Earth Day 2021: CERCLA and RCRA in The Biden Administration: Elevating Climate Change and Environmental Justice in Addressing Hazardous Wastes
We close out the Corporate Environmental Lawyer Blog's weeklong celebration of Earth Day with the two federal programs aimed at cleaning up existing toxic waste sites and preventing the creation of new ones: the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (“CERCLA”) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (“RCRA”). The Trump Administration considered the remedial and regulatory roles of the CERCLA and RCRA programs as core EPA functions, so it did not target them for regulatory rollbacks like it did for many federal clean air (including climate change), clean water, and environmental review requirements. Nonetheless, the new occupant of the White House will change the focus of both these programs—in large part by elevating climate change and environmental justice considerations in decision-making.
Early in the Trump Administration, Scott Pruitt, then the EPA Administrator convened a Superfund Task Force that identified five priorities: (1) expediting cleanup and remediation, (2) invigorating responsible party cleanup and reuse, (3) encouraging private party investment, (4) promoting redevelopment and community revitalization, and (5) engaging partners and stakeholders. The Task Force set forth 42 recommendations to achieve those goals.
Following the Task Force recommendations, the Trump Administration prioritized 54 sites and completed remediation and delisted over 50 sites from the National Priorities List. The focus was often sites with redevelopment potential. At many of those sites, surprisingly aggressive settlements with potentially responsible parties funded the work. At the same time, however, the number of unfunded orphan sites (those with remediation plans but no funding source) grew as federal appropriations were limited. By January 2021, there were at least 34 unfunded orphan sites, many in at-risk areas.
The Biden Administration is expected to retain the goals and many of the recommendations from the Task Force, but it will redeploy resources to meet its priorities. Climate change (a phrase that literally had been removed from the Superfund Strategic Plan), and environmental justice (which seeks to address the disproportionately high health and environmental risks found among low-income and minority communities) will reemerge as key considerations in CERCLA decision-making, especially in site prioritization and remediation plans. A 2019 GAO report indicated that these issues are often linked. It identified roughly 2/3 (975/1570) of the NPL listed Superfund sites as vulnerable to climate-related risks—hurricanes, flooding, wildfires and/or rising sea levels. Many of these sites were also located near low-income and minority communities. Biden will seek to pair his climate change and environmental justice goals with his redevelopment and infrastructure plans through Brownfield grants and other incentives.
The Biden Administration has also signaled it will address emerging contaminants. As noted by Steve Siros in Wednesday's Corporate Environmental Lawyer Blog, EPA is likely to designate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”) as “hazardous substances” under CERCLA and may set a maximum contaminant level (“MCL”) for these compounds under the Safe Drinking Water Act (“SDWA”). These actions could have a significant impact on new and existing cleanups. First, designating PFAS a “hazardous substance” would require facilities to report PFAS releases, which could trigger more investigations and cleanups. Second, any PFAS limits under the SDWA or state regulations would become Applicable or Relevant and Appropriate Requirements (“ARARs”) that would have to be considered in CERCLA listing and remedy decisions. Finally, these changes would require PFAS contamination to be evaluated in EPA’s five year review at each site and potentially trigger reopeners in prior settlements. Tighter standards for other chemicals, such as 1,4-dioxane, could have similar results.
Resources are already being deployed to support these efforts and additional funding for Brownfield and Superfund projects is in the works. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides $100 million for EPA grants to address disproportionate environmental harms to at-risk populations and air quality monitoring. According to the American Jobs Plan Fact Sheet dated March 31, 2021, the Administration is proposing an additional $5 billion for Brownfield and Superfund sites and an additional $10 billion to monitor and remediate PFAS. The Administration is also proposing to restore the Superfund tax, which expired in 1995, to ensure that resources are available in the Superfund Trust to address unfunded site cleanups. Similarly, the Administration is considering reversing the financial responsibility exemption for chemical manufacturers, petroleum and coal products manufacturers and electric power generation, transmission and distribution facilities that was issued in the waning days of the previous Administration.
Like CERCLA, RCRA was not a focus of the Trump Administration’s regulatory rollbacks—though funding cutbacks affected rule development and enforcement. The Biden Administration has already signaled that it intends to reenergize enforcement, including criminal prosecutions, which may lead to an increase in federal overfiling in RCRA enforcement actions, especially in states with lax enforcement histories.
Trump’s most significant RCRA actions addressed coal ash, referred to as Coal Combustion Residuals (“CCR”). The Trump CCR rules, which were promulgated after the Obama-era CCR rule was vacated, are being reviewed for consistency with Biden’s Executive Order Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis. Likewise, the CCR Permit Program and the Beneficial Use Rules or Electric Utilities, which were pending on Inauguration Day, are subject to the Presidential memorandum freezing regulations pending review.
Biden’s focus on environmental justice and climate change will impact RCRA permit evaluations and enforcement, both in process and in substance. Procedurally, those seeking RCRA permits, and even RCRA permitted facilities, may be subject to additional notification requirements, more community involvement, and greater scrutiny. Substantively, the social cost of carbon and chemical exposure risks will become part of the evaluation.
Biden’s other climate change initiatives may have more significant RCRA impacts down the road. For example, the push toward electric vehicles will reduce the demand for gas stations at current levels. That change, combined with the fact that underground storage tanks installed or upgraded to comply with the 1988 underground storage tank standards are nearing the end of their useful lives, will trigger tank closures throughout the country. More broadly, the transition from a fossil fuel economy to a clean fuel economy will reveal many other environmental issues that will require substantial efforts and resources to address.
The Biden Administration is already changing the course of environmental law. With CERCLA and RCRA, the shifts will be more subtle than in other areas, but the focus on climate change and environmental justice will have profound impacts on whose voices are heard and where, and how, resources are deployed. The Corporate Environmental Lawyer Blog will continue to monitor and report on developments in these areas and others. In the meantime, thank you for sharing Earth Day (and Earth Week) with us!
White House Promises to Use “All Available Tools” to Implement Deep Cuts to EPA Funding in Fiscal Year 2021
On Monday, February 10, 2020, the Trump Administration released its proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2021. The proposal calls for sweeping cuts to a number of federal agencies and departments, including deep cuts to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“USEPA”). If enacted, the proposed budget would grant $6.7 billion in funding to USEPA, a $2.4 billion or 26-percent reduction from the agency’s $9.1 billion budget in 2020. In the budget proposal’s preamble, the Administration promises to “call on the Government to reduce wasteful, unnecessary spending, and to fix mismanagement and redundancy across agencies.”
With respect to USEPA’s budget allocation, the proposal promises to “eliminate almost 50 wasteful programs that are outside of EPA’s core mission or duplicative of other efforts, saving taxpayers over $600 million.” Proposed major cuts include the reduction of nearly 50% of the agency’s research budget, including all funding for grants to independent universities and research institutes conducting air, water, and other environmental and health research. Another target for deep cuts is USEPA’s safe drinking water revolving funds. The revolving funds are used to help fund water infrastructure projects undertaken by state or municipal public water providers. Under the proposed budget, the available funds for such projects would be cut from approximately $2.77 billion down to $2 billion.
While the proposal primarily focuses on proposing cuts to USEPA’s fiscal budget, it does contain a few line item requests for additional funding. In particular, the proposal asks for an additional $6 million to carry out USEPA’s Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Action Plan. The additional funding is sought to continue research into the risk posed by PFAS compounds, address current contamination issues, and effectively communicate findings to the public. In addition, the budget requests $16 million into new research to help prevent and respond to the rising growth of harmful algal blooms.
The budget proposal is not the first time the Trump Administration has sought to implement deep cuts into USEPA’s budget. In fact, the Trump Administration has now proposed nearly identical cuts to the agency’s budget in each of the last three fiscal years. As previously discussed by the Corporate Environmental Lawyer, the Trump Administration first proposed a $2.7 billion budget reduction for USEPA in fiscal year 2018. However, the proposal was rebuffed by congress and the final spending bill ultimately signed by Trump held the agency’s budget at $8.1 billion, even with its 2017 level. The following year, the Trump Administration again proposed cutting the agency’s budget by more than $2 billion, but ultimately agreed to a spending deal that increased the agency’s budget to $8.8 billion. Finally, during fiscal year 2020, the Trump Administration proposed approximately $2.7 billion in cuts to USEPA’s budget. As before, Congress rejected the proposal and ultimately approved a nearly record high budget for USEPA of $9.1 Billion. Congress’ continued rejection of the spending cuts proposed by the Trump Administration is acknowledged in the Administration’s most recent 2021 budget proposal, which derides Congress for continuing “to reject any efforts to restrain spending” and “greatly contribut[ing] to the continued ballooning of Federal debt and deficits, putting the Nation’s fiscal future at risk.” The proposal promises that the Trump Administration will use “all available tools and levers” to ensure that the spending reductions outlined in the budget are finally implemented.
Exploring the E-Suite with Elizabeth Anderson, Ph.D., Fellow ATS, Chief Science Officer and Senior Fellow, Exponent, Inc.; formerly, Carcinogen Assessment Group and Office of Health and Environmental Assessment, U.S. EPA
Exploring the E-Suite with Elizabeth Anderson, Ph.D., Fellow ATS, Chief Science Officer and Senior Fellow, Exponent, Inc.; formerly, Carcinogen Assessment Group and Office of Health and Environmental Assessment, U.S. EPA
- I understand that you worked for U.S. EPA when it was first started as a federal agency in the early 1970s. What was your role at the “new” U.S. EPA?
I led the health sciences assessment work for the first 14 years after U.S. EPA was formed in December 1970. At the time, U.S. EPA was a very small agency. I was the only health scientist in an eight-person Office of Technical Analysis, reporting directly to U.S. EPA’s first Administrator, Bill Ruckelshaus. He is an extraordinary person—a terrific and committed leader, who also knew how to make hard work fun. The Administrator asked me to lead an intra-agency committee to write a cancer policy to address the zero risk tolerance expectation for substances with some evidence, often conflicting, of carcinogenicity, as indicated by tumors in animals or humans. Another challenge was that substances could be ubiquitous or important to our society. We knew a “zero tolerance” policy for all possible carcinogens would be unworkable, so my committee reported out a process rather than a cancer policy. That process was the first use of risk assessment to organize what is known and unknown about the likelihood that exposure to a particular agent might cause illness. On the assumption the agent might cause illness, the next step is to define what levels of risk and exposure would be acceptable and protective of public health. The concept of risk acceptance was novel at the time and was introduced in a social and political climate aimed at seeking the ideal, i.e., zero risk.
My office at U.S. EPA conducted and I co-authored more than 150 risk assessments between 1976 and 1983 as a basis for defining major regulatory policy. The National Academy of Sciences published its endorsement of this risk assessment process in 1983. The Academy’s report, referred to as “The Red Book,” inspired national and international adoption of the U.S. EPA’s approach to risk assessment started by my intra-agency committee. I led the effort to expand the health assessment program, which resulted in establishing the central risk assessment office for the Agency—the Office of Health and Environmental Assessment. This office reported directly to the Administrator, who granted us wide latitude to expeditiously conduct our assessments.
- What was your professional and academic background leading to your involvement in health risk assessment?
My academic background is in synthetic organic chemistry, the chemistry of making organic molecules, amongst other applications, to be biologically active. I was pre-med at the College of William and Mary, but I was strongly discouraged from pursuing medical school “because I would be taking the place of a man” (a quote from the Chairman of the Chemistry Department). Instead, I was granted a fellowship at the University of Virginia to pursue a master’s degree in synthetic organic chemistry. Next, I applied for a unique fellowship being granted by the U.S. Department of Defense and completed my Ph.D. work in synthetic organic chemistry. During those early years of U.S. EPA, my degree and training best fit the Agency’s needs. There were no degrees in toxicology, relevant applications in epidemiology were just emerging, and mechanism of action had received little attention. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.
- What was it like to be part of the start of a new federal agency?
Most of all, it was challenging. Following the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam war movement, and 20 million people marching on the first Earth Day, the spirit of the time was that significant change can happen; every move at EPA was front-page news. We all felt a sense of urgency to make a difference and establish scientific credibility for all decisions that the Agency had to make. U.S. EPA inherited a rapidly cascading series of enabling legislation starting with the Clean Air Act in December of 1970, followed by amendments to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act; the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act; Radiation Authorities; the Drinking Water Act; “Superfund” (CERCLA); and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). All compelled the Agency to be protective of public health. Implementing this Congressional directive was left to the Agency and, for our part, this meant meeting strict deadlines and establishing scientific foundations that defined protection and that could survive challenges from Congress and the scientific, private, public, and legal communities.
At a very young age, many of us at U.S. EPA inherited a great deal of responsibility. New areas of complexity seemed to develop on a daily basis. Looking back, a culture of committed, young professionals worked hard and achieved a great deal. We were inspired by the excitement and challenge of those times. Many of us have remained friends and colleagues until the present day. Some of us are still involved, as board members of the U.S. EPA Alumni Association.
- What were some of the accomplishments of which you were most proud that came out of your work for U.S. EPA?
I am proud of many things, but I am most proud of my role in co-authoring the first guidelines to establish risk assessment and risk management as the basis for setting public policy to protect public health and having the opportunity to found and direct U.S. EPA’s first health assessment offices, the Carcinogen Assessment Group, and the expanded Office of Health Environmental Assessment. In addition, I had the opportunity to found and direct the Agency’s expansion of health topics to include reproductive risk assessment, mutagen risk assessment, and exposure assessment groups; these offices conducted all risk assessments for the Agency’s program offices for many years.
I was fortunate to be a part of establishing the scholarship in this rapidly developing and complex field of health risk assessment. A small number of us founded the Society for Risk Analysis, a focal point for sharing scientific developments from all sectors, including engineering and the social sciences. I served as one of the early Presidents and, for 10 years, was Editor-in-Chief of the Society’s flagship journal, Risk Analysis: An International Journal. In addition, as U.S. EPA’s representative, I had the privilege of participating in the worldwide application of risk assessment first in Europe through the World Health Organization and subsequently through the Pan American Health Organization and other organizations.
- After you left U.S. EPA, you have had several professional engagements. Can you summarize those for us?
After spending 14 years being a part of U.S. EPA’s founding, I entered the private sector, initially as President and CEO of the first private health and environmental assessment consulting firm, Clement Associates. In addition to work for private clients, U.S. EPA contracted with me to oversee and direct the first risk assessments for all of its Superfund sites, as did the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to direct and write the first Toxicity Profiles. Later, I founded my own company, Sciences International, and directed it for 13 years, during which we addressed a wide variety of interesting and challenging issues. Subsequently, Exponent asked me to serve as Vice President for Health Sciences, a post I served in for 10 years, then as Chief Science Officer. More recently, I am honored to accept the Exponent designation of Senior Fellow, a rare recognition by the Company. Presently, I continue my work in the field of health risk assessment. I know that the framework and process we created in the early years made it possible to identify gaps in knowledge and point to ways for improving the foundations for health risk assessment.
- What are the emerging policy issues in the area of human health risk assessment?
Without a doubt, the need to sensibly apply the science we know to separate the important from the unimportant issues. Often, I feel that we lose sight of the fact that health risk assessment has achieved endorsement worldwide as the premier way to address the complexity of issues involved in defining public health protection. Also, the outcomes of risk assessment now have challenging new applications, e.g., in toxic tort litigation or world trade decisions.
In the policy area, one important emerging issue is the use of health risk assessment to “prove safety.” Adopting ever-diminishing levels of possible protection to achieve this goal effectively creates a “zero tolerance” policy, the very policy that would have defeated U.S. EPA at its inception. I believe that little is gained by these controversial policies that create debate for years; under these approaches we can lose sight of what is important. For example, important EPA risk assessment documents may now take years to become final because of endless debates in areas of scientific uncertainty where societal impacts can be enormous but risk reduction uncertain and marginal. We accept risk in every other part of our society, so it is unrealistic to apply a zero-risk policy to our environmental decisions.
Secondly, I feel that it is most unfortunate that the sciences so essential to public health understanding are often caught in agendas that constrain even the most objective review and use of our public health documents. There is no question that science has become politicized. I contend that U.S. EPA would have been lost without access to all scientists of importance to our decisions, regardless of who had funded their work.
Finally, I see an increasing lack of understanding of the difference between science as applied to public health protection—to preempt and prevent disease—and the science of establishing causality. It is critical to use honest science, regardless of the setting, to avoid mistakes. Distortion of scientific foundations and fact to achieve economic or political gain is deplorable and should be rejected.
- What do you enjoy most about your work in the field of human health risk assessment?
The endless challenges. Risk assessment demands that we honestly express what is known and unknown. Exploring the unknowns and narrowing our knowledge gaps are endlessly rewarding endeavors.
- What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your work?
It is very difficult to find a single answer to this question. Exploring new science will always be at the top of the list. The greatest non-scientific challenge is the fact that not all are in engaged in finding the truth. Trying to explain the known scientific facts in situations involving exploitation of scientific unknowns or distortion, whether in the courtroom or as a part of political debate, is challenging. The climate created by the spirit of the ’60s was to seek the truth. We were all essentially on the same page; we shared common goals even as we debated the best methods of scientific approach. Today, goals often do not converge; science in the age of polarization is challenging.
- What or who helped you succeed as a leader in the area of human health risk assessment?
I have been surrounded by thought leaders and gifted people throughout my career. The environmental movement attracted so many to the new U.S. EPA. One who contributed so much to my understanding was Dr. Roy Albert, the Deputy Director of the School of Environmental Medicine at NYU. He was blessed with an extraordinary intellect and excellent sense of balance. He was the outside Chair of our Carcinogen Assessment Group in the early years, a role that would not be possible in the bureaucracy today. And I must continue to give credit to U.S. EPA Administrator Ruckelshaus.
- What advice would you give a young person today who is considering starting out in your field?
Follow your dreams. Work is never work if you feel passionate about what you are doing. Achieve the best education you can get and keep your options open. You may need to help create your own opportunity. Have confidence in your capabilities to achieve your goals and set high ones.
The term “climate change litigation” has become a shorthand for a wide range of different legal proceedings associated with addressing the environmental impacts of climate change. Plaintiffs in climate change lawsuits may include individuals, non-governmental organizations, private companies, state or local level governments, and even company shareholders who, through various legal theories, allege that they have been harmed or will suffer future harm as a direct result of the world’s changing climate. The targets of climate change litigation have included individual public and private companies, government bodies, and even entire industry groups. While there appears to be no shortage of plaintiffs, defendants, or legal theories emerging in climate change litigation, one clear trend is that the number of these lawsuits has grown dramatically in recent years. By one count, more than fifty climate change suits have been filed in the United States every year since 2009, with over one hundred suits being filed in both 2016 and 2017.
In light of the growing trend of climate change litigation, Jenner & Block’s Corporate Environmental Lawyer blog is starting a periodic blog update which will discuss the emerging trends and key cases in this litigation arena. In each update, our blog will focus on a sub-set of climate change cases and discuss recent decisions on the topic. In Part 1 of this series, we will be discussing Citizen-Initiated Litigation Against National Governments.
U.S. EPA continues to be on the hook for damages associated with the Gold King Mine located in San Juan County, Colorado. Several years ago, a contractor working on behalf of U.S. EPA to address environmental impacts associated with a closed gold mine, destroyed a plug holding water trapped inside of the mine, causing the release of approximately three million gallons of mine waste water into Cement Creek, which was a tributary of the Animas River. Although U.S. EPA took responsibility for the incident, it has refused to pay damages incurred as a result of he release, leading to lawsuits being filed by a variety of plaintiffs, including the states of Utah and New Mexico, the Navajo Nation, and affected individuals. Plaintiffs asserted a variety of claims, including claims under CERCLA, RCRA, CWA, and the Federal Tort Claims Act (FCTA). U.S. EPA filed a motion to dismiss, arguing among other things, that it was entitled to sovereign immunity for damages resulting from an ongoing cleanup effort.
On February 28, 2019, the federal district court in New Mexico rejected U.S. EPA’s claim that it was protected from CERCLA liability on sovereign immunity grounds, noting that at least three circuit courts have found that U.S. EPA can face liability under CERCLA where U. S. EPA’s actions in remediating a site are alleged to have caused releases of hazardous wastes. The court also found that plaintiffs’ allegations (which included Utah and New Mexico, as well as the Navajo Nation and individuals), if proven, would demonstrate U.S. EPA’s liability as an “arranger,” “operator,” and “transporter” of hazardous substances. Specifically, Plaintiffs stated claims for arranger liability because they "allege that EPA took intentional steps to dispose of a hazardous substance.” With respect to operator liability, the court noted that Plaintiffs “allege that EPA managed, directed, or conducted operations specifically related to the pollution, that is, operations having to do with the leakage or disposal of hazardous waste.” Finally, regarding transporter liability, Plaintiffs “allege that EPA took steps to drain the mine and treat the water at the site.”
With respect to the RCRA, CWA, and FCTA claims, the court concluded that there were disputed issues of fact that precluded the court from being able to grant dismissal of those claims. We will continue to provide updates on this proceeding.
The Trump Administration has released its Fall 2018 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions. This regulatory agenda “reports on the actions administrative agencies plan to issue in the near and long term [and] demonstrates this Administration’s ongoing commitment to fundamental regulatory reform and a reorientation toward reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens on the American people.”
According to the Trump Administration, the regulatory agenda reflects the following broad regulatory reform priorities:
- Advancing Regulatory Reform
- Public Notice of Regulatory Development
- Consistent Practice across the Federal Government
The EPA-specific regulatory agenda lists 148 regulatory actions in either the proposed rule stage or final rule stage, and provides information about the planned regulatory actions and the timing of those actions. Notable regulatory actions under consideration by EPA include:
- Revised Definition of “Waters of the United State”
- Notice of proposed rulemaking planned for October 2019; final rule planned for September 2019
- Definition of “Waters of the United States”–Recodification of Preexisting Rule
- Final rule planned for March 2019
- Clean Water Act Section 404(c) Regulatory Revision
- Notice of proposed rulemaking planned for June 2019
- National Primary Drinking Water Regulations for Lead and Copper: Regulatory Revisions
- Notice of proposed rulemaking planned for February 2019
- National Primary Drinking Water Regulations: Regulation of Perchlorate
- Notice of proposed rulemaking planned for October 2019; final rule planned for December 2019
- Emission Guidelines for Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Existing Electric Utility Generating Units; Revisions to Emission Guideline Implementing Regulations; Revisions to New Source Review Program (a/k/a The Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule to replace the Clean Power Plan)
- Final rule planned for March 2019
- TSCA Chemical Data Reporting Revisions and Small Manufacturer Definition Update for Reporting and Recordkeeping Requirements Under TSCA Section 8(a)
- Notice of proposed rulemaking planned for December 2018; final rule planned for October 2019
More information, and EPA's Statement of Priorities, can be found here.
Beginning on June 30, 2018, EPA will launch its new Hazardous Waste Electronic Manifest (e-Manifest) System. EPA’s e-Manifest system is many years in the making and follows the 2012 Hazardous Waste Electronic Manifest Establishment Act, and two final rules issued by EPA in 2014 and 2017.
Beginning on June 30th, the following changes take effect:
- Facilities that receive hazardous waste that requires manifesting must submit manifests to EPA.
- EPA will charge receiving facilities for all paper and e-manifests (lower fees for e-manifests; higher fees for paper manifests).
- Generators, transporters and disposers of hazardous waste may transmit waste manifest data electronically through EPA’s e-Manifest system.
The new requirement for receiving facilities to submit all manifests to EPA is a big change. To assist industry in this transition, EPA recently announced that it would grant extra time for receiving facilities to submit paper manifests during the initial months after system launch.
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
On September 26, 2017, EPA announced its new Smart Sectors program, a program aimed at easing the regulatory burden on industry. The official notice for this program was published in the Federal Register on September 26th (82 FR 44783), with a correction published on September 29th (82 FR 45586). EPA explained the purpose behind the Smart Sectors program in the notice:
EPA’s Smart Sectors program will re-examine how EPA engages with industry in order to reduce unnecessary regulatory burden, create certainty and predictability, and improve the ability of both EPA and industry to conduct long-term regulatory planning while also protecting the environment and public health.
EPA has initially identified 13 sectors of industry to work with under this program, based on each sector’s potential to improve the environment and public health:
Jenner & Block is pleased to report that Sam Hirsch, former Acting Assistant Attorney General and Principal Deputy at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), has returned to the Firm as a Partner in our Washington, DC office. Sam was formerly an attorney with Jenner & Block until 2009 when he moved to the U.S. Department of Justice, where he served as Deputy Associate Attorney General before taking on his most recent role. During his time at ENRD, Sam was primarily responsible for litigation and policy work relating to the prevention and cleanup of pollution, environmental challenges to federal programs, stewardship of public lands and natural resources, property acquisition, wildlife protection, and Indian rights and claims. As Acting Assistant Attorney General and Principal Deputy, he oversaw the drafting of more than 200 briefs, including more than 40 U.S. Supreme Court cert-stage, merits, and amicus briefs, as well as more than 150 appeal-recommendation memos to the Solicitor General. These briefs and memos dealt with cases in all 13 federal circuits and covered nearly the entire range of federal environmental and natural resources statutes, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, or Superfund), the Oil Pollution Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the Lacey Act.
Sam was involved in all phases of the Deepwater Horizon litigation, including helping structure the global settlement, which directed more than $8.1 billion toward restoring damaged natural resources in the Gulf of Mexico. He also drafted portions of the criminal plea agreements that created the National Academy of Sciences' $500 million Gulf Research Program, which funds and conducts studies and projects to enhance oil-system safety, human health, and environmental resources in the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. outer-continental-shelf regions that support oil and gas production.
Sam may be reached at (202) 637-6335 or email@example.com. Welcome back Sam!
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
As the cleanup, rebuilding, and recovery continues in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, there has been increasing news coverage about the environmental consequences resulting from impacts of this devastating storm in Texas. We have all seen the coverage on the Arkema SA chemical plant explosion and fire in Crosby, Texas, as well as this weekend’s news that 13 Superfund sites in the Houston area have been flooded and are experiencing possible damage. What we have not heard much about is action on the part of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to do its part to allow residents and their commercial and industrial businesses to recover.
Last week, TCEQ issued a Request for Suspension of TCEQ Rules that may prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with Hurricane Harvey. The rules suspended in order to manage Hurricane Harvey impacts address regulatory obligations related to air, water, storage tank, fuel and waste management. In addition, TCEQ has developed a Hurricane Response webpage and made clear the Agency's priority is the recovery efforts helping to restore water and wastewater services as well as to assess damage, manage debris, and bring other critical services back online.
Most substantive federal environmental laws and their implementing regulations also provide emergency exemptions that can be triggered following any natural or manmade disaster to ensure laws do not interfere with rescue and recovery efforts. Most emergency exemptions require a declaration or finding on the part of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or of another high-ranking government official. We will address EPA's Hurricane response actions in future blogs.
At a time when the residents of Texas need the best of their government, TCEQ is providing an excellent example of support, help, and a willingness to do what is right under the circumstances. Kudos to TCEQ!
The Trump Administration signaled its plans to renegotiate the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) by issuing the Summary of Objectives for the NAFTA Renegotiation this month. President Trump committed to renegotiate NAFTA in order to obtain more open, equitable, secure, and reciprocal market access with our two largest export markets in Canada and Mexico.
Environmental considerations currently are managed in a side agreement to NAFTA, but one of the Administration’s priorities is to incorporate environmental provisions into the new NAFTA. The Summary outlines 13 environmental issues to be addressed as part of the renegotiation process:
- Bring the environmental provisions into the core of the agreement, rather than in a side agreement.
- Establish strong and enforceable environmental obligations that are subject to the same dispute settlement mechanism that applies to other enforceable obligations of the agreement.
- Establish rules that will ensure that NAFTA countries do not waive or derogate from the protections afforded in their environmental laws for the purpose of encouraging trade or investment.
- Establish rules that will ensure that NAFTA countries do not fail to effectively enforce their environmental laws through a sustained or recurring course of action or inaction, in a manner affecting trade or investment between the parties.
- Require NAFTA countries to adopt and maintain measures implementing their obligations under select Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) to which the NAFTA countries are full parties, including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
- Establish a means for stakeholder participation, including commitments for public advisory committees, and a process for the public to raise concerns directly with its government if they believe it is not meeting its environmental commitments.
- Require NAFTA countries to ensure access to fair, equitable, and transparent administrative and judicial proceedings for enforcing their environmental laws, and provide appropriate sanctions or remedies for violations of their environmental laws.
- Provide for a framework for conducting, reviewing, and evaluating cooperative activities that support implementation of the environmental commitments, and for public participation in these activities.
- Establish or maintain a senior-level Environmental Committee, which will meet regularly to oversee implementation of environmental commitments, with opportunities for public participation in the process.
- Combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, including by implementing port state measures and supporting increased monitoring and surveillance.
- Establish rules to prohibit harmful fisheries subsidies, such as those that contribute to overfishing and IUU fishing, and pursue transparency in fisheries subsidies programs.
- Promote sustainable fisheries management and long-term conservation of marine species, including sharks, sea turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals.
- Protect and conserve flora and fauna and ecosystems, including through actions by countries to combat wildlife and timber tracking.
Critics note that the above environmental considerations look much like the provisions in the now defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership that many environmental advocates opposed.
The first round of talks on the possible renegotiation of NAFTA is scheduled to take place in Washington August 16-20. The Summary confirms that “…the new NAFTA will be modernized to reflect 21st century standards and will reflect a fairer deal, addressing America’s persistent trade imbalances in North America.” While part of the agenda, it does not appear that environmental considerations will be a critical portion of these upcoming negotiations.
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.
On Thursday, May 11th, from 12-1 pm, Jenner & Block will host a CLE presentation on Environmental Risk: Best Practices in Spotting, Evaluating, Quantifying and Reporting Risk. Business risk associated with environmental issues is an important topic that is often not fully understood by in-house counsel or outside attorneys and consultants. Effectively spotting, evaluating and managing environmental risk plays an important role in the success of a business and should be understood by all environmental attorneys and consultants advising businesses. This program will help you improve your ability to spot, evaluate, quantify and report on risk to provide value for your clients and their businesses.
Jenner & Block is pleased to be joined by members of the CBA Environmental Law Committee and the Air & Waste Management Association.
The presentation will be moderated by Christina Landgraf, Counsel, Environmental, Health & Safety, United Airlines, Inc. and Jenner Partner Allison Torrence. The panel of speakers will include Jenner Partner Lynn Grayson, Kristen Gale, Associate, Nijman Franzetti and Jim Powell, Director, Environmental Permitting, Mostardi Platt.
The CLE presentation will be held at Jenner & Block, 353 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL – 45th Floor, from 12-1 pm. Lunch will be provided starting at 11:45 am. If you are unable to attend in person, you can participate via webinar.
You can RSVP here.
Any questions can be directed to Pravesh Goyal: (312) 923-2643 or firstname.lastname@example.org
A recent case reminds us that not all communications between lawyers and environmental consultants are privileged despite best efforts to make them so. In Valley Forge Ins. V. Hartford Iron & Metal, Inc., the Northern District of Indiana ruled that the attorney-client privilege doesn’t protect a lawyer’s emails to environmental contractors when the communications concern remediation as opposed to litigation. This case provides a good overview of the protections afforded by the attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine in the environmental law context.
At issue are Hartford Iron’s communications with environmental contractors Keramida, Inc. and CH2M Hill, Inc. which were the subject of a motion to compel filed by Valley Forge. Following an in camera review of 185 emails, the court concluded that the evidence reflects that “….Hartford Iron retained Keramida and CH2M as environmental contractors for the primary purpose of providing environmental consulting advice and service to Hartford Iron in designing and constructing a new stormwater management system, not because Hartford Iron’s counsel needed them to “translate” information into a useable form so that counsel could render legal advice.”
The Court did find that certain of the emails were subject to the work-product doctrine as the communications were prepared for the purposes of litigation and that IDEM and EPA already had filed suit against Hartford Iron.
Despite the best efforts of lawyers, not all communications are privileged. The legal privileges are narrowly construed and generally do not protect communications with environmental consultants.
World Water Day, held on March 22 every year, is about taking action to tackle the water crisis. Today, there are over 663 million people living without a safe water supply close to home, spending countless hours queuing or trekking to distant sources, and coping with the health impacts of using contaminated water.
In recognition of World Water Day 2017, the Corporate Environmental Lawyer blog plans to run a weeklong series focused on the critical issues concerning water quality and quantity in the U.S. and globally. This year’s theme for World Water Day is wastewater.
Globally, the vast majority of all the wastewater from our homes, cities, industry and agriculture flows back to nature without being treated or reused—polluting the environment and losing valuable nutrients and other recoverable materials.
Instead of wasting wastewater, we need to reduce and reuse it. In our homes, we can reuse greywater on our gardens and plots. In our cities, we can treat and reuse wastewater for green spaces. In industry and agriculture, we can treat and recycle discharge for things like cooling systems and irrigation.
By exploiting this valuable resource, we will make the water cycle work better for every living thing. And we will help achieve the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goal 6 target to halve the proportion of untreated wastewater and increase water recycling and safe reuse.
Learn more about the importance of how we manage wastewater by viewing this fact sheet.
This week I published an article in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Trump election puts environment into less than green state. In this article, I discuss my thoughts on environmental issues during the transition from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration. I specifically address: 1) what authority President Trump has to implement environmental changes; 2) what environmental actions have been taken to date; 3) insights into future environmental changes we are likely to see; and 4) reaction from the environmental community.
If you would like to hear more about what’s happening on the environmental front in the Trump administration, please join us next Tuesday, March 7 at Noon for a program titled Environmental, Health & Safety Issues in 2017: What to Expect From the Trump Administration. My partners Gay Sigel, Steve Siros, and Allison Torrence will be providing the latest updates on what we know and what we can anticipate from the Trump administration in connection with environmental, health, and safety considerations.
If you would like to join us for this program or participate via webinar, please RSVP here.
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.
Last week, President Trump repealed the stream protection rule designed to halt water pollution caused by mountain top removal mining. Using the Congressional Review Act authority, he stopped implementation of a rule that would have restricted the placement of mining waste in streams and drinking water sources, as well as the amount of waste generated overall by mining operations.
Arguably, a law exists that prohibits mining-related discharges to waterways. The 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act says that mining companies should not cause "material damage to the environment to the extent that it is technologically and economically feasible." The new stream protection rule was needed since many believed the Act’s existing language was vague and did not provide sufficient protections. Moreover, critics charged that the agency responsible for enforcing this law, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), had not clarified the scope and interpretation of the law since publishing the “stream buffer zone rule” in 1983.
The repeal means that the OSMRE will return to reliance upon the 1983 version of the stream protection rule which prevents mining activities within 100’ of a stream. Environmental groups and others claim that the existing rule is not protective of streams from mining-related discharges.
What is particularly notable about President Trump’s repeal of this rule is the fact it is only the third time that the Congressional Review Act (CRA) has been used to claw back a former president’s regulation. The CRA basically says the House and Senate can kill any recently finalized regulation with simple majority votes in both chambers, so long as the president agrees. What is interpreted to mean recently finalized can be challenging , but Congress can basically vote to overturn any Obama-era regulation that was finished on or about June 2016. It appears that this timing impacts at least 50 new regulations.
Friday afternoon, Scott Pruitt was confirmed by the Senate to serve as the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 52 Senators voted for Mr. Pruitt’s confirmation, while 46 Senators voted against him. The vote was largely along party lines, with Democratic Senators Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia voting for Pruitt and Republican Susan Collins of Maine voting against him.
As we previously reported here, Mr. Pruitt has been the Attorney General of Oklahoma since his election to that post in 2011. As Oklahoma Attorney General, Mr. Pruitt has sued EPA numerous times to challenge EPA regulations, including current litigation over the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. Oklahoma is part of the coalition of 28 states challenging EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants – a key component of the Clean Power Plan – in the case of West Virginia v. EPA, Case No. 15-1363. This case is currently pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Jenner & Block partner Allison Torrence will be speaking at the Chicago Bar Association (CBA) Environmental Law Committee meeting on Tuesday, February 7, 2017. Allison, who is Chair of the CBA Environmental Law Committee, will be speaking about the new RCRA Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule. The presentation will provide an overview of current hazardous waste generator requirements and insights into significant changes made by the new rule.
DATE: Tuesday, February 7, 2017, 12:15 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.
LOCATION: CBA Headquarters, 321 South Plymouth Court, Chicago, Illinois
TOPIC: RCRA Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule
SPEAKER: Allison A. Torrence, Jenner & Block
The meeting will be webcast and Illinois MCLE credit will be provided for CBA members. For more information, please go to the CBA website.
As we begin the New Year, we wanted to take a moment to look back at some of the major EHS developments in 2016 and think about what we can expect in 2017.
2016 was a busy year for the Corporate Environmental Lawyer blog, which is now in its sixth year with over 760 posts. In 2016, we had nearly 100 blog posts from 10 different authors and over 6,700 visits to the site.
Our five most popular blogs from 2016 were:
EPA Lacks Authority to Regulate Plastic Microbeads in Water, by E. Lynn Grayson
Court Orders New EPA Spill Prevention Rules, by E. Lynn Grayson
Navigating Hawkes, the Newest Wetlands Ruling from the Supreme Court, by Matt Ampleman
ExxonMobil, 13 State Attorneys General Fight Back Against the Exxon Climate Probes, by Alexander J. Bandza
As always, we are monitoring a variety of issues that are important to you and your business, including, for example, RCRA regulatory changes, the future of climate change regulation, implementation of the TSCA Reform Act, and new developments in environmental litigation. You can find current information about these developments and more on the Corporate Environmental Lawyer blog. If you don’t find what you are looking for on our blog, we welcome your suggestions on topics that we should be covering. In addition, keep abreast of new developments in the EHS area through our Twitter @JennerBlockEHS.
We also look forward to the opportunity to share our thoughts and insights with respect to current EHS issues with you at an upcoming program:
- March 7, 2017, 12:00 pm CT: Environmental, Health, and Safety Issues in 2017—What to Expect From the Trump Administration, by Gabrielle Sigel, Steven M. Siros and Allison A. Torrence
The program will take place at Jenner & Block’s Chicago office and also will be available as a webinar. We will post a formal invitation to the program in a few weeks.
We also invite you to visit our newly redesigned Environmental and Workplace Health & Safety Law Practice website for more information about our practice. We look forward to another exciting year and to connecting with you soon.
Last Friday, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus issued a memorandum directing all agencies, including EPA, to freeze new or pending regulations. The freeze effects regulations at a variety of stages of finality. Under the Administration’s direction, the following actions are being taken by EPA and other agencies:
- Regulations that have been finalized but not yet been sent for publication in the Federal Register will not be sent until reviewed by someone selected by the President.
- Regulations that have been sent to the Federal Register but not published will be withdrawn.
- Regulations that have been published in the Federal Register but have not reached their effective date will be delayed for at least 60 days for review (until March 21, 2017).
Following through on this direction, EPA released a notice that will be published in the Federal Register on January 26, 2017, delaying implementation of all published rules that have yet to take effect until at least March 21, 2017. The delayed rules include EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP) facility safety rule, the 2017 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) targets, and the addition of vapor intrusion to Superfund NPL site scoring.