On August 26, 2022, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a pre-publication copy of its much-anticipated proposed rule adding perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) to the list of “hazardous substances” under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund). EPA asserts that this regulatory escalation of PFOA and PFOS will facilitate faster cleanup of contaminated sites and reduce exposures to these “forever chemicals.” If finalized, these hazardous substances designations will have significant and immediate impacts on many industries, from creating new reporting obligations to increased compliance, enforcement, and litigation risks related to site cleanup. EPA’s efforts involving PFOA and PFOS fall within the broader, whole-of-agency approach to addressing PFAS first announced in its PFAS Strategic Roadmap and represent its first ever exercise of its authority under CERCLA section 102(a) to designate a hazardous substance.
A recent Fourth Circuit decision narrowly construed the state administrative enforcement bar to the Clean Water Act citizen suit, allowing a citizen suit seeking civil penalties to proceed despite the fact the state had already issued a notice of violation for the same alleged conduct. …
Continue Reading Fourth Circuit Ruling Narrowly Construes Administrative Enforcement Bar to Clean Water Act Citizen Suit
A recent federal district court decision shows how a consent decree can provide protection to responsible parties under CERCLA by precluding later-filed tort claims seeking additional relief or different remedial action.
Continue Reading Federal Court Finds Tort Claims Preempted by CERCLA Consent Decree
Last week, in Residents of Gordon Plaza, Inc. v. Cantrell, the Fifth Circuit denied a petition for rehearing en banc of a recent decision affirming the dismissal of a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) citizen suit. The key issue in the underlying appeal, 25 F.4th 288 (5th Cir. 2022), was whether certain maintenance activities qualify as a “removal” action under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The court affirmed that the maintenance activities do indeed constitute a “removal action.” Therefore, the suit was barred under 42 U.S.C. § 6972(b)(2)(B)(iv), which precludes RCRA citizen suits where a “responsible party is diligently conducting a removal action” pursuant to a CERCLA consent decree with EPA.
Continue Reading Fifth Circuit Endorses Broad Reading of “Removal” Under CERCLA To Bar RCRA Citizen Suit
Two recent actions by the Biden Administration will identify areas of focus for environmental justice and therefore influence environmental enforcement priorities, federal permitting and licensing, and federal spending, among other actions. On February 18, the White House Council on Environmental Quality released the beta (or draft) version of its Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST), a key component of President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative. The Justice40 Initiative set the goal of “delivering 40 percent of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments” to disadvantaged communities. The CEJST serves a specific purpose: to help agencies identify disadvantaged communities in order to direct federal benefits and help agencies measure whether 40 percent of benefits are being received by those communities.
Continue Reading Biden Administration Rolls Out New Climate, Economic, and Environmental Justice Tools
EPA hopes to issue its final National Recycling Strategy (NRS) this November, according to recent statements by acting director of EPA’s Resource Conservation and Sustainability Division, Office of Land and Emergency Management Nena Shaw at the American Bar Association’s Fall Conference. Previously, EPA indicated it intended to finalize the NRS in the spring of 2021 with an implementation roadmap out in the fall of 2021. To date, the agency has yet to release its final NRS.
Continue Reading Waste Not, Want Not: EPA’s Impending National Recycling Strategy
Recent federal court decisions continue to show that Article III standing can be a formidable defense to environmental citizen suits, particularly following the Supreme Court’s decision Spokeo v. Robins, 578 U.S. 330 (2016).
Continue Reading Article III Standing Still Proving to be a Formidable Defense to Environmental Citizen Suits
Courts are starting to apply the Supreme Court’s new standard under County of Maui to claims under the Clean Water Act, highlighting the fact-intensive and highly technical nature of the relevant inquiry. …
Continue Reading Courts Begin to Apply County of Maui to Clean Water Act Claims
Barack Obama was seven months into his first term as President of the United States, the World Health Organization had declared a H1N1 flu pandemic, and the California State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) adopted the current Construction General Permit for Stormwater Discharges (Permit or CGP). It was September 2009. Now, having administratively extended the Permit since 2014 when, by its terms, the Permit expired, the State Board may, under a schedule released late last year, soon release a new draft CGP for public comment, with a goal of adopting it late this summer.
Continue Reading Last Adopted in 2009, California State Water Board Working on New Construction Stormwater General Permit for 2021
In April 2020, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund et al., 140 S. Ct. 1462 (2000), vacating the Ninth Circuit’s decision. The appeals court had affirmed a district court’s finding of Clean Water Act (“CWA”) liability for the County’s alleged failure to obtain a discharge permit for subsurface releases of pollutants into groundwater that conveys pollutants to navigable waters. In vacating the judgment below, the Supreme Court rejected the Ninth Circuit’s “fairly traceable” test and set forth a new standard for determining when a source needs an NPDES permit: “the statute requires a permit when there is a direct discharge from a point source into navigable waters or when there is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge.” Id. at 1468 (emphasis added). In other words, “an addition falls within the statutory requirement that it be ‘from any point source’ when a point source directly deposits pollutants into navigable waters, or when the discharge reaches the same result through roughly similar means.” Id. at 1476 (emphasis added).
Continue Reading Groups Seeking to Expand Reach of Clean Water Act