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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
Continue Reading