In my April 2, 2018, post, I asked whether the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit would put another nail in the coffin of NSR enforcement for projects completed a long time (some of them, decades) before EPA or other plaintiffs filed a complaint alleging NSR violations. A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals answered in United States v. Luminant, No. 17-10235 (5th Cir. Oct. 1, 2018), by unanimously ruling that the statute of limitations bars civil penalties for NSR violations that allegedly occurred more than five years before the filing of the complaint. But in a 2-1 decision, the majority ruled that, while injunctive relief is also barred in those circumstances for non-government plaintiffs (Sierra Club, in this case), injunctive relief is still “available” when the government is seeking to enforce the Clean Air Act. In her dissent in part, Judge Elrod said she would have affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the case in all respects, characterizing any “injunctive” relief sought by the government as “really just time-barred penalties in disguise.” Continue Reading Yes, Said the Fifth Circuit: We Have Put Another Nail in the Coffin of NSR Enforcement for Ancient Projects; But It Is Not The Final Nail
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in July issued a long-awaited decision in the case Cooling Water Intake Structure Coalition v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), upholding the EPA’s 2014 Rule establishing requirements pursuant to Clean Water Act (CWA) section 316(b) for cooling water intake structures (CWIS) at existing facilities. The court also upheld the biological opinion (BO) and incidental take statement (ITS) issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (the Services) on the 2014 Rule.
The Second Circuit’s decision upholding the rule offers EPA a key victory and provides larger steam-electric power plants and manufacturing facilities more certainty regarding regulatory requirements they must satisfy to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit under the CWA.
This summer, California’s State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) adopted amendments to the Underground Storage Tank (UST) Regulations (California Code of Regulations, title 23, division 3, chapter 16). The new regulations, which become effective on October 1, 2018, impose new design and construction, upgrading, monitoring, notification, testing, inspection, recordkeeping, training and reporting requirements on UST owners and operators in California. The State Water Board’s purpose in amending these regulations was essentially two-fold: (1) to effectively make the California UST regulations just as stringent, and consistent with, the federal UST regulations (part 280 of 40 Code of Federal Regulations); and (2) to reduce the risk of groundwater contamination resulting from UST releases. Continue Reading California State Water Board Amends Underground Storage Tank Regulations to “Reconcile” Requirements with Federal Law
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. Continue Reading EPA Makes Room for State Flexibility in Addressing “Interstate Transport” Under the Clean Air Act
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. Among other requirements, such sources are required to install the best available control technologies (BACT) to reduce levels of specific regulated pollutants. The NSR program also applies to existing facilities if they are modified in ways that result in significantly increased emissions.
The pace of enforcement actions has decreased in recent years, but 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.
To learn more, read this article originally published in Natural Gas & Electricity’s September 2018 issue. Felicia Barnes, now an associate at Beveridge & Diamond, was a contributing author.
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