The White House announced on July 22, 2021, President Biden’s nomination of David Uhlmann to be the Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Uhlmann is currently the director of the Environmental Law and Policy Program at the University of Michigan Law School and was previously a federal prosecutor for 17 years, including as the Chief of the Environmental Crimes Section of the US Department of Justice. His nomination signals the White House’s clear intent to reinvigorate EPA’s enforcement program after what the EPA’s Inspector General found in its March 31, 2020 report to be years of declining case statistics across multiple administrations.

Continue Reading Nominee to lead EPA Enforcement Will Be Aggressive and Thorough

On Wednesday, June 16, 2021, EPA held the first of two public “listening sessions” to inform its review of the Risk Management Program (RMP) regulations pursuant to Executive Order 13990.  According to Carlton Waterhouse, EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Land & Emergency Management (OLEM), the listening sessions are “a first step in considering improvements to the RMP rule, so EPA can better address the impacts of climate change on facility safety and protect communities from chemical accidents, especially vulnerable and overburdened communities living near RMP facilities.”

Continue Reading EPA “Listening Session” on RMP Rule Foreshadows Regulatory Changes

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

As states are seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases and pausing reopening efforts, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has forged ahead with setting a definite termination date for its temporary COVID-19 enforcement policy.
Continue Reading EPA Sets Termination Date for Temporary Enforcement Policy

EPA is attempting to thread the needle in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic: offering clarity about ongoing federal environmental obligations to the broad swath of regulated entities faced with the threat of significant disruptions and other challenges, while contending with intense opposition from others who perceive its temporary enforcement policy as a “free pass to pollute” and a failure to enforce legal requirements. Notwithstanding the mounting scrutiny from U.S. Senators, states, and citizens groups, and now a legal challenge, EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) has continued implementing its temporary policy regarding the exercise of enforcement discretion due to the COVID-19 pandemic via issuance of additional guidance on National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) reporting. Other state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Justice, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Railroad Commission of Texas, and the California Environmental Protection Agency have followed EPA’s lead in issuing their own temporary policies related to the pandemic.
Continue Reading EPA Continues Temporary COVID-19 Policies Despite Senators’, States’, Citizens Groups’ Scrutiny

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.

Continue Reading Misconceptions About EPA’s Temporary Enforcement Discretion Policy for COVID-19

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.

Continue Reading Deciphering EPA’s Temporary Enforcement Discretion Policy for COVID-19

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.

Continue Reading Maintaining Environmental Compliance During the Coronavirus Pandemic

On the morning of March 16, 2020, we first caught wind of impending Shelter-in-Place orders in Northern California, which began taking effect in several counties, encompassing much of the San Francisco Bay Area, on Tuesday. Next, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued his March 19, 2020 “stay-at-home” order to try to slow COVID-19’s spread throughout the state.
Continue Reading Socially-Distant Operation of California Infrastructure

The US Environmental Protection Agency has continued to pursue an enforcement agenda 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 titled, “EPA Observed Air Emissions from Natural Gas Gathering Operations in Violation of the Clean Air Act.”
Continue Reading Don’t Be a Pig: EPA Focuses Enforcement Alert Against Mid-Stream Gas Gathering Operations