It is no secret that California has had appliance efficiency standards in place for some time now. And it is no secret that the California Energy Commission (“CEC”) has been responsible for crafting those standards. According to the CEC and the California State Legislature, however, compliance with those standards has been hit-or-miss. In 2011, the Legislature found that “significant quantities of appliances are sold and offered for sale in California that do not meet the state’s energy efficiency standards,” and the CEC itself has stated that nearly half of all regulated appliances are non-compliant, and that certain product categories are entirely non-compliant. The broad range of products covered by the CEC’s efficiency standards may be partly to blame for the lack of compliance, as manufacturers may not even realize their product must comply. For example, the efficiency standards encompass nearly every device with a rechargeable battery and that rechargeable battery system, meaning everything from cell phones to laptops to tablets to golf carts must be tested, certified and listed in the CEC’s database before being offered for sale in California.

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The White House Office of Management and Budget released on Tuesday the Trump administration’s first full budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year (starting in October 2017). The comprehensive proposal provides detail about the administration’s policy priorities. If the budget is adopted by Congress as written, the Environmental Protection Agency would face its greatest budget cuts ever. These cuts would broadly impact federal environmental efforts, including the enforcement of federal environmental laws.
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President Trump recently nominated Susan Parker Bodine to lead the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (“OECA”). OECA is responsible for coordinating the enforcement of federal environmental laws under EPA’s authority. OECA acts through a combination of compliance assistance, administrative enforcement and, in partnership with the US Department of Justice, civil and criminal enforcement.
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The latest news is full of stories of federal agencies reviewing and, in some cases, rescinding environmental regulations and cutting agency spending. From these reports, it could seem the federal government might also cut back its enforcement of environmental laws. But in fact, even in this turbulent regulatory and fiscal appropriations landscape, enforcement–particularly criminal enforcement–of core existing environmental laws is one aspect of environmental regulation that is sure to continue.
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Since 2013, EPA’s enforcement office has been promoting an initiative it terms Next Generation Compliance. In common parlance, the term “next generation” refers to the next stage of development or version of something. The term inherently suggests improvement – a better mousetrap, for example. Who would object to such progress? Several recent applications of EPA’s “Next Gen” strategy illustrate that, as with most things in life, the devil is in the details.
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On Monday, December 19, the US Environmental Protection Agency released its enforcement and compliance annual results for fiscal year 2016 (FY 2016). The report compiles environmental enforcement statistics for the final year of the Obama administration and shows the continuation of an enforcement trend focusing on high-impact, high-value cases intended by the administration to deliver significant environmental and public health results and drive compliance across regulated industry. The wildcard in drawing conclusions from this year’s report, however, is how the terrain will change with the arrival of the Trump administration in early 2017.
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As the presidential transition draws nearer, many have asked what the change in administration will mean for the enforcement of our nation’s environmental laws. The Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Interior, Army Corps of Engineers, US Coast Guard and other agencies are all tasked with enforcement responsibilities under the major federal environmental statutes. The future of environmental enforcement under the incoming Trump administration thus depends on the future of each of these agencies.
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