The US Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) announced its enforcement and compliance results for Fiscal Year 2022 (“FY2022”) in late December. In the Annual Results report prepared by EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (“OECA”), OECA highlights EPA’s efforts to target the most serious violations of the country’s core environmental statutes and civil rights laws—effectuating the mission and principles set forth in its FY2022 to 2026 EPA Strategic Plan. According to OECA, EPA’s enforcement and compliance program used “a range of tools and best practices” to specifically target water, air, land and chemical violations that impacted communities the most. In so doing, EPA reportedly reduced, treated or eliminated approximately 95 million pounds of pollutants and compelled violators to pay over $300 million in fines, restitution or penalties. The enforcement and compliance trends highlighted below continue an overall decline seen in the last decade, yet provide evidence that EPA is succeeding in its enforcement and compliance efforts in areas that are the biggest priority for the Biden administration.
On 6 September, the US EPA released its proposed rule to add perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) to the list of hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund.
If finalized, these hazardous substance designations could have a significant impact on many industries, from creating…
In its ruling today in Atlantic Richfield Company v. Christian, the Supreme Court upheld a decision by the Montana Supreme Court allowing owners of contaminated residential properties at one of the nation’s largest Superfund sites to pursue state law claims for damages in the form of restoration of their properties beyond the cleanup mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, rejecting claims by the defendant in the state court action that these claims were barred by the terms of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The Court also held that the property owners, although never pursued by EPA to contribute to any of the CERCLA response costs at the site, nonetheless were “potentially responsible parties” within the meaning of the statute, and therefore would be required to obtain approval from EPA for any additional cleanup arising under state law.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Green Lights State Law Claims for Broader Cleanup at Superfund Sites, but only with EPA’s OK
Today, April 10, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its anticipated interim guidance on impacts to operations at cleanup sites due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidance memorandum, issued jointly by the heads of EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM) and Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) and directed to Regional EPA Administrators, focuses on adjusting response activities at cleanup sites under a number of EPA administered programs and emergency responses due to the COVID-19 situation and the myriad of state and local shelter-in-place and business curtailment orders.
Continue Reading EPA Cleanup Site Guidance Recognizes COVID-19 Challenges for Response Activities
Last month, the Supreme Court held oral argument in a case that addressed cleanup obligations for potentially responsible parties (PRPs) at Superfund sites. In Atlantic Richfield Company v. Christian, a company tasked with remediating one of the nation’s largest Superfund sites is urging the Supreme Court to overturn a Montana Supreme Court decision that permitted residents to sue the company for additional restoration damages, despite its ongoing cleanup efforts under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).
Continue Reading Supreme Court Considers Landowner Rights in Superfund Case
On March 15, 2019, the House Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change held a hearing titled, “Protecting Americans at Risk of PFAS Contamination & Exposure.” The hearing examined approaches to eliminate or reduce environmental and health risks to workers and the public from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). At the hearing, there was discussion of proposed PFAS Legislation.
Continue Reading House Conducts PFAS Hearing
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
Why do some states run their voluntary cleanup programs well while others flounder? A recent bad experience with a state’s program led the author to catalogue some reasons for this phenomenon.
Continue Reading “The State Doesn’t Care If It Works”: Why Voluntary Cleanup Programs Succeed (or Not)
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded a series of eight Superfund Listening Sessions between May 21 and June 18 to explain a number of initiatives to reform the Superfund program and promote the cleanup and redevelopment of contaminated sites. The PowerPoint presentations used in these sessions can be accessed here. While informative, the sessions and PowerPoint slides used by the speakers also raise some interesting questions about potential changes in the remedy selection process and the restoration of damaged natural resources.
Continue Reading The CERCLA Redevelopment Focus: Will There Be an Impact on Remedy Selection Decisions and Natural Resource Damage Claims?
On May 18, the DC Circuit vacated a decision by EPA to place an Indianapolis site on the National Priorities List because the agency had ignored evidence contradicting facts underlying its listing decision. Although it is rare for a court to overturn an NPL listing, the case is a reminder that an administrative rulemaking must be based on substantial evidence, even when the agency has substantial discretion to evaluate the factual record.
Continue Reading Genuine Surprise: DC Circuit Overturns NPL Listing Decision