AB 617 requires the California Air Resources Board to develop new regulations for criteria pollutant and toxics emissions reporting. The new regulation, titled “Regulation for the Reporting of Criteria Air Pollutants and Toxic Air Contaminants” is not yet finalized. The current draft will require many new stationary sources, throughout California, to report emissions.
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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.
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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.
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When an adverse party challenges final rules that are favorable to particular companies, those companies and their trade associations sometimes question whether it is worth their time and effort to intervene on EPA’s side to help the Agency defend its action. A recent D.C. Circuit decision shows that sometimes an argument made by a Respondent-Intervenor can be decisive.
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The Fifth Circuit joined the overwhelming majority of US courts of appeals that have ruled that the statute of limitations bars civil penalties for alleged NSR violations. But in a divided opinion, the majority said injunctive relief may still be “available” to the government.
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The implementation of California’s ambitious Assembly Bill 617 (AB 617) is well under way, but it is still very uncertain whether it can or will achieve its intended outcome. Despite the long process to select the initial list of communities to be included in the in the first year of CARB’s Community Air Protection Program (CAPP) (CARB’s AB 617 implementation program), the hard work to ensure AB 617 is a success remains—namely the development and implementation of the emissions monitoring/reduction plans in the selected disadvantaged communities. In the end, the biggest impediment to AB 617’s successful implementation might be the law’s own requirements, specifically its accelerated implementation schedule, which may not provide California’s air quality management districts (air districts) with enough time to achieve the law’s goals.
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The phrase “interstate transport” conjures images of planes, trains and trucks carrying people and goods cross-country. But, under the federal Clean Air Act (CAA), the term is often used to refer to interstate air pollution—emissions from factories, power plants, motor vehicles, refineries and other sources that are transported by prevailing winds across state lines, sometimes over hundreds of miles. The interstate transport phenomenon often has posed for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) what the Supreme Court has called “a thorny causation problem: How should EPA allocate among multiple contributing upwind States responsibility for a downwind State’s excess pollution?” EPA v. EME Homer City Generation, L.P., 134 S. Ct. 1584, 1604 (2014). EPA’s efforts to address this issue have yielded, over the last two decades, a series of complex federal regulatory programs imposing increasingly stringent controls on emissions in most states in the eastern half of the country—first the “NOx SIP Call” rule in 1998, then the Clean Air Interstate Rule in 2005, followed by the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) in 2011 and, most recently, the 2016 “CSAPR Update” rule. Now, however, EPA, while vigorously defending the CSAPR Update rule against pending litigation challenges, is signaling a fresh approach for potential future interstate transport regulation, an approach that may involve greater deference to states’ analyses and determinations and that may eschew additional broad regulatory mandates imposed by EPA.
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The New Source Review (NSR) program of the Clean Air Act requires major stationary sources to go through an extensive, time-consuming, and expensive review and permitting process prior to construction. The NSR program also applies to existing facilities if they are modified in ways that result in significantly increased emissions. More than a decade-and-a-half of NSR enforcement litigation has failed to settle the main legal issues, resulting in contradictory court decisions. This lack of certainty has significant implications to how sources must evaluate compliance going forward.
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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.
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