Under the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and California’s Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act, industrial facilities in California are required to obtain coverage under the state’s NPDES general permit for discharges associated with industrial storm water activities (General Industrial Permit) or justify why they are exempt. For regulated facilities, including manufacturing facilities, landfills, mining operations, steam electric power generating facilities, hazardous waste facilities, and oil and gas facilities, failure to obtain coverage under the General Industrial Permit is a potential violation of the Clean Water Act (in addition to state law), which could expose the owner or operator of the facility to potential civil penalties of up to $54,833 per day. Enforcement, however, largely is dependent upon agency inspections or enforcement by citizen groups. Based on estimates by the California Coastkeeper Alliance, many facilities in California may have failed to enroll in the industrial storm water permit program.
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California’s Proposition 65 (Prop 65), adopted in 1986 by state voters, has long been considered among the most far-reaching right-to-know and toxic chemical reduction statutes in the country. It now has competition from Washington State’s Pollution Prevention for Healthy People and Puget Sound Act (the “Act”), SSB 5135 (Chapter 292, 2019 Laws), signed into law on May 8, 2019, by former 2020 presidential candidate Governor Jay Inslee. Numerous commentators have called the Act, the nation’s “strongest” policy for regulating toxic chemicals in consumer products.
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Legalization of medicinal and adult-use cannabis in California has fomented a surge of seed-to-sale companies angling to lure market share from a sea of customers. The water may soon be agitated, however, by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). OEHHA is the lead California agency that oversees implementation of Proposition 65, formally known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. OEHHA recently announced that it has selected cannabis (marijuana), marijuana (cannabis) smoke, cannabis extracts, and delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) for review for possible listing under Proposition 65 as chemicals that cause reproductive toxicity. If the Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee (DARTIC) determines that these chemicals cause reproductive toxicity based upon “scientifically valid testing according to generally accepted principles,” marijuana in its various forms will likely join a list of more than 900 chemicals known to the state to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm. Companies that cultivate, distribute, and/or sell marijuana and products containing marijuana in California would then be required to warn consumers—and possibly employees and passersby—that exposure to these listed chemicals can cause reproductive harm.
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Industrial hemp has officially returned as a legal agricultural commodity in the United States. President Trump signed into law the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, otherwise known as the 2018 Farm Bill, that re-legalizes the production of hemp after the crop was banned for more than eighty years under federal law. 
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This summer, California’s State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) adopted amendments to the Underground Storage Tank (UST) Regulations (California Code of Regulations, title 23, division 3, chapter 16). The new regulations, which become effective on October 1, 2018, impose new design and construction, upgrading, monitoring, notification, testing, inspection, recordkeeping, training and reporting requirements on UST owners and operators in California. The State Water Board’s purpose in amending these regulations was essentially two-fold: (1) to effectively make the California UST regulations just as stringent, and consistent with, the federal UST regulations (part 280 of 40 Code of Federal Regulations); and (2) to reduce the risk of groundwater contamination resulting from UST releases.
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As the spotlight continues to focus on the City of Flint and its efforts in response to its public health crisis four years ago, water utilities seeking to avoid similar liability (and notoriety) should study Flint as a veritable textbook on potential liability under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the US Constitution, and state law. Part 1 of this series noted that a spate of civil lawsuits and criminal charges were filed in the aftermath of Flint. These cases are still unfolding in the courts.
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California is considering the first-in-the-nation general industrial stormwater permit incorporating Total Maximum Daily Load-related numeric action levels and numeric effluent limitations. Touted as an effort to promote green infrastructure and water reuse, this proposal could revamp how industry manages stormwater.
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The Administration is considering substantial changes to the current regulatory approach to reducing exposure to lead in drinking water. The US EPA (EPA) is assessing long-term revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule (LC Rule), a Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) regulation that seeks to protect public health by minimizing lead and copper in drinking water, primarily through corrosion control measures. Lead contamination in drinking water has been the subject of national scrutiny in the aftermath of the public health crisis in Flint, Michigan, where high levels of lead leached from aging pipes into the city’s drinking water after the city switched its source of drinking water to the Flint River, the quality of which was more corrosive than the prior source. Congress eventually banned lead pipes in new construction with amendments to the SDWA in 1986, but in a 2016 survey, the American Water Works Association estimated that 6 million lead-containing service lines continue to distribute drinking water to 15-22 million people in the United States. As state and local governments nationwide confront similar challenges, EPA appears poised to address the legacy of lead infrastructure through updates to the LC Rule. In January 2018, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt pledged to update the LC Rule as part of his “war on lead” in drinking water.
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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.
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