Posts in Waste.
Time 6 Minute Read

On February 1, 2024, EPA released two proposed rules under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) that will advance EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap. These two actions would subject certain PFAS—and potentially other emerging contaminants—to RCRA corrective action and may also be a precursor to EPA listing certain PFAS as hazardous waste under RCRA. Once published in the Federal Register, comments on the Definition Rule will be due in 30 days, and comments on the PFAS Hazardous Constituent Rule will be due in 60 days.

Time 5 Minute Read

On May 18, 2023, EPA proposed a rule that would expand the federal regulations governing the management of coal combustion residuals (“CCR”) to cover landfills and surface impoundments that were previously excluded from regulation under the CCR rule, first promulgated in 2015 under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (“RCRA”). 88 Fed. Reg. 31,982 (May 18, 2023). The CCR rule, codified at 40 C.F.R. Part 257, sets national minimum standards for the management of CCRs at existing and new landfills and surface impoundments, but it currently does not impose requirements on impoundments at inactive facilities (those that no longer generate electricity).

Time 3 Minute Read

On May 31, 2023, the Eleventh Circuit in South River Watershed Alliance, Inc. et al. v. DeKalb County, Georgia affirmed dismissal of an environmental group’s citizen suit challenging a Clean Water Act (CWA) consent decree between DeKalb County and government regulators on “diligent prosecution” grounds. The CWA precludes citizen suits if the government is “diligently prosecuting” an action to require compliance with the same standard, limitation, or order for which the citizen suit alleges a violation. The Eleventh Circuit’s opinion may provide guidance to defendants seeking to resolve government enforcement actions and obtain protection from future citizen suits.   

Time 3 Minute Read

A Tennessee federal district court recently awarded a defendant summary judgment on multiple Clean Water Act claims because they were time-barred under the “concurrent-remedies” doctrine.  Relying on case law from the Fifth Circuit holding that the concurrent-remedies doctrine is “alive, well, and strong” as applied to private plaintiffs, the court held that the plaintiff’s claims were barred in their entirety with respect to all legal and equitable relief based on the expiration of the limitations period applicable to claims for civil penalties. Starlink Logistics Inc. v. ACC, LLC, No. 1:18-CV-00029, 2023 WL 1456179 (M.D. Tenn. Jan. 31, 2023).

Time 7 Minute Read

On August 26, 2022, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a pre-publication copy of its much-anticipated proposed rule adding perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) to the list of “hazardous substances” under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund). EPA asserts that this regulatory escalation of PFOA and PFOS will facilitate faster cleanup of contaminated sites and reduce exposures to these “forever chemicals.” If finalized, these hazardous substances designations will have significant and immediate impacts on many industries, from creating new reporting obligations to increased compliance, enforcement, and litigation risks related to site cleanup. EPA’s efforts involving PFOA and PFOS fall within the broader, whole-of-agency approach to addressing PFAS first announced in its PFAS Strategic Roadmap and represent its first ever exercise of its authority under CERCLA section 102(a) to designate a hazardous substance.

Time 5 Minute Read

On July 20, 2022, in Naturaland Trust v. Dakota Finance, LLC, No. 21-1517, a split Fourth Circuit panel held that a state agency’s notice of violation did not “commence an action” within the meaning of 33 U.S.C. § 1319(g)(6)(A)(ii). That provision states that a Clean Water Act violation “shall not be the subject of” a citizen suit for civil penalties if a state “has commenced and is diligently prosecuting” an action with respect to the violation “under a State law comparable to” the Clean Water Act. The court also held that this provision is not jurisdictional.

Time 4 Minute Read

On May 18, 2022, in York et al. v. Northrop Grumman Corp. Guidance and Electronics Co. Inc. et al., No. 21-cv-03251 (W.D. Mo.), a federal district court dismissed state-law tort claims for alleged groundwater contamination, finding that they were preempted by an existing Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) consent decree. The court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that two CERCLA “savings clauses” allow their claims to proceed.

Time 4 Minute Read

Last week, in Residents of Gordon Plaza, Inc. v. Cantrell, the Fifth Circuit denied a petition for rehearing en banc of a recent decision affirming the dismissal of a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) citizen suit. The key issue in the underlying appeal, 25 F.4th 288 (5th Cir. 2022), was whether certain maintenance activities qualify as a “removal” action under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The court affirmed that the maintenance activities do indeed constitute a “removal action.” Therefore, the suit was barred under 42 U.S.C. § 6972(b)(2)(B)(iv), which precludes RCRA citizen suits where a “responsible party is diligently conducting a removal action” pursuant to a CERCLA consent decree with EPA.

Time 10 Minute Read

Two recent actions by the Biden Administration will identify areas of focus for environmental justice (EJ) and therefore influence environmental enforcement priorities, federal permitting and licensing, and federal spending, among other actions. On February 18, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released the beta (or draft) version of its Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST), a key component of President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative and mandated by the same Executive Order 14008. As we described last year, the Justice40 Initiative set the goal of “delivering 40 percent of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments” to disadvantaged communities. The CEJST serves a specific purpose: to help agencies identify disadvantaged communities in order to direct federal benefits and help agencies measure whether 40 percent of benefits are being received by those communities.

Time 9 Minute Read

EPA hopes to issue its final National Recycling Strategy (NRS) this November, according to recent statements by acting director of EPA’s Resource Conservation and Sustainability Division, Office of Land and Emergency Management Nena Shaw at the American Bar Association’s Fall Conference. Previously, EPA indicated it intended to finalize the NRS in the spring of 2021 with an implementation roadmap out in the fall of 2021. To date, the agency has yet to release its final NRS.

Time 4 Minute Read

Recent federal court decisions continue to show that Article III standing can be a formidable defense to environmental citizen suits, particularly following the Supreme Court’s decision Spokeo v. Robins, 578 U.S. 330 (2016) (vacating decision below and emphasizing that an alleged injury in fact must be “concrete and particularized”).  Just last week, for example, a North Carolina federal court dismissed on standing grounds almost all of the plaintiffs’ Clean Air Act citizen suit claims asserted against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC).  Center for Biological Diversity v. University of North Carolina, No. 1:19-CV-1179, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 163459 (M.D.N.C. Aug. 30, 2021).  In their complaint, the plaintiffs asserted nine claims, including seven for alleged failures to maintain records, inspect equipment, report permit deviations to government authorities, and monitor pollution controls, as required by UNC’s Title V permit.  On summary judgment, the plaintiff citizen groups offered declarations from two members who alleged “health, aesthetic, and recreational interests in air quality in Chapel Hill and the areas around UNC’s campus.”

Time 5 Minute Read

In April 2020, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund et al., 140 S. Ct. 1462 (2000), vacating the Ninth Circuit’s decision.  The appeals court had affirmed a district court’s finding of Clean Water Act (“CWA”) liability for the County’s alleged failure to obtain a discharge permit for subsurface releases of pollutants that reach navigable waters by way of groundwater.  In vacating the judgment below, the Supreme Court rejected the Ninth Circuit’s conclusion that a discharge permit is required where pollutants reaching navigable waters are “fairly traceable” to a point source.  It set forth a new standard for determining when a source needs an NPDES permit:  “the statute requires a permit when there is a direct discharge from a point source into navigable waters or when there is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge.”  Id. at 1468 (emphasis added).

Time 3 Minute Read

Barack Obama was seven months into his first term as President of the United States, the World Health Organization had declared a H1N1 flu pandemic, and the California State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) adopted the current Construction General Permit for Stormwater Discharges (Permit or CGP).  It was September 2009.  Now, having administratively extended the Permit since 2014 when, by its terms, the Permit expired, the State Board may, under a schedule released late last year, soon release a new draft CGP for public comment, with a goal of adopting it late this summer.

Time 4 Minute Read

In April 2020, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund et al., 140 S. Ct. 1462 (2000), vacating the Ninth Circuit’s decision.  The appeals court had affirmed a district court’s finding of Clean Water Act (“CWA”) liability for the County’s alleged failure to obtain a discharge permit for subsurface releases of pollutants into groundwater that conveys pollutants to navigable waters.  In vacating the judgment below, the Supreme Court rejected the Ninth Circuit’s “fairly traceable” test and set forth a new standard for determining when a source needs an NPDES permit:  “the statute requires a permit when there is a direct discharge from a point source into navigable waters or when there is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge.”  Id. at 1468 (emphasis added).  In other words, “an addition falls within the statutory requirement that it be ‘from any point source’ when a point source directly deposits pollutants into navigable waters, or when the discharge reaches the same result through roughly similar means.”  Id. at 1476 (emphasis added).

Time 5 Minute Read

On November 24, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Prepublication Notice finalizing its proposed decisions to not impose Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) Section 108(b) financial assurance requirements on three industries (Industries):

  • Electric Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution;
  • Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing, and
  • Chemical Manufacturing.

EPA’s final rules neither remove any existing requirements nor impose additional, new requirements.  The final rulemakings will not affect EPA’s authority to take CERCLA response or enforcement action with respect to any particular facility or industry, nor will they affect EPA’s authority under other environmental statutes that may be applicable to the facility.  The final rules also will not affect EPA’s existing practice of imposing financial assurance requirements in CERCLA settlements and orders, which already provide protection against bankruptcies and other financial calamities that may impact performing parties at Superfund sites. [1]

Time 5 Minute Read

On October 19, 2020, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“NYSDEC”) will begin enforcing the state’s ban on single-use carryout plastic bags. Enforcement was delayed from earlier this year due to a legal challenge, which has since been resolved. Those persons found to be in violation of the ban face a range of consequences from a simple warning for a first offense and civil penalties thereafter. Grocery stores, retailers, and other establishments in New York that may be the target of enforcement will want to carefully review the provisions of this ban and their obligations going forward.

Time 6 Minute Read

In March of this year, we provided an update regarding how lower courts were applying the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Kisor v. Wilkie, 139 S. Ct. 2400 (2019), which addressed the question of whether the Court should overrule the Auer doctrine, named after the 1997 Supreme Court case Auer v. Robbins.  The Auer doctrine rests on the premise that agencies are in a better position than courts to interpret their own regulations.  Under the doctrine, courts generally defer to an agency’s reasonable readings of its own “genuinely ambiguous” regulations.  In a 5-4 decision, the Court declined to abandon the Auer doctrine on grounds of stare decisis but seemed to outline restrictions on the scope and applicability of the doctrine, including the rule that deference to an agency’s interpretation of an ambiguous regulation is not appropriate if the interpretation does not reflect the “fair and considered judgment” of the agency.  This means that deference may not be appropriate if the interpretation creates “unfair surprise,” such as when the agency’s interpretation conflicts with a prior interpretation or upends a party’s reliance on established practices.  Kisor, 139 S. Ct. at 2417-18.

Time 8 Minute Read

Flaring has the attention of RRC, Producers and Stakeholders

Flaring has the attention of the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC), oil and natural gas companies and stakeholders such as royalty owners, investors and environmental groups. Requests for RRC authorization of flaring has been on the increase in the Permian Basin. As a result, a number of interested parties are looking at regulatory changes. Some interested parties voice concern that a valuable resource is being wasted, others state that the definition of natural gas 'waste' is too limited, still others are concerned about methane emissions and some all of the above. Though the interested parties may not always be aligned, there is a general sense that regulatory amendments are needed.

Time 1 Minute Read

The Treasury Department and IRS have issued long-awaited Proposed Regulations regarding the tax credit for carbon capture and sequestration under Section 45Q of the Code1 (the “section 45Q credit”).

Generally, the amount of the section 45Q credit and the party that is eligible to claim the credit depend on whether the taxpayer captures qualified carbon oxide using carbon capture equipment originally placed in service at a qualified facility before February 9, 2018 (“Old 45Q Facility”), or on or after February 9, 2018 (“New 45Q Facility”), and whether the taxpayer disposes of the qualified carbon oxide in geological storage (“sequestration”), uses it as a tertiary injectant in a qualified enhanced oil or natural gas recovery project (“EOR”), or utilizes the carbon oxide in certain specified ways (“utilization”). The effective date of the amendments to the Code extending and expanding the section 45Q credit is February 9, 2018 (the “Credit Effective Date”). The Credit Effective Date appears throughout the Proposed Regulations to distinguish between Old 45Q Facilities and New 45Q Facilities and establishing the effective date for certain provisions.

Time 7 Minute Read

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in Atlantic Richfield Company v. Christian that private landowners at a Superfund site near Butte, Montana, can pursue state law claims in state court seeking “restoration damages” for cleanup actions that go beyond the EPA-selected remedial action. The Court also held, however, that these landowners are potentially responsible parties (PRPs) under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) and, as a consequence, must obtain EPA approval of the restoration plans before they can be implemented. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the Court’s opinion, in which five other justices joined.  Justice Alito wrote a dissenting opinion declining to sign on to the majority’s conclusion “that state courts have jurisdiction [under state law] to entertain ‘challenges’ to EPA-approved CERCLA plans,” taking the position that it was unnecessary for the Court to address this question.  In a separate dissent, Justice Gorsuch, joined by Justice Thomas, disagreed with the conclusion that the landowners were “PRPs” who needed EPA’s approval to conduct more robust cleanup at their properties than otherwise required by EPA.

Time 4 Minute Read

Commentary regarding the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) memorandum articulating a temporary policy applying enforcement discretion in light of the COVID-19 pandemic has been significant this week. Proponents and critics alike have misinterpreted the scope of the policy as reaching far beyond what OECA’s memorandum actually stated. As we stated in Deciphering EPA’s Temporary Enforcement Discretion Policy for COVID-19 and as the EPA has now confirmed, the “temporary policy” of exercising enforcement discretion for noncompliance “resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic” is not a free pass to pollute, despite opponent’s musings to the contrary.

Time 10 Minute Read

Regulated industry has been expressing significant concern about disruption as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and seeking assurance from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the extraordinary circumstances across the United States would be taken into account in the event of any unanticipated noncompliance. Yesterday, March 26, 2020, EPA’s (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) Assistant Administrator Susan Parker Bodine responded to these concerns with the issuance of a memorandum addressing the impact of the current global COVID-19 pandemic on EPA’s enforcement program. In it, OECA commits EPA to a “temporary policy” of exercising enforcement discretion for noncompliance “resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” provided that regulated entities follow the steps required in the policy.

Time 7 Minute Read

As the country responds and adapts to unprecedented change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies are, understandably, attempting to sort out what these shifts mean for operations now and in the near future. One operational aspect that companies must address is management of environmental compliance programs and responsibilities. Although it can be challenging to maintain compliance with environmental requirements during periods of uncertain or disrupted operations, doing so remains necessary as environmental regulatory requirements remain in force, despite disruptions to government functions. The current operational and regulatory climate is fluid and changing daily (at least), making it incumbent upon companies to remain vigilant in monitoring for updates and understanding the status of rules and requirements at any given moment. The keys to successfully navigating compliance challenges during the pandemic are preparedness, situational awareness, and early and frequent communication with regulatory agencies as appropriate, with the assistance of counsel as needed.

Time 10 Minute Read

All three branches of the federal government are currently considering the question of whether the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) prohibits the take of protected birds that is incidental to some otherwise lawful activity. The latest development is a proposal by US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS or Service) to issue a regulation expressly defining the scope of the MBTA to exclude take “that results from, but is not the purpose of, an action (i.e., incidental taking or killing).” 85 Fed. Reg. 5915 (Feb. 3, 2020). This proposal is the latest effort by the USFWS to bring clarity and certainty to a question that has been the subject of dispute for years and is currently both the subject of pending lawsuits and proposed legislation before Congress. If adopted, the rule should bolster the current administration’s effort to defend its interpretation of the statute, but the question is likely to be litigated further, assuming Congress does not intervene (seemingly unlikely for now).

Time 4 Minute Read

In June 2019, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Kisor v. Wilkie, 139 S. Ct. 2400 (2019), which addressed the question of whether the Court should overrule the Auer doctrine, named after the 1997 Supreme Court case Auer v. Robbins. The Auer doctrine rests on the premise that agencies are in a better position than courts to interpret their own regulations. Under the doctrine, courts generally defer to an agency’s reasonable readings of its own “genuinely ambiguous” regulations. In a 5-4 decision, the Court declined to abandon the Auer doctrine on grounds of stare decisis but outlined important restrictions on the scope and applicability of the doctrine. See, e.g., Devon Energy Prod. Co., L.P. v. Gould, No. 16-CV-00161-ABJ, 2019 WL 6257793 (D. Wyo. Sept. 11, 2019) (“The Court [in Kisor] chose to restrict the Auer doctrine rather than abolish it.”); Johnson v. Starbucks Corp., No. 2:18-cv-02956, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 145900, *8 (E.D. Cal. Aug. 26, 2019) (“Kisor did not overrule Auer,” but “limited the deference afforded to an agency’s interpretation”).

Time 3 Minute Read

On December 20, 2019, the Supreme Court of The Netherlands ruled in a climate case brought against the state by Urgenda, a non-governmental organization for “a fast transition towards a sustainable society.” The Court of Appeal and the Court of The Hague had previously ruled on Urgenda's claims. In both instances, the courts granted Urgenda's claim that the Dutch state should reduce emissions of CO2 from its territory by at least 25% by the end of 2020. The Supreme Court rejected the state’s appeal and confirmed the ruling.

Time 5 Minute Read

On January 22, 2020, the Texas Senate Committees on Natural Resources and Economic Development and Water and Rural Affairs (Senate Committees) held a joint hearing to consider Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s 2019 interim legislative charge related to one of the most pressing matters facing the state—future water supply issues. This interim charge requires that these legislative committees make recommendations to promote the state’s water supply, including the development of new sources. The recommendations made will be the subject of consideration when the Texas Legislature reconvenes in 2021 and will inform future legislative initiatives. While a broad range of water supply topics was discussed during the hearing, notably, the subject of produced water, including opportunities for reuse within and outside the oil field, continues to be a focal point under review by state policymakers.

Time 6 Minute Read

Grocery shopping, you stand in the dairy section. The milk in front is dated three days out, but you see the milk toward the back is dated ten days out. You push aside the “three-day” milk and grab a half-gallon of the organic, one-percent “ten-day” milk. You may have just contributed to “food waste.” If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, behind only China and the United States.

While food waste has been an issue for some time (the statistic above has been circulating since at least 2011), the last 18 months have seen the United States government taking a more active role in the subject. In October 2018, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), (collectively, the Agencies) signed a formal agreement increasing their collaboration and coordination regarding the reduction of food waste as part of a newly announced Winning on Reducing Food Waste initiative (Federal Agreement).

Time 7 Minute Read

How can sitting still in the Northeast potentially land you in a world of trouble under the Federal Clean Air Act (CAA) and corresponding state laws? Quite easily, if you happen to be in or leave a vehicle with its engine on and the vehicle itself is not in motion for more than a few minutes. That is the definition of “unnecessary vehicle idling” in many jurisdictions.

Across the Northeast and elsewhere, unnecessary vehicle idling is, subject to certain nuances and exceptions, generally prohibited. Recently, violators have come under attack by non-governmental organizations. State penalties vary, but the potential exposure can be severe, especially when the statutory maximum available penalties are calculated pursuant to the Federal CAA and compounded on a per-violation/per-day basis. Accordingly, owners and operators of all forms of trucking and transit companies should not sit still and should take proactive measures to educate or reeducate vehicle schedulers and operators alike on these anti-idling requirements.

Time 2 Minute Read

Over the last decade, phase one of the Clean Air Act’s regional haze program cost companies (primarily electric generating companies) hundreds of millions of dollars in compliance costs and caused the early closure of a number of facilities. The program is just now entering the initial stages of its second planning period, with major implementation activities expected over the next few years. Unsuspecting companies are finding themselves the targets of the program’s requirements for the first time. In states that have taken early action—Arizona, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon and Washington—there has been a shift in attention from older power plants to oil and gas operations and manufacturing facilities in the pulp and paper, cement, and minerals sectors, among others. Even companies that have been through this regulatory process before are facing difficult new questions due to major rule changes enacted in 2017, changes to guidance and key technical documents, and a new focus on statutory provisions addressing “reasonable progress” that were not often used in the past. Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP partner Aaron Flynn has assisted numerous clients in dealing with regional haze issues. In this video, partner Allison Wood interviews Aaron regarding the recent developments in the regional haze program and regarding how companies can best position themselves as states and EPA decide on the next round of emission control requirements.

Time 10 Minute Read

Since the first Gulf of Mexico rig was installed in 1947, over 12,000 offshore oil and gas platforms have been installed globally. A 2016 study forecasts 600 will require decommissioning by 2021 and 2,000 more by 2040 at a cost of US$210 billion. Many newer platforms are sited in deeper waters, facing higher decommissioning costs and complexity.

The 1958 UN Convention on the Continental Shelf and 1972 London Convention broadly prohibited ocean “dumping.” Subsequent frameworks recognize exceptions permitting in situ offshore structure decommissioning consistent with internationally recognized standards. The 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), for example, requires member states adopt rules no less stringent than the London Protocol, amending the original Convention to allow deliberate placement of subsea structures in defined circumstances. Thus, in situ offshore platform decommissioning has been recognized as conforming with governing treaties and legal frameworks.

Time 7 Minute Read

An independent panel of academics, engineers and other experts, in November 2019, released a draft set of international standards for tailings storage facilities (TSF). During mining operations, ore is reduced into sand-sized particles and mixed with water before the valuable minerals are removed and the remaining milled rock slurry—called tailings—flows to the TSF, an engineered impoundment. It is estimated there are over 3,500 TSFs globally.

The driver for these draft international standards is two recent catastrophic failures of TSFs in Brazil. In January, a TSF owned and operated by Vale in the state of Minas Gerais, near Brumadinho, collapsed, sending a tidal wave of mid and other debris downstream that killed over 250 people. Another TSF owned and operated by Samarco failed in Minas Gerais at Mariana in November 2015, killing 19 people and spreading pollutants over 400 miles of surface waters, eventually reaching the Atlantic Ocean.

Time 6 Minute Read

Last month, the Supreme Court held oral argument in a case that addressed cleanup obligations for potentially responsible parties (PRPs) at Superfund sites. In Atlantic Richfield Company v. Christian, a company tasked with remediating one of the nation’s largest Superfund sites is urging the Supreme Court to overturn a Montana Supreme Court decision that permitted residents to sue the company for additional restoration damages, despite its ongoing cleanup efforts under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).

Time 2 Minute Read

On November 4, 2019, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the Clean Water Act (CWA) section 404 permit issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) for the extension of an existing phosphate mine in central Florida. Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, No. 18-10541 (11th Cir. Nov. 4, 2019). The Corps permit authorizes the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States that comprise a small portion of the mining extension. Opponents challenged the permit in the Middle District of Florida, claiming the issuance of the permit violated the CWA, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by not considering “downstream” effects, and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The district court rejected all of the claims, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

Time 4 Minute Read

In August 2018, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced it was rebranding its National Enforcement Initiatives as National Compliance Initiatives, and specifically stated it was no longer targeting oil and gas sources as deserving of extra scrutiny. In addition, since taking office in January 2017, the Trump administration has aggressively rolled back many environmental regulations promulgated under the Obama administration. Despite what some may perceive as a kinder, gentler EPA and the Trump administration’s “deregulatory” agenda, however, the EPA has continued to pursue enforcement cases against many of the same businesses believed to benefit the most from the administration’s policies. Notably, this includes midstream oil and gas sources, as recently evidenced by EPA’s September 2019 Enforcement Alert (EA) titled, “EPA Observed Air Emissions from Natural Gas Gathering Operations in Violation of the Clean Air Act.”

Time 5 Minute Read

Going green has gone mainstream. Perhaps nowhere is this more pronounced than in the automotive industry. J.P. Morgan estimates that, by 2030, electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids will make up 59 percent of the global market share, up from about 1 percent in 2015. What may be the most important feature of the EV revolution is its power source: lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. They are not new; they have been powering cell phones and computers for years. What is new is their large-scale use to power automobiles (and, some day, trucks and buses) and significantly reduce emissions. As our colleagues Samuel L. Brown and Lauren A. Bachtel note in an article to be published in the ABA’s Natural Resource & Environment magazine, components of Li-ion batteries include metals (e.g., lithium, cobalt, nickel) that are costly to extract and process. As demand for them increases, pressure to re-use or recycle batteries will increase.

Time 5 Minute Read

On June 26, 2019, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Kisor v. Wilkie, 139 S. Ct. 2400 (2019), which presented the question of whether the Court should overrule the Auer doctrine, named after the 1997 Supreme Court case Auer v. Robbins. The Auer doctrine rests on the premise that agencies have more expertise on their own regulations and are therefore in a better position than courts to interpret them. Under the doctrine, courts generally defer to an agency’s reasonable readings of its own “genuinely ambiguous” regulations. In a 5-4 decision, the Court declined to abandon the Auer doctrine on grounds of stare decisis but outlined important limitations on the scope and applicability of that doctrine.

Time 1 Minute Read

The EU's Approach to Product Stewardship

While the European Union (EU) does not have any legal principle specific to product stewardship, it has applied the full range of EU environmental law principles to create a comprehensive framework for product stewardship. These principles include the prevention and precautionary principles, sustainability, extended producer responsibility, supply chain responsibility, and corporate social responsibility. In addition, product stewardship is a key instrument in the EU's latest strategic environmental focus areas: the circular economy and the toxic-free environment, two main themes of current EU environmental policy making.

Time 4 Minute Read

On May 15, 2019, EPA released its draft Study of Oil and Gas Extraction Wastewater Management under the Clean Water Act (Draft Study). The Draft Study addresses the results of an extensive review initiated last year to evaluate the management of oil and gas wastewaters generated at onshore facilities and to assess the need for additional discharge options for onshore oil and gas wastewater under the Clean Water Act (CWA).[1] Although EPA has not yet adopted any recommendations for regulatory action, it is evident that EPA is continuing to take a hard look at the merits of authorizing broader discharges of produced water to surface waters than those currently allowed for onshore discharges under the CWA effluent guidelines (and generally referred to as the zero discharge standard).[2] See 40 CFR Part 435, Subpart C. EPA is now requesting additional public comment on the Draft Study by July 1 of this year with the goal of finalizing it and determining next steps this summer.

Time 5 Minute Read

State environmental regulators are beginning to develop plans designed to meet more stringent air quality standards under the Clean Air Act (CAA), including standards to protect against unhealthful levels of ground-level ozone. In doing so, many states are looking more closely at a factor that contributes to their air quality problems but that they lack any authority to address: the phenomenon of air pollution carried by prevailing winds into their jurisdictions from emission sources located not only outside their own state borders but outside the US itself. The issue of international contributions to air quality concerns has gained currency in part due to the many challenges states face in meeting the stringent nationwide air quality standards for ground-level ozone that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted in 2015.

Time 3 Minute Read

EPA has shown a little love for states wanting action on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). On February 14, 2019, EPA announced its PFAS Action Plan, calling it “the most comprehensive, cross- agency action plan for a chemical of concern ever undertaken by the Agency.” The Action Plan consists of 23 priority action items with the majority identified as short-term or generally taking place or expected to be completed in the next two years.

Time 1 Minute Read

2018 was a banner year for M&A activity in the energy space, with numerous high dollar value transactions in the upstream, midstream, downstream and oil field services (OFS) segments. As investors in the public securities markets have shown a significantly decreased appetite for new issuances of equity by energy companies, the preferred exit or growth strategy for 2018 has been through strategic mergers, acquisitions or divestitures. These transactions have manifested themselves in various forms: asset acquisitions and divestitures, private equity investment into “drillcos” with strategic oil and gas companies, public-public mergers between OFS companies and upstream shale drillers, and simplification transactions by master limited partnerships (MLPs) in the midstream space. In addition to all this M&A activity, one element has become significantly more prevalent in the oil and gas industry throughout 2018 and shows no signs of letting down for 2019: water.

Time 6 Minute Read

With the Texas Legislature having now convened for the 2019 session, various key environmental issues are anticipated to be the subject of debate and legislative action. Based on bills filed to date, interim charges and recommendations made by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), environmental initiatives to be considered are expected to address, among others, the following subjects:

Time 1 Minute Read

The US National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) are the centerpiece of the US Clean Air Act (CAA) and establish allowable concentration levels for six "criteria air pollutants": ozone, particulate matter, lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. The CAA requires the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review and, as appropriate, revise the NAAQS at least every five years, and EPA has, since 1970, regularly adopted increasingly stringent standards. Whether those revisions have gone far enough or too far has become a predictably contentious issue, with each review involving debates over science, the role of EPA's Clean Air Science Advisory Committee (CASAC), the discretion of the EPA Administrator, and the format of the review process itself, among many other issues.

Time 8 Minute Read

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly referred to as the Superfund law, directed the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create a list of the country’s most hazardous waste sites. Sites are proposed to be placed on this “National Priorities List” (or NPL as it is known to environmental law professionals) if they exceed a certain risk score, or Hazard Ranking, and added to the List if the ranking is confirmed after a formal notice-and-comment process. A detailed set of regulations called the National Contingency Plan (NCP) governs how sites placed on the NPL will be investigated, alternative remedies evaluated, and a final remedy selected and then implemented. The NPL, the NCP, and various EPA guidance memoranda have established what practitioners acknowledge is an imperfect but generally workable process in which EPA and states work with potentially liable parties to manage cleanups at NPL sites.

Time 3 Minute Read

Nobody wants to live near a designated “Superfund” site. Aside from potential exposure to hazardous chemicals, the stigma associated with proximity to a Superfund site leads to loss of property value. In addition, the Superfund process is notorious for its record of protracted and expensive cleanups. In view of these well-founded concerns, a number of states have adopted voluntary cleanup programs (VCPs) as alternatives to the federal Superfund program. A well-structured and well-run VCP can keep a contaminated property out of the Superfund program while at the same time providing a mechanism for investigation and cleanup. VCPs often work particularly well to facilitate the cleanup and re-use of “Brownfields,” former industrial or commercial sites where future use is affected by real or perceived environmental contamination.

Time 4 Minute Read

With produced water volumes on the rise as a result of the growth in oil and natural gas production and various areas of the country experiencing water scarcity, states and stakeholders are increasingly looking for ways to reuse, recycle and beneficially use waters originating from the oil and gas industry. Two recent initiatives are likely to significantly advance policy decisions related to produced water management.

Time 5 Minute Read

As a former regulator (both as an inspector and an attorney, ensuring compliance and enforcing violations) in the environmental law enforcement space, I read EPA Assistant Administrator Susan Parker Bodine’s recent memorandum entitled Transition from National Enforcement Initiatives to National Compliance Initiatives with great interest. Having numerous facility inspections and enforcement settlements under my belt, I have seen firsthand the interplay between compliance and enforcement. To be sure, the threat of enforcement and the deterrence factor associated with resolving an enforcement action are powerful tools. But, if the end goal is compliance with environmental laws, does the road leading there have to be so scary for the regulated community? Whereas many regulated parties commonly see EPA and other environmental agencies as enforcement machines, this proposed transition to a more compliance-oriented approach may be not only a welcome change, but also an appropriate one that will actually improve compliance. After all, Ms. Bodine’s office is entitled the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA). Isn’t it a good idea to have an equal focus on helping with compliance and on enforcement? And isn’t the point to maximize compliance? Shouldn’t OECA be striving for a world in which its “enforcement” arm goes out of business because it has “assured compliance?” That may be too much for the regulated community to hope for, but the notion of “compliance” initiatives over “enforcement” initiatives is not a bad way to start.

Time 12 Minute Read

Judicial review of state agency regulatory orders in California has long been seen as an exercise in futility as state courts typically give significant deference to agency determinations. However, two recent decisions by California Superior Courts have bucked that trend and may provide renewed hope that success at the trial court level is not out of reach.

Time 7 Minute Read

On February 7, 2018, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt signed a proposed rule to establish user fees to defray EPA’s costs of administering its responsibilities under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), as amended by the 2016 Frank Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (Lautenberg Act). EPA estimates in the proposed rule that it will collect about $20.05 million per year in user fees, not counting any user fees associated with manufacturer-requested risk evaluations, which would range from $1.3 million to $2.6 million per evaluation.

Time 4 Minute Read

As part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, Congress significantly increased and extended the Section 45Q tax credit for sequestration of carbon oxides. This has been a top priority of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) supporters for several years.

CCS is considered to be essential to global efforts to reduce CO2 emissions. The world’s most respected analysis organizations all estimate that fossil fuel use will increase in the coming decades, even with energy efficiency improvements and vast increases in renewable energy. 

Time 3 Minute Read

Last October, the European Commission published its Work Programme for 2018. In the environmental area, a prominent topic is the EU initiative with respect to a ‘circular economy.’ This concept involves a transition to a “stronger and more circular economy where resources are used in a more sustainable way.”

The idea is to  "close the loop" of product lifecycles through greater recycling and re-use, so as to realize benefits for both the environment and the economy. Simultaneously, the EU’s circular economy strategy should “extract the maximum value and use from all raw materials, products and waste,” “foster energy savings,” and reduce “Green House Gas emissions.” Accordingly, the Commission’s proposals cover the full lifecycle of products: from production and consumption to waste management and the market for secondary raw materials.

Time 6 Minute Read

WOTUS, an acronym that has received a lot of attention in recent years, stands for the “waters of the United States.” When Congress enacted the Clean Water Act (“CWA” or the “Act”) in 1972, it prohibited “the discharge of any pollutant by any person” into navigable waters without a permit. The Act defines navigable waters as the “waters of the United States, including the territorial seas.” 33 U.S.C. §§ 1311(a), 1362(7), (12). But Congress failed to, in turn, define the words “waters of the United States,” and the Supreme Court has noted that these “words themselves are hopelessly indeterminate.” Sackett v. EPA, 132 S. Ct. 1367, 1375 (2012) (J. Alito, concurring). The meaning of these words matters because violations of the CWA are subject to substantial criminal and civil penalties, so knowing whether a feature on your site is a WOTUS subject to federal jurisdiction has important consequences.

Time 3 Minute Read

A New Jersey court recently held that an electrical products manufacturer was entitled to coverage rights provided by a predecessor’s commercial general liability policies if it was found liable for environmental remediation costs as a result of cleanup efforts by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) along a 17-mile portion of the Passaic River in New Jersey.

Time 8 Minute Read

New chemicals of concern, new scientific and technical developments, newly discovered wastes, or natural disasters can add up to new CERCLA liabilities. When the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) was passed in 1980, it did not address the finality of judgments and settlements for the cleanup of contaminated sites. Some early settlements with EPA provided a complete release from all future CERCLA liability, but that later changed when the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) began to limit the scope of covenants not to sue to specified “matters covered” by the settlement. The 1986 CERCLA amendments in section 122(f)(6), 42 U.S.C. § 9622(f)(6)(1) permanently made the change to require “reopeners” in all but a few limited circumstances.

Time 7 Minute Read

With its proposed revisions to California’s hazardous waste management regulations, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) continues to make California’s hazardous waste management program more onerous and complex than the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). DTSC proposes substantial changes to hazardous waste personnel training requirements, financial assurance obligations, and hazardous waste permitting decisions.[1] Almost every facility that manages hazardous waste in California will be impacted if DTSC’s proposal is finalized. Public comment on DTSC’s proposed revisions remains open through November 6, 2017.    

Time 6 Minute Read

The stakes are high for anyone facing environmental liability in the wake of superstorms like Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, Irma, and Maria. If you are among the parties potentially liable for the costs to clean up a release of oil or hazardous substances caused by a major storm event, you may be thinking about a possible “act of God” defense.  You may want to think again. In practice, the availability of this defense has proved elusive.  It is still a good idea, however,  to minimize risk in planning for the next “big one.”  Ultimately, advance actions taken to avoid or mitigate the impacts of natural disasters may be the difference between being excused from or being saddled with cleanup liability.

Time 10 Minute Read

Environmental groups are raising the stakes for power companies facing allegations of coal-ash liability. Power plants that burn coal to produce electricity also create byproducts in the process, known as “coal combustion residuals,” or CCRs. CCRs go by several names, but are commonly known as “coal ash.”

Historically, power companies have stored CCRs in settling ponds, also known as “coal-ash basins.” Coal-ash storage and disposal can lead to allegations of groundwater contamination and environmental contamination claims. Environmental groups have sought to require companies to pay for remediation of disposal sites and alleged groundwater contamination; address alleged natural resource damages; and conduct extensive monitoring and sampling of onsite and offsite sediments, groundwater, fish, and other wildlife.

Time 21 Minute Read

Over the last decade, regulators have accelerated their focus on vapor intrusion risk at hazardous cleanup sites. This has led to new cleanup standards, policies and guidance to evaluate potential risks, environmental investigation requirements for brownfield redevelopments, and the reopening of previously closed remedial actions. Recently, attention has turned from chronic to acute vapor intrusion risk. Although protection of human health is paramount, this recent focus has been plagued with concerns about the validity of the underlying science and a lack of comprehensive guidance from regulators on how to respond. This article explores the evolution of vapor intrusion regulation, particularly developments addressing acute risk, as well as trends in vapor intrusion- related litigation.

Time 5 Minute Read

The Superfund program is much criticized for good reason on many grounds. It takes too long to investigate sites and decide on the appropriate cleanup. The costs for investigation and cleanup actions are excessive. The process is seemingly never-ending as contaminated sites languish on the National Priorities List for decades.

Streamlining the process is a worthwhile goal, but equally important would be reforms to promote remedy decisions that take account of the fact the resources are not unlimited. Money spent on cleanup is not available for another purpose. Unfortunately, because of its single-minded focus on often remote human health and ecological risks associated with exposures to chemical contaminants (usually based on highly conservative exposure assumptions), the Superfund program drives a lot of resources to cleanup that likely would be better allocated to another use.

Time 3 Minute Read

Earlier this week, July 4, 2017, was the nation’s 241st birthday. In Washington, DC, and in countless other places across the country, the event was celebrated with dazzling fireworks displays. My childhood days are long behind me. But, a good fireworks display still evokes awe and gives me goose bumps. Although fireworks are synonymous with the 4th of July, Americans are not alone in their appreciation of fireworks. All across the globe—from Europe, to Asia, to South America and back again—fireworks are a universal symbol of celebration.

Time 2 Minute Read

In a surprising turn of events, the Board of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) voted to delay adoption of first-of-its-kind caps on refinery greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As we reported just three weeks ago, the Board was slated to adopt Regulation 12, Rule 16: Petroleum Refining Facility-Wide Emissions Limits (Rule 12-16), a regulation that would establish refinery-specific, facility-wide caps on GHG emissions from the five Bay Area refineries and three support facilities.  At a public hearing last week, in what initially looked to be a sure thing, the Board pivoted.  Signaling unease about legal vulnerabilities surrounding procedure, the Board voted to delay adoption of the regulation until at least September 2017.

Time 2 Minute Read

[caption id="attachment_417" align="aligncenter" width="300"] 2017 Chambers USA Awards[/caption]

Last week at the 2017 Chambers USA Awards, Hunton & Williams’ environmental team was recognized as the team of the year in the environment practice area.  Chambers USA evaluated our practice as “preeminent” in the environmental area and “highly esteemed.”  Chambers USA also noted our “fine track record” for our utility and energy work and our “noteworthy expertise across air, water, waste and climate change matters.”

Time 3 Minute Read

Over the past several years, the EPA and states have wrestled with the highly controversial question of how to manage ash and other residual materials produced by the combustion of coal in coal-fired power plants.  These so-called “coal combustion residuals” (“CCR”) have been traditionally managed in large man-made ponds at many power plant sites.  While discharges from these impoundments directly to surface waters are regulated by permits issued under the Clean Water Act, the impoundments themselves have been regulated under state waste management programs.  In 2015, EPA fundamentally changed the regulatory landscape for these facilities when it promulgated a federal rule setting national standards for design, operation and closure of CCR impoundments.  EPA, Hazardous and Solid Waste Management System; Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities, 80 Fed. Reg. 21,302 (Apr. 17, 2015).

Time 3 Minute Read

The latest news is full of stories of federal agencies reviewing and, in some cases, rescinding environmental regulations and cutting agency spending. From these reports, it could seem the federal government might also cut back its enforcement of environmental laws. But in fact, even in this turbulent regulatory and fiscal appropriations landscape, enforcement–particularly criminal enforcement–of core existing environmental laws is one aspect of environmental regulation that is sure to continue.

Time 5 Minute Read

In 1980, a lame duck Congress passed the nation’s first legislation, the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. §9601 et seq. (CERCLA), to address the cleanup of toxic waste disposal sites. Comprehensive amendments were passed six years later. Over the next 30 years, EPA’s enforcement powers were used with increasing regularity and consistency to study, begin, and often complete cleanups at hundreds of the nation’s contaminated waste sites. The program has always had its critics, but not until the current administration has there been a fundamental reassessment of its basic cost-benefit structure, just as is being done with many other federal programs.

Time 3 Minute Read

The application of economic principles to environmental law decisions has come a long way. Today’s conflicts over cost-benefit analysis and the value of mitigation projects and trading markets are more a sign of the important and well-accepted role that economics has come to play in environmental decision-making than a fight over the threshold question of whether economics matters at all. The battle lines have shifted. Economic concepts must be taken into account. The turf on which we now fight concerns to what extent economics should drive environmental decisions.

Time 4 Minute Read

My daughter is on a high school team competing in “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution” run by The Center for Civic Education to promote education about the Constitution and Bill of Rights. I have been privileged to have conversations with her about the Federalist Papers and some Supreme Court cases. She recently reminded me of the dissent in New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, an opinion that may again become relevant to the evolution of environmental law, at least for those of us who live and function outside the Beltway.

How could a Depression-era case about the constitutionality of a certificate of public convenience and necessity be relevant to environmental law today? Well, there is a lot of discussion about ice manufacturing, which some might argue is relevant to climate change.

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