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.”
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In October 2018, the Fifth Circuit joined the overwhelming majority of US courts of appeals in ruling 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. After the full court granted the Defendant’s petition for rehearing en banc, the government dropped its entire case rather than losing on injunctive relief also.
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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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Last week, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its annual enforcement results for the 2018 fiscal year (ranging from October 1, 2017, to September 30, 2018). The report, prepared by EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA), highlights the results of the agency’s civil and criminal enforcement of the nation’s federal environmental laws over the past year.
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Reversing a Texas Court of Appeals decision that allowed Anadarko’s Lloyd’s of London excess insurers to escape coverage for more than $100 million in defense costs incurred in connection with claims from the Deepwater Horizon well blowout, the Supreme Court of Texas held that the insurers’ obligations to pay defense costs under an “energy package” liability policy are not capped by a joint venture coverage limit for “liability” insured.  Anadarko Petroleum Corp. et al. v. Houston Casualty Co. et al., No. 16-1013 (Tex. Jan. 25, 2019).
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Responding to an EPA collection request can be costly, time consuming and stressful for the target of the request—especially because failure to submit a timely and accurate response can result in significant civil or criminal penalties. On November 21, EPA’s Office of Water (OW) and Office of Civil Enforcement (OCE) issued new policies that, if followed, promise to make the process more reasoned and less burdensome.
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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 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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Emerging enforcement trends indicate that EPA and DOJ will continue to pursue cases involving fraud in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. Although it is reasonable to assume the vast majority of program participants comply with EPA’s regulations, the program has suffered from high profile cases of fraud and abuse requiring federal enforcement, including criminal prosecutions. Recent cases and statements by DOJ and EPA officials show that federal prosecution of RFS fraud, particularly that involving multi-state schemes, will continue. And RFS fraud cases may even occupy a larger portion of EPA’s enforcement bandwidth as EPA gives greater deference to states in enforcement of state delegated programs.
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