The Biden Administration’s enforcement priorities began to take shape last week, as the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) enforcement arm issued a pair of memoranda encouraging the use of certain tools in civil enforcement and settlements and for prioritizing enforcement efforts in environmental justice communities. Lawrence E. Starfield, a senior career EPA official currently serving as Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA), issued both memoranda. The memos demonstrate a concrete shift in EPA’s enforcement philosophy—doubling down on Next Generation or “NextGen” compliance tools and Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs), and focusing on environmental justice—under the new administration. The specific ways in which EPA enforcement staff will carry out these policies are not yet known and will develop over time, but it is important for regulated entities to be aware of, and prepared for, EPA’s use of NextGen compliance tools and focus on strengthening enforcement in environmental justice communities.

Continue Reading EPA Enforcement Policies Prioritize Environmental Justice and Embrace “NextGen” Compliance Tools

The topic of infrastructure has been front and center in recent weeks, following the Biden Administration’s unveiling of the American Jobs Plan, a massive investment plan to “Build Back Better” the country’s infrastructure.  A critical infrastructure component is water systems—drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater—many of which have deteriorated with age and lack of funding.  The renewed focus on infrastructure proposes to funnel massive investment into upgrading the nation’s water systems, under the American Jobs Plan and a slate of bills now before Congress.  We take a look at what the new infrastructure developments could mean for water systems.

Continue Reading Water, Water Everywhere: Infrastructure Push Includes Significant Investment for Water Systems

On Monday, the State of California launched a new group out of Governor Newsom’s office – the Climate-Related Risk Disclosure Advisory Group just as CERES (Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies), a non-profit organization that has been a significant voice over the past decade on climate and sustainability economic issues, issued a report entitled, Turning Up the Heat, The need for urgent action by U.S. financial regulators in addressing climate risk.

Continue Reading Actions on Climate Change Disclosure in California and New Report Indicate Spring May Be In Like a Lion and Out Like One Too!

Environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) – like climate change and environmental justice – has been a hot topic of discussion in the early days of the Biden administration. Illustrating the interconnectedness of the trending issues, climate change and environmental justice are pillars of ESG.

Continue Reading Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance: What are the Risks, Really?

Environmental justice and equity issues have taken center stage as part of the national conversation on the environment, climate change and racial equality. As we have explained, environmental justice will be a central focus of the Biden administration, as reflected in a recent Executive Order that declares federal agencies:

shall make achieving environmental justice part of their missions by developing programs, policies, and activities to address the disproportionately high and adverse human health, environmental, climate-related and other cumulative impacts on disadvantaged communities, as well as the accompanying economic challenges of such impacts.


Continue Reading Green Amendments: A Fundamental Right to a Healthy Environment?

Late last year, New Jersey became the first state to require via legislation that its environmental state agency evaluate the contributions of certain facilities to existing environmental and public health stressors in overburdened communities when reviewing certain permit applications. California, never to be outdone, has begun its own legislative process to further incorporate environmental justice into state decision-making.

Continue Reading California Takes Steps to Incorporate Environmental Justice into Permitting Decisions

As we have explained, environmental justice will be a central focus of the Biden-Harris administration. A recent Executive Order declares federal agencies “shall make achieving environmental justice part of their missions by developing programs, policies, and activities to address the disproportionately high and adverse human health, environmental, climate-related and other cumulative impacts on disadvantaged communities, as well as the accompanying economic challenges of such impacts.” Both big and small, changes are coming at the federal level on permitting, rulemaking, enforcement, and other actions that will have a practical impact on corporations and communities.
Continue Reading California Launches Updated Environmental Justice Screening Tool

As the Biden Administration settles in and begins to appoint its designees to key executive and administrative agencies, a series of policy objectives are coming into focus.  Chief among them is expanded attention and regulation in the ESG space regarding environmental, social and governance issues at American businesses. In this post, we survey the expected direction of these initiatives at, for example, the SEC, Department of Labor, and EPA.

Continue Reading A Preview of ESG Regulation under the Biden Administration

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) released its annual enforcement report detailing the results of the past year’s civil and criminal enforcement and compliance efforts.  The report covers the 2020 fiscal year, which ran from October 1, 2019, through September 30, 2020, and thus provides some key insight into the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on environmental enforcement.
Continue Reading EPA’s FY2020 Annual Enforcement Results Are In

A January 12, 2021 US Department of Justice (DOJ) memorandum extends and provides additional legal analysis to support the government’s increasing drumbeat against settling cases and reducing environmental penalties in recognition of Supplemental Environmental Projects or “SEPs.”  The new memo addresses the limited circumstances under which attorneys in DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), the division of DOJ that represents EPA and other federal agencies in enforcing environmental laws, may include certain mitigation requirements in settlement agreements.  Issued last week by ENRD Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark on the same day that he announced his departure from the Department, the memo bolsters the previously provided rationale for ENRD’s policy prohibiting SEPs in settlement agreements.  It also distinguishes SEPs from “equitable mitigation,” which the memo defines more narrowly and considers to be both permissible and appropriate.  The memo also lists criteria to guide ENRD attorneys evaluating whether equitable mitigation measures are appropriate in a given civil enforcement case.
Continue Reading New Memo Doubles Down and Bolsters Justice Department Positions on Limiting Supplemental Environmental Projects