil’s rights under state and federal law, including the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, as well as the Dormant Commerce Clause.
- The Attorneys General of 13 states wrote a sharply-worded letter to their colleagues, noting that “this effort by our colleagues to police the global warming debate through the power of the subpoena is a grave mistake” and “not a question for the courts.” The letter outlines how this investigation is in fact “far from routine” because of its following three characteristics: “1) the investigation targets a particular type of market participant; 2) the Attorneys General identify themselves with the competitors of their investigative targets; and 3) the investigation implicates an ongoing public policy debate.”
We will continue to monitor developments on this heated situation.
Jenner & Block Partners E. Lynn Grayson and Gabrielle Sigel have been named “Energy & Environmental Trailblazers” by The National Law Journal. The list honors people who have “made their mark in various aspects of legal work in the areas of energy and environmental law.”
The profile of Ms. Grayson notes that she was appointed general counsel for the Illinois Emergency Services and Disaster Agency soon after the agency took over enforcement responsibility for the state’s Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. When she moved into private practice in Chicago, she became involved in the first REIT case involving environmental issues; since moving to Jenner & Block, she has done a great deal of international due diligence. Ms. Grayson observes that the future of environmental law will involve international transactions as well as domestic work, particularly around energy and renewable energy.
The profile of Ms. Sigel notes that she focuses on the intersection of workplace health and the environment. The profile highlights one of her cases in which the water supply in retail and medical offices became contaminated, and a number of state agencies became involved. As for the future, Ms. Sigel observes that the lines between organizations will increasingly blur. “Whether it’s business, regulatory agencies, community groups or NGOs, you have to look at issues holistically, and not in a superficial way,” she says.
Late on June 7, 2016, the Senate voted in favor of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (HR 2576) (a/k/a the TSCA Reform Act). The TSCA Reform Act regulates the manufacture, transportation, sale and use of thousands of chemicals, and provides a much needed update to the 40 year old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The TSCA Reform Act had been passed by the House in May, with overwhelming support. It was held up recently in the Senate by an objection from Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who argued that he needed more time to review the complex new law. But, Senator Paul dropped his objection on June 7th, and a vote was quickly held.
The TSCA Reform Act is widely seen as an improvement over the outdated TSCA. The American Chemical Counsel praised the TSCA Reform Act as “truly historic”. Others, however, were disappointed that the TSCA Reform Act preempted state laws on chemical safety, instead of setting a floor and letting state’s set more stringent standards.
President Obama is expected to sign the TSCA Reform Act into law very soon, as the White House had endorsed the Act after it passed the House of Representatives in May.
Attempts to reform the outdated Toxic Substances Control Act (“TSCA”) have been working their way through Congress for years with no success. But as of this week, legislators in Washington have announced that they are closer than ever before to finalizing and approving a TSCA reform bill.
Last year, the House and Senate each passed their own versions of a TSCA reform bill. The two versions contained significant differences, including on how they managed preemption of State chemical laws. Then, on May 17, 2016, House and Senate leaders issued the following statement on the current status of TSCA reform:
House and Senate negotiators are finalizing a TSCA reform bill that represents an improvement over both the House and Senate bills in key respects. Current federal law only provides very limited protection. We are hopeful that Congress will be taking action soon on reforming this important environmental law.
While some House Democrats, including Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, believe the TSCA reform bill does not do enough, many high-profile Democrats and Republicans have signed on to the compromise bill, including U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), and U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK).
The Congressional leaders are confident that the compromise bill will be up for a vote next week and could potentially be sent to the President for signing before Memorial Day. Be sure to follow the Corporate Environmental Lawyer Blog for analysis of any developments with the TSCA reform bill.
The United Nations has announced that up to 155 countries, including the United States, are planning to sign the Paris Climate Agreement at the Ceremony for Opening Signature, on Earth Day, April 22, 2016. The ceremony will take place at UN headquarters in New York. With over 150 world leaders set to sign the Paris Climate Agreement, the signing is expected to be the largest single signing of an international agreement in world history.
For more information about the signing ceremony and the Paris Climate Agreement, visit the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change website.
In celebration of Earth Day 2016, the Corporate Environmental Lawyer blog will host a special campaign April 18-22 featuring unique news and stories about Earth Day events and activities taking place around the world, in addition to important developments in environmental law. As environmental lawyers, this is a good day for us to remember the contributions our clients and friends make to improving the environment in the communities where we live and work.
The theme for Earth Day 2016 is Trees for Earth. In anticipation of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020, planting trees is the first of five major goals that will highlighted in each of the next five years. The Earth Day Network challenges the world to plant 7.8 billion trees by 2020.
If you have any questions about our Corporate Environmental Lawyer blog or this special series, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-923-2717.
EPA recently took action under the Toxic Substances and Control Act (TSCA) to ensure no TCE containing consumer products enter the marketplace before the Agency has the opportunity to evaluate the intended use and take appropriate action. The new rule issued April 6, 2016, known as a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR), requires any company intending to make certain TCE containing consumer products provide EPA 90-day notice before making the product.
The final rule applies to TCE manufactured (including import) or processed for use in any consumer product, except for use in cleaners and solvent degreasers, film cleaners, hoof polishes, lubricants, mirror edge sealants, and pepper spray. A consumer product is defined at 40 CFR 721.3 as “a chemical substance that is directly, or as part of a mixture, sold or made available to consumers for their use in or around a permanent or temporary household or residence, in or around a school, or in recreation.”
EPA’s June 2014 Work Plan Chemical Risk Assessment for TCE identified health risks associated with several TCE uses, including the arts and craft spray fixative use, aerosol and vapor degreasing, and as a spotting agent in dry cleaning facilities. In 2015, EPA worked with the only U.S. manufacturer of the TCE spray fixative product, PLZ Aeroscience Corporation of Addison, Illinois, resulting in an agreement to stop production of the TCE containing product and to reformulate the product with an alternate chemical.
It is important to note that this regulatory action may affect certain entities with pre-existing import certifications and export notifications required under TSCA.
The rule becomes effective 60 days from its publication in the Federal Register.
On Wednesday, March 16, 2016, Jenner & Block partners E. Lynn Grayson and Allison Torrence will be speaking at a Chicago Bar Association CLE Seminar titled "Major Cases and Regulatory Changes in Environmental Law." Lynn Grayson will be presenting on proposed RCRA generator and pharmaceutical rules, and Allison Torrence, who is Chair of the CBA Environmental Law Committee, will be presenting on the U.S. v. Volkswagen Clean Air Act litigation.
The seminar is on Wednesday March 16, 2014 from 3–5 pm at the Chicago Bar Association, 321 S. Plymouth Court. A networking reception will be held at the CBA immediately following the seminar, from 5–6 pm.
For more information and to register for the seminar click here.
As required by the Hazardous Waste Electronic Establishment Act (Act), EPA’s efforts are ongoing to develop an e-manifest system. EPA issued its final rule in February 2014 (79 Fed. Reg. 7518, February 7, 2014) seeking to implement the Act’s requirement to create a national electronic manifest system and impose user fees as a means to fund its development and operation. Most recently, EPA has developed an e-manifest listserv to manage communications with the regulated community.
According to EPA, the listserv will: 1) provide stakeholders with program announcements and updates; and 2) facilitate e-manifest conversations among users and other stakeholders. There will be significant progress on the e-manifest program throughout 2016-2017, so participation in the listserv will be a good way to stay informed.
Interested parties may subscribe to EPA’s listserv at https://www3.epa.gov/epawaste/hazard/transportation/manifest/e-man.htm.
EPA conducted a webinar on developments with the e-manifest system in December 2015, and the presentation provides a good overview of the program and related schedule.
Along with the hazardous waste management changes for generators recently proposed by EPA, the e-manifest system will be another significant new development for thousands of companies regulated by RCRA and subject to hazardous waste manifest requirements.
EPA has agreed to initiate rulemaking to better address industrial waste spills as part of a settlement with a coalition of environmental groups. The Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform (EJHA), People Concerned About Chemical Safety (PCACS), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), sued EPA last July alleging that the Agency had failed to prevent hazardous substance spills from industrial facilities, including above ground storage tanks. See Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform et al. v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, et al., case number 1:15-cv-05705, in the U.S District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Jenner & Block Webinar: The Top Environmental, Health and Safety Issues for 2016 - What You Need to Know
On Tuesday, February 23rd, from 12:00– 1:15 pm CT, Jenner & Block Partners Lynn Grayson and Steven Siros will present a CLE webinar on The Top Environmental, Health and Safety Issues for 2016 - What You Need to Know. The webinar will provide an overview of key environmental, health and safety issues in 2016 including the following topics:
- Issues relating to the Corps’ jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act;
- Fallout under the Safe Drinking Water Act after Flint;
- U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan regulations, UNFCCC COP 21, and the potential regulation of aircraft GHG emissions;
- Status of TSCA reform efforts;
- Litigation relating to GMOs under FIFRA;
- RCRA waste regulation amendments;
- OSHA penalty updates;
- U.S. EPA challenges;
- Water scarcity and sustainability; and
- Technological innovation and its impact on environmental practitioners.
To register for this free Webinar click here.
President Obama recently signed The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, phasing out the use of microbeads in health and beauty products. This legislation moved swiftly through Congress and was passed by the House and Senate in December 2015 and signed by President Obama on December 28, 2015.
The new law requires the manufacturing of products containing microbeads to end by July 1, 2017 and the sale of them to cease by July 1, 2018. This legislation was supported by various health and beauty products trade and industry groups, many of whose members already had voluntarily committed to replacing microbeads with viable alternatives. The new law amends the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in general banning cosmetics that contain synthetic plastic microbeads.
Microbeads have been the focus of growing environmental and health-related concerns since the very small particles are washed down the drain into waterways, lakes, streams, and rivers. Since the plastic beads do not break down, they are eaten by fish and animals, who often die because these materials cannot be digested.
As discussed a number of times in this blog, microbeads have been the subject of growing regulatory scrutiny. A number of states, as well as Canada, have passed laws working to ban the use, manufacture, and sale of microbeads over time.
The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 is another example of consumer driven changes in products to safeguard and improve the environment.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency ("U.S. EPA") recently announced its 2015 enforcement statistics, noting that for fiscal year 2015, U.S. EPA initiated enforcement actions resulted in $404 million in penalties and fines. In addition, companies were required to invest more than $7 billion to control pollution and remediate contaminated sites; convictions for environmental crimes resulted in 129 years of combined incarceration for convicted defendants; and there was a total of $39 million committed to environmental mitigation projects that benefited communities throughout the United States.
The largest single penalty was the result of a Clean Air Act settlement with two automobile manufacturers that resulted in a $100 million penalty, forfeiture of emissions credits and more than $50 million being invested in pollution control and abatement measures. U.S. EPA's 2015 enforcement numbers were up from 2014 ($100 million in fines and penalties collected in 2014).
Please click here to go to U.S. EPA's 2015 enforcement statistics website.
The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21, will be held in Paris, from November 30th to December 11th. It will be the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 11th session of the Meeting of the Parties to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
President Obama will be in attendance for the initial few days of the talks and Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and others will continue negotiations after the President leaves.
The advanced agenda for the talks is available here.
In recognition of the Paris Climate talks, The Corporate Environmental Lawyer blog will feature a series of blogs over the next two weeks focused on climate change and developments from the negotiations. Please follow our blog to learn more about these issues and developments.
Here is some food for thought as we get ready to gobble down some turkey this Thanksgiving: A new $25 million plant under construction in North Carolina will convert turkey waste into energy. Prestage AgEnergy will use 55,000 tons of turkey litter a year to produce the equivalent of 95 million kilowatt hours of electricity and feed that renewable electricity back to the grid.
North Carolina has a lot of turkey waste on hand – it ranks second in the nation behind Minnesota in turkey production. In light of its prolific turkey farming, in 2007, the state passed an energy policy mandate that requires utilities to use a small amount of poultry waste-generated power. This will not be the first turkey-waste energy plant – Minnesota currently has a 55-megawat power plant designed to burn poultry waste as its primary fuel. However, the new North Carolina plant will reportedly be the first facility designed to run on 100-percent turkey waste.
Lynn Grayson and Steven Siros Publish Article on U.S. Legal and Regulatory Developments in Nanotechnology
Lynn Grayson and Steven Siros have published an article in the most recent issue of DRI’s Toxic Tort and Environmental Law Newsletter titled Nanotechnology: U.S. Legal and Regulatory Developments. In the article, Ms. Grayson and Mr. Siros discuss how nanotechnology affects every sector of the U.S. economy and impacts our lives in a myriad of ways through the 1,600 nanotechnology-based consumer goods and products we use on a daily basis. The article provides an overview of how nanotechnology is defined, insights on the regulatory framework and recent developments, possible concerns about nanomaterial use, and risk management considerations for U.S. businesses utilizing nanotechnology.
The full article is available here.