One of the first lessons that most Superfund practitioners learn is that it is no easy task to prevent EPA from placing a site on the National Priorities List. The NPL is the “list of national priorities among the known or threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants throughout the United States.”[1] It “contains the most serious uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites.”[2] There are nearly 1,350 sites on the NPL today. Since the first list was issued in 1980, only 399 – or, on average, ten per year – have been deleted. That is only two per state in a decade (on average). The pace of EPA’s decision-making on proposed deletions is protracted, if not glacial. And looking to the courts for relief from the stigma of having a site on the NPL rarely bears fruit.

It therefore surprised and may even have delighted some practitioners when the DC Circuit decided, in Genuine Parts Company v. EPA, No. 16-1416 (D.C. Cir. May 18, 2018), to overturn EPA’s decision to list the West Vermont Drinking Water Contamination Site on the NPL.

Continue Reading Genuine Surprise: DC Circuit Overturns NPL Listing Decision

On February 7, 2018, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt signed a proposed rule to establish user fees to defray EPA’s costs of administering its responsibilities under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), as amended by the 2016 Frank Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (Lautenberg Act). EPA estimates in the proposed rule that it will collect about $20.05 million per year in user fees, not counting any user fees associated with manufacturer-requested risk evaluations, which would range from $1.3 million to $2.6 million per evaluation. Continue Reading EPA’s Proposed TSCA Fees Rule – Key Issues

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its annual enforcement and compliance results for the most recent fiscal year (FY) on February 8, 2018. The results, which cover the period from October 1, 2016, to September 30, 2017, are the Trump administration’s first annual statistical report on federal environmental enforcement. The results provide insight into the administration’s focus and priorities for enforcement. Continue Reading EPA Announces Fiscal Year 2017 Environmental Enforcement Statistics

A year ago, the regulated community and its environmental lawyers recognized that the Trump administration would bring a new approach to the enforcement of federal environmental laws, but the nature of the specific changes remained nebulous. While it is still early to speculate on the long-term impacts to enforcement that may be implemented by the administration, events over the prior year have brought the new administration’s enforcement philosophy and priorities into greater focus. This post reviews some of the key personnel, policy, and budget announcements made during President Trump’s first year in office that will shape the future of federal environmental enforcement by the Environmental Protection Agency in the coming years.

Continue Reading Recapping the Year in Environmental Enforcement

We are serious.  And don’t call us Shirley.

So EPA sent your company a dreaded Request for Information (“RFI”).  What do you do now?  If you’ve never been through this process before, you likely have a lot running through your head:

  • Did our company do something wrong?  Is my company under investigation?
  • Is this EPA’s way of asking for my help to improve its regulations?
  • Do I have to answer this?
  • How can I possibly compile all this information in 30 days?
  • Do we need a lawyer to help us respond?
  • What about confidential information?  EPA is asking for customer or supplier information.  Isn’t that private?

Continue Reading An RFI? Surely You Can’t Be Serious.

On January 22nd, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous (9-0) decision, authored by Justice Sotomayor, agreeing with industry groups, some eNGOs, and many states, that the district courts have jurisdiction over challenges to the 2015 Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) Rule. Nat’l Ass’n of Manufacturers v. Dept. of Defense, et al., No. 16-299 (Jan. 22, 2018). The Court wholly rejected the government’s claim that the WOTUS Rule is subject to exclusive appellate court jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act’s (CWA) judicial review provision and confirms that current and future challenges to the WOTUS Rule must be brought in district court. By reversing the Sixth Circuit decision which found that the CWA vests the federal courts of appeals with exclusive jurisdiction over challenges to the WOTUS Rule, the Supreme Court set in motion proceedings that will likely result in the lifting of the Sixth Circuit’s nationwide stay of the 2015 WOTUS Rule. Continue Reading Agencies Move Quickly to Delay Applicability of 2015 WOTUS Rule Following Unanimous Supreme Court Decision

On Thursday, the Senate confirmed Susan Parker Bodine as the Assistant Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (“OECA”).  OECA, the chief enforcement arm of EPA, coordinates the agency’s enforcement of numerous federal environmental laws within its authority.

This is the second leadership role at EPA for Bodine, who brings significant experience in environmental law to the position.  She formerly served as Assistant Administrator for the agency’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response—now called the Office of Land and Emergency Management—under President George W. Bush.  Before returning to the EPA, Bodine served as Chief Counsel for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, from 2015 until this August.  She also served as Counsel to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and was engaged in private legal practice.

Continue Reading Senate Confirms Susan Parker Bodine as New Head of EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance Office

On November 22, 2017, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Pruitt signed a notice denying petitions to change the “point of obligation” under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program away from refiners and importers.  The notice, which was sent to the Federal Register for publication, provides a broad overview of EPA objections to the petitions.  EPA also posted on its website a final decision document explaining its denial in detail. Continue Reading EPA Denies Petitions to Change the RFS “Point of Obligation”

WOTUS, an acronym that has received a lot of attention in recent years, stands for the “waters of the United States.” When Congress enacted the Clean Water Act (“CWA” or the “Act”) in 1972, it prohibited “the discharge of any pollutant by any person” into navigable waters without a permit. The Act defines navigable waters as the “waters of the United States, including the territorial seas.” 33 U.S.C. §§ 1311(a), 1362(7), (12). But Congress failed to, in turn, define the words “waters of the United States,” and the Supreme Court has noted that these “words themselves are hopelessly indeterminate.” Sackett v. EPA, 132 S. Ct. 1367, 1375 (2012) (J. Alito, concurring). The meaning of these words matters because violations of the CWA are subject to substantial criminal and civil penalties, so knowing whether a feature on your site is a WOTUS subject to federal jurisdiction has important consequences. Continue Reading Navigating the CWA’s Reach: What’s Happening with WOTUS?

A New Jersey court recently held that an electrical products manufacturer was entitled to coverage rights provided by a predecessor’s commercial general liability policies if it was found liable for environmental remediation costs as a result of cleanup efforts by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) along a 17-mile portion of the Passaic River in New Jersey. Continue Reading New Jersey Decision Highlights Importance of Reviewing Historical Liability Insurance Policies