EPA Announces New Policy Regarding Enforcement Discretion

Margaret Anne Hill, Frank L. Tamulonis III, and Stephen C. Zumbrun

 

 

 

OVERVIEW/APPLICABILITY/SCOPE

Due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) announced a Policy that will effectively relax civil enforcement in certain circumstances. The EPA recognizes that worker shortages and supply issues may exist due to the pandemic and has decided to exercise enforcement discretion with respect to compliance with environmental laws. The Policy is retroactive to March 13, 2020, and while EPA emphasizes that it is temporary, EPA did not provide a termination date. It is important to note that the Policy applies only to certain civil violations and the regulated community is required to make every effort to maintain compliance with environmental laws. We have outlined below important specifics that will guide you in relying upon the Policy. You should contact counsel if you are having compliance issues due to the COVID-19 situation or have questions regarding EPA’s new Policy. Continue reading “EPA Announces New Policy Regarding Enforcement Discretion”

DOJ Axes Supplemental Environmental Projects in Civil Settlements

Kevin R. Doherty and Margaret Anne Hill

Earlier this month, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) officially eliminated the use of “Supplemental Environmental Projects” in civil settlements. The once-popular settlement tool, commonly known as SEPs, allowed alleged violators of environmental laws to complete Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”)-approved projects in exchange for reduced penalties. These projects were considered by EPA and DOJ as providing tangible environmental and/or public health benefits to the environment and/or the affected community, and through their completion, settling parties were permitted to offset a portion of their civil penalties through cost effective and proactive environmental measures. Continue reading “DOJ Axes Supplemental Environmental Projects in Civil Settlements”

EHS Management During the Coronavirus Pandemic: Proactive Measures

Margaret Anne Hill, Frank L. Tamulonis III, and Stephen C. Zumbrun

The novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”) pandemic has caused significant personal and business disruptions to virtually every aspect of life. Businesses are being challenged by the financial markets, supply chain threats, cybersecurity threats, plus questions regarding future growth, sustainability, and expansion. Understandably, the immediate focus for the business community is on the safety and welfare of employees, as well as economic survival. Notwithstanding these well-founded concerns, companies, and in particular their environmental, health, and safety (“EHS”) staffs, need to be prepared to address employees’ concerns regarding issues related to the company’s COVID-19 response and management, as well as to respond to any environmental or safety incidents, which may involve state environmental agencies or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”). Simply put, companies involved in environmentally sensitive operations such as refineries, mining, chemical facilities, oil and gas production, water treatment facilities, or plant manufacturing operations, etc., need to remember that EHS personnel must still ensure compliance with EHS laws and requirements during a period when they may find themselves inundated with new COVID-19 responsibilities, or with very little staff to support their company’s EHS regulatory obligations. Below are tips for companies and their EHS managers who might find themselves operating under a “trial by fire” and with limited capacity, or who may find that they have more time on their hands until the economy bounces back from the current disruption. Continue reading “EHS Management During the Coronavirus Pandemic: Proactive Measures”

Coronavirus: OSHA’s and EPA’s Response

Margaret Anne Hill, Frank L. Tamulonis III, and Stephen C. Zumbrun

As the world’s attention turns increasingly (and almost exclusively) to the spread of COVID-19 (the coronavirus), we want to take this opportunity to highlight two important federal agency responses from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”). The responses from the Center for Disease Control (“CDC”) and World Health Organization (“WHO”) have received the bulk of public attention to date, and for good reason. Just this week, the WHO declared the outbreak a pandemic with nearly 125,000 cases reported across 118 countries and territories. WHO has shipped supplies and protective equipment to 57 countries and is preparing to ship to another 28 countries. WHO has published an R&D roadmap and comprehensive technical guidance. WHO has also pledged more than $440 million (U.S.) to WHO’s Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan.

Here at home, the CDC has likewise been operating in overdrive to reduce the spread and impact of the virus. The CDC has issued multiple clinical guidance documents for healthcare professionals in addition to travel guidance related to COVID-19. The CDC established a COVID-19 Incident Management System on January 7, 2020, and activated its Emergency Operations Center on January 21. Multidisciplinary teams have been deployed to support state and local health departments. CDC also developed diagnostic testing to track and confirm COVID-19 cases and testing kits from commercial labs are expected soon. The CDC has also issued well-publicized recommendations for the public to follow.

In addition to these sweeping responses from the WHO and CDC, OSHA and EPA have been busy preparing and executing their response to this pandemic. While some employers may be able to provide significant flexibility to employees, allowing them to work from home, other employers will need to keep employees onsite, and will need to ensure the safety of their workforce. Other employers, which may manage medical wastes, will need to exercise additional precautions in ensuring that infectious wastes potentially contaminated with COVID-19 are managed in accordance with relevant state and EPA medical waste requirements. Below are the highlights from each agency. Continue reading “Coronavirus: OSHA’s and EPA’s Response”

Pennsylvania Plans to Join the RGGI CO2 Cap-and-Trade Program

Margaret Anne Hill, Christopher A. Lewis, Frederick M. Lowther, Frank L. Tamulonis III, and Stephen C. Zumbrun

At the outset of 2019, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf set a goal for Pennsylvania to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Now, Governor Wolf plans to achieve that goal by taking the bold step to establish a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program through executive action. On October 3, 2019, Governor Wolf issued an Executive Order directing the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) to begin the process for Pennsylvania to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (“RGGI”, pronounced “Reggie”). RGGI is a market-based cap-and-trade program implemented by several Northeast states to reduce power sector CO2 emissions. Governor Wolf’s Executive Order made national headlines because of the potential implications of Pennsylvania—a state known for its coal and natural gas reserves—joining RGGI. But this news is only the start of a long regulatory process, one that could realistically take years to become implemented. At this stage, Pennsylvania fossil-fuel power generators should familiarize themselves with RGGI’s requirements and procedures as well as the rulemaking process by which the Commonwealth might join RGGI.

The RGGI Program

RGGI is a collective effort by its member states to create a Northeast regional cap-and-trade program affecting fossil-fuel power plants greater than 25 megawatts. Member states—currently Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont, with New Jersey in the process of rejoining—each enact statutory or regulatory programs in their respective states that are RGGI compliant. CO2 emitting power plants then participate in RGGI regional auctions to purchase CO2 emission allowances for usage, or to sell on secondary markets. RGGI caps the total amount of CO2 emission allowances, measured in tons of carbon, with the most recent cap being 80.2 MM-tons. Beginning in 2021, the cap will be set at 75.1 MM-tons, which will then be reduced by 30 percent between 2020 and 2030. Proceeds from the auctions are distributed to the respective states for investment in programs to further reduce CO2 emissions, such as energy efficiency, renewable energy, or consumer benefit programs. Continue reading “Pennsylvania Plans to Join the RGGI CO2 Cap-and-Trade Program”

Council on Environmental Quality Seeks Public Comment on Draft NEPA Greenhouse Gas Emission Guidance

Brett A. Snyder and Lamiya N. Rahman

The Council on Environmental Quality has published Draft Guidance to federal agencies to evaluate the effects of greenhouse gas emissions under the National Environmental Policy Act. The Draft Guidance is largely consistent with the approach taken by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in recent natural gas infrastructure orders. Comments are due on July 26, 2019.

Introduction

On June 26, 2019, the Council on Environmental Quality (“CEQ”) published new draft guidance to clarify the scope of review federal agencies should undertake when considering the effects of greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) and related regulations.The Draft Guidance is intended to replace CEQ’s prior GHG-related guidance, which was adopted in 2016 and later rescinded pursuant to an Executive Order in 2017.2 The Draft Guidance is largely consistent with the approach taken by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) in recent natural gas infrastructure orders.

CEQ’s Draft Guidance

NEPA is a procedural statute that requires federal agencies to analyze the environmental impacts of any major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.3 Although NEPA does not mandate any particular substantive outcomes, it requires an agency to consider the direct and reasonably foreseeable indirect effects of a proposed action.4

The Draft Guidance states that “[a] projection of a proposed action’s direct and reasonably foreseeable indirect GHG emissions may be used as a proxy for assessing potential climate effects.”5 While direct effects are caused by an action and occur at the same time or place, indirect effects are caused by the action and are later in time or farther removed in distance but are still reasonably foreseeable. Thus, the proposed guidance suggests that quantification of emissions is sufficient to meet an agency’s obligation to assess effects of emissions.

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Sixth Circuit Limits Reach of Clean Water Act to Groundwater Discharges, Creates Circuit Split on Proper Scope of CWA

David J. Oberly

Why It Matters

In recent years, the question of whether groundwater that migrates into federally protected navigable waters falls under the purview of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) has been fiercely debated and heavily litigated across the country. To date, the Fourth and Ninth Circuits have both interpreted the CWA broadly, ruling that the CWA extends to reach groundwater discharges. Just recently, however, the Sixth Circuit in Kentucky Waterways Alliance v. Kentucky Utilities Company, No. 18-5115 (6th Cir. Sept. 24, 2018) and Tennessee Clean Water Network v. Tennessee Valley Authority, No. 17-6155 (6th Cir. Sept. 24, 2018) weighed in on the issue, and rejected the theory that pollutants reaching navigable waters as a result of passing through groundwater (or soil) are discharges that fall under the auspices of the CWA. The Sixth Circuit decisions are noteworthy, as they create a clear conflict among the federal circuit courts regarding the scope of the CWA and, more specifically, whether the Act reaches the issue of groundwater discharges, further increasing the likelihood that the United States Supreme Court will take up the matter to issue a decisive ruling on the proper scope of the CWA and provide a definitive resolution to this hotly contested issue of environmental law. Continue reading “Sixth Circuit Limits Reach of Clean Water Act to Groundwater Discharges, Creates Circuit Split on Proper Scope of CWA”