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. Continue Reading EPA Announces Shift from National Enforcement Initiatives to National Compliance Initiatives

Weeks after a federal judge called the science behind the alleged carcinogenicity of glyphosate “shaky,” a California state court jury hammered Monsanto with a $289 million verdict, connecting a former groundskeeper’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma to his exposure to the Roundup® chemical. The August 10, 2018 verdict in Johnson v. Monsanto Co., No. CGC16550128 (California Superior Court, County of San Francisco)—which included $250 million in punitive damages—was the first in the nearly 8,000 Roundup-related cases currently pending against Monsanto, many of which are consolidated in multidistrict litigation in California federal court. However, adding another layer of confusion surrounding the use of glyphosate, a federal court in California recently decided that the state could not require Proposition 65 cancer warnings on products containing the chemical. The intense publicity surrounding the verdict has left retailers whose products contain ingredients that might have been treated with glyphosate wondering whether their products may be targeted next.   Continue Reading Retail Industry on High Alert After $289 Million Glyphosate Verdict Against Monsanto

Our regulatory state is founded on the principle that regulated parties must have notice of their compliance obligations. Laws or regulations that fail to give fair notice violate due process and cannot give rise to liability. See, e.g., Gen. Elec. Co. v. EPA, 53 F.3d 1324 (D.C. Cir. 1995).

A notoriously unclear regulatory program addresses circumstances under which an existing facility triggers the Clean Air Act’s (CAA) “new source review” (NSR) program and its associated control technology and air quality review requirements. Over the past two decades, courts have concluded that the same words in the regulations have diametrically opposed meanings. Compare Nat’l Parks Conservation Ass’n, Inc. v. TVA, No. 3:01-CV-71, 2010 WL 1291335 (E.D. Tenn.Mar. 31, 2010) (boiler tube replacement is “routine” repair and replacement) with United States v. Ohio Edison Co., 276 F. Supp. 2d 829 (S.D. Ohio 2003) (boiler tube replacement is not “routine” repair and replacement). Indeed, after addressing the application of NSR to an industrial facility on two occasions, one three-judge panel in the Sixth Circuit produced five different opinions advancing three different interpretations of key provisions of the rules. See United States v. DTE Energy Co., 711 F.3d 643 (6th Cir. 2013); United States v. DTE Energy Co., 845 F.3d 735 (6th Cir. 2017). Disagreement among judges over the meaning of a regulation is objective evidence of a rule’s failure to provide fair notice of its compliance obligations. Continue Reading NSR Reform — EPA’s ACE Proposal

This summer, EPA sparked public outrage with its proposed “significant new use” rule, or SNUR, addressing certain commercial uses of asbestos. Publications like Rolling Stone, Newsweek and The Daily Beast criticized EPA for loosening its regulations to pave the way for asbestos to be reintroduced to the market, allowing asbestos-containing construction materials to be used in homes and other buildings again for the first time in decades. National figures like Senator Brian Schatz and Chelsea Clinton drew attention to the proposal while condemning the Agency for increasing public exposure to this well-known carcinogen.

There’s just one issue: EPA’s proposed action does the opposite of what these critics claim. The SNUR would impose substantial new prohibitions on the listed uses of asbestos—which currently are not regulated by EPA at all—while giving EPA the necessary legal “hook” to restrict or even ban these uses outright in the unlikely event that a company actually tries to resume them.

How can news reports have gotten it so backward? Continue Reading No, EPA Isn’t Putting Asbestos Back Into Buildings

In May, EPA issued its 2016 Final Effluent Guidelines (ELG) Program Plan, which is EPA’s first screening step to selection of industries for possible revision or development of technology-based limits on wastewater discharges (i.e., effluent limitations guidelines and standards (ELGs)). 83 Fed. Reg. 19281 (May 2, 2018). EPA releases a new ELG plan every two years, and the process bears watching because it cuts across all industry types (there are 59 industries with final ELGs in place) and provides some perspective on EPA’s assessment of pollutants of concern and emerging technologies to address those pollutants. Continue Reading EPA’s Effluent Guidelines Program Plan: Roadmap to Technology-Based Water Regulation

On July 9, President Trump announced Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit as his nominee to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh has developed an extensive history of jurisprudence during his twelve-year tenure on the DC Circuit. And, given the DC Circuit’s heavy administrative law caseload, Kavanaugh has authored numerous opinions involving environmental law. The upcoming confirmation process is sure to include a focus on Kavanaugh’s robust environmental and administrative law record and what it might portend for the future. Continue Reading From Judge to Justice: What Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court Nomination Could Mean for Environmental Jurisprudence

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded a series of eight Superfund Listening Sessions between May 21 and June 18 to explain a number of initiatives to reform the Superfund program and promote the cleanup and redevelopment of contaminated sites. The PowerPoint presentations used in these sessions can be accessed here. While informative, the sessions and PowerPoint slides used by the speakers also raise some interesting questions about potential changes in the remedy selection process and the restoration of damaged natural resources. Continue Reading The CERCLA Redevelopment Focus: Will There Be an Impact on Remedy Selection Decisions and Natural Resource Damage Claims?

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. Continue Reading Liability for Exposure to Lead in Drinking Water (Part 2)

When most Americans think about the traditions of presidential transitions, they recall the oath of office, the prior president and family leaving the White House, the inaugural parade, the balls with their beautiful gowns and sharp tuxedos, and more. What they more than likely don’t think about, much less even know about, are other happenings in the White House and in the agencies that run our government. While the peaceful transfer of power is a hallmark of the American political system, it is not without controversy, particularly where the outgoing president is a member of a different political party with remarkably different political views than the incoming commander in chief. Continue Reading What To Know About Proposed Chemical Safety Reg Changes

A second district court has agreed that challenges to the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule are likely to succeed on the merits. The US District Court for the Southern District of Georgia issued an order on June 8 enjoining the WOTUS Rule in 11 states. Georgia v. Pruitt, No. 2:15-cv-00079 (S.D. Ga. 2018). The rule was previously enjoined by the US District Court for North Dakota in 13 states. North Dakota v. U.S. EPA, 127 F. Supp. 3d 1047 (D.N.D. 2015). The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) (“the Agencies”) recently promulgated a new applicability date for the 2015 WOTUS rule (Applicability Rule), preventing its implementation until February 2020, but there have been several lawsuits challenging the Applicability Rule. Now, regardless of the outcome of challenges to the Applicability Rule, the 2015 Rule cannot be applied in 24 states[1] until a court issues a final decision on the merits, either upholding or invalidating the Rule, or the Agencies finalize a repeal and/or replacement of the 2015 Rule. Continue Reading 2015 “Waters of the US” Rule Enjoined in an Additional 11 States