In September 2018, the US Interior Department issued a final rule rescinding the 2016 Venting and Flaring Rule, which took effect November 2018. The old rule, which never went into effect, would have required oil and gas companies to capture leaked methane gas, repair and prevent leaks, and devise new plans to reduce the flaring and venting of natural gas. Following the effectiveness of the new rule, the applicable policies setting limits on releases of methane gas will mostly be left to individual states. Continue Reading Finding the Win-Win-Win through Commercialization of Flare Gas

With the Texas Legislature having now convened for the 2019 session, various key environmental issues are anticipated to be the subject of debate and legislative action. Based on bills filed to date, interim charges and recommendations made by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), environmental initiatives to be considered are expected to address, among others, the following subjects: Continue Reading Texas Legislative Session Now Underway: Key Environmental Issues of Interest

The US National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) are the centerpiece of the US Clean Air Act (CAA) and establish allowable concentration levels for six “criteria air pollutants”: ozone, particulate matter, lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. The CAA requires the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review and, as appropriate, revise the NAAQS at least every five years, and EPA has, since 1970, regularly adopted increasingly stringent standards. Whether those revisions have gone far enough or too far has become a predictably contentious issue, with each review involving debates over science, the role of EPA’s Clean Air Science Advisory Committee (CASAC), the discretion of the EPA Administrator, and the format of the review process itself, among many other issues. Continue Reading The New NAAQS Review Process Begins to Take Shape

On December 20, 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Commission) held its December 2018 open meeting. This was the first meeting for Commissioner Bernard McNamee, who was confirmed by the Senate on December 6, 2018. Given his recent confirmation, Commissioner McNamee voted present on the consent agenda. Commissioner McIntyre was absent due to continuing health issues and did not vote on the consent agenda. Continue Reading FERC December 2018 Open Meeting Highlights

Industrial hemp has officially returned as a legal agricultural commodity in the United States.  On December 20, President Trump signed into law the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, otherwise known as the 2018 Farm Bill. See PL 115-334, December 20, 2018, 132 Stat 4490. The 2018 Farm Bill re-legalizes the production of hemp after the crop was banned for more than eighty years under federal law.  Hemp is a “cousin” of marijuana; both are varieties of the Cannabis sativa L. plant, but hemp does not have the psychoactive properties of marijuana.  Hemp is one of the oldest cultivated industrial crops in the nation.  It was grown as early as the 1600s until the mid-1930s when state and federal laws effectively ended the legal production, sales and use of the cannabis plant.  The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA) officially categorized “marihuana” as a Schedule I controlled substance, which was defined to include “all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L.,” such as hemp. Continue Reading 2018 Farm Bill Ushers In New Era of Industrial Hemp Cultivation and Regulation

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly referred to as the Superfund law, directed the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create a list of the country’s most hazardous waste sites. Sites are proposed to be placed on this “National Priorities List” (or NPL as it is known to environmental law professionals) if they exceed a certain risk score, or Hazard Ranking, and added to the List if the ranking is confirmed after a formal notice-and-comment process. A detailed set of regulations called the National Contingency Plan (NCP) governs how sites placed on the NPL will be investigated, alternative remedies evaluated, and a final remedy selected and then implemented. The NPL, the NCP, and various EPA guidance memoranda have established what practitioners acknowledge is an imperfect but generally workable process in which EPA and states work with potentially liable parties to manage cleanups at NPL sites. Continue Reading EPA’s Superfund “Emphasis List” : Some New Questions

Nearly two years into the current administration, many questions remain regarding the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and US Department of Justice’s (DOJ) approach to environmental enforcement. EPA and DOJ have both issued various policies that we have covered in past blog posts that provide some level of insight on priorities and procedures, but a better assessment can only be made by looking at cases initiated, referred, resolved or concluded after a trial. Continue Reading Environmental Enforcement: Are There Any Trends?

Nobody wants to live near a designated “Superfund” site. Aside from potential exposure to hazardous chemicals, the stigma associated with proximity to a Superfund site leads to loss of property value. In addition, the Superfund process is notorious for its record of protracted and expensive cleanups. In view of these well-founded concerns, a number of states have adopted voluntary cleanup programs (VCPs) as alternatives to the federal Superfund program. A well-structured and well-run VCP can keep a contaminated property out of the Superfund program while at the same time providing a mechanism for investigation and cleanup. VCPs often work particularly well to facilitate the cleanup and re-use of “Brownfields,” former industrial or commercial sites where future use is affected by real or perceived environmental contamination. Continue Reading “The State Doesn’t Care If It Works”: Why Voluntary Cleanup Programs Succeed (or Not)

In recent years there has been an explosion in the availability of small, low cost, hand held (or drone mounted) air quality monitoring devices or air sensors. Although the most likely near term applications may be community groups seeking information on potential industrial impacts, even individual consumers may have use for such devices to monitor the quality of indoor air. The biggest hurdle to the effectiveness, and eventual integration into the realm of regulatory compliance, of these devices is the lack accepted standards for evaluating the quality of the data they produce. What role will EPA play in that?

Continue Reading Making Sense of “Air Sensors”