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
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
The US District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana ordered the $750 million Bayou Bridge pipeline to halt construction within the Atchafalaya Basin when it concluded that the US Army Corps of Engineers’ environmental analysis likely violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act due to the following deficiencies:
- The Corps did not provide sufficient explanation for how the proposed off-site mitigation would compensate for the loss of wetlands impacted by construction; and
- The Corps failed to sufficiently consider and address historical impacts to wetlands from past pipeline projects in the cumulative effects analysis.
On appeal, however, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned the lower court.
As explained in an earlier post, PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are highly fluorinated manmade compounds that are reported to have a variety of adverse health effects. PFAS are resistant to heat, water and oil. These properties have led to use of PFAS compounds in a wide-range of products designed to be waterproof, stain‑resistant or non‑stick, such as carpets, furniture, cookware, clothing and food packaging. They are also used in fire retardant foam at airfields and industrial processes involving flammable and combustible liquids. PFAS compounds are resistant to chemical breakdown. This property, combined with their extensive use, explain why PFAS compounds are being found in drinking water supplies throughout the country. Continue Reading California Ramps Up Regulation of PFAS Compounds
What is California’s Proposition 65?
California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (Prop 65) is one of the most onerous chemical right-to-know statutes in the nation. It prohibits businesses with 10 or more employees, including businesses that merely ship products into California, from exposing people in California to listed chemicals without providing a “clear and reasonable” warning.
Why Should I Care?
Bringing a Prop 65 action is relatively easy and lucrative for private plaintiffs and their counsel. In 2017, there were nearly 700 cases settled with defendants paying more than $25,000,000 in plaintiffs’ attorneys fees and penalties. This does not include defense counsel fees, business interruption and other costs to comply. Continue Reading New California Proposition 65 Warning Regulations: What Businesses Need To Know Before August 30, 2018
As the spotlight continues to focus on the City of Flint and its efforts in response to its public health crisis four years ago, water utilities seeking to avoid similar liability (and notoriety) should study Flint as a veritable textbook on potential liability under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the US Constitution, and state law. Part 1 of this series noted that a spate of civil lawsuits and criminal charges were filed in the aftermath of Flint. These cases are still unfolding in the courts. Continue Reading Liability for Exposure to Lead in Drinking Water (Part 2)
A second district court has agreed that challenges to the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule are likely to succeed on the merits. The US District Court for the Southern District of Georgia issued an order on June 8 enjoining the WOTUS Rule in 11 states. Georgia v. Pruitt, No. 2:15-cv-00079 (S.D. Ga. 2018). The rule was previously enjoined by the US District Court for North Dakota in 13 states. North Dakota v. U.S. EPA, 127 F. Supp. 3d 1047 (D.N.D. 2015). The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) (“the Agencies”) recently promulgated a new applicability date for the 2015 WOTUS rule (Applicability Rule), preventing its implementation until February 2020, but there have been several lawsuits challenging the Applicability Rule. Now, regardless of the outcome of challenges to the Applicability Rule, the 2015 Rule cannot be applied in 24 states until a court issues a final decision on the merits, either upholding or invalidating the Rule, or the Agencies finalize a repeal and/or replacement of the 2015 Rule. Continue Reading 2015 “Waters of the US” Rule Enjoined in an Additional 11 States
The Corps Struggles to Balance Competing Constitutional and Statutory Duties
Federal agencies must often balance competing policy concerns and legal requirements. This process may be difficult and fraught with intense public feedback, and frequently results in litigation. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) has found itself in the hot seat over how it manages the nation’s rivers, pitting its obligations under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) against private property rights. Litigation in the federal courts may soon determine whether, and if so how, responsible the federal government is for unintentional or incidental flooding when the government manages rivers for the benefit of listed species. These cases also bring to the fore a burning question: When can government agencies be held responsible for natural events? With the increase in climate change-related litigation nationwide, this issue will likely only rise in prominence. Continue Reading Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place
California is considering the first-in-the-nation general industrial stormwater permit incorporating Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL)-related numeric action levels (TNALs) and numeric effluent limitations (NELs). These new standards have the potential to further ramp up federal Clean Water Act (CWA) citizen suit litigation. Under the State Water Resources Control Board’s (State Board) proposed amendment to its stormwater general industrial permit (IGP), a “Responsible Discharger” whose stormwater discharge exceeds an applicable NEL automatically will be in violation of the IGP. Unless it complies with the permit’s existing exceedance response action process, it also will be in non‑compliance if its discharge exceeds an applicable TNAL.
Recognizing these consequences, and the difficulties some dischargers have complying with existing IGP requirements, the State Board is proposing two alternative compliance options. Touted as an effort to promote green infrastructure and water reuse, these options could revamp how industry manages stormwater. Both alternatives involve capture and reuse of the runoff from the 85th percentile 24-hour storm event, with the difference being the stormwater retention location. Under the “on-site” option, retention occurs at the facility. Under the “off-site” option, retention occurs at the local publicly owned treatment works (POTW). Continue Reading A Seismic Change Is Coming to California’s General Industrial Stormwater Permit
In a decision issued on April 12, 2018, a Fourth Circuit panel held (2-1) that (1) even though a pipeline leak has been repaired and remediation is ongoing under the supervision of the state environmental agency, environmental groups have standing to sue the pipeline owner, and (2) plaintiffs’ allegation that groundwater continues to carry discharged pollutants to jurisdictional waters through a “direct hydrological connection” supports liability under the Clean Water Act.