China Points To Population Control As Climate Change Strategy

Posted on July 26, 2010 by Stephen E. Herrmann

The population issue has not received much comment when countries discuss ways to mitigate climate change and slow down global warming, according to Zhao Baige, Vice Minister of National Population and Family Planning Commission of China (NPFPC).

 

 

“Dealing with climate change is not simply an issue of CO2 emission reduction but a comprehensive challenge involving political, economic, social, cultural and ecological issues, and the population concern fits right into the picture,” said Zhao.

 

 

Zhao cites studies that link population growth with emissions and the effect of climate change, saying:

 

“Calculations of the contribution of population growth to emissions growth globally produce a consistent finding that most of past population growth has been responsible for between 40 percent and 60 percent of emissions growth,” citing the 2009 State of World Population report, released earlier by the UN Population Fund.

 

 

Although China’s family planning policy has received criticism over the past three decades, Zhao said that China’s population program has made a great historic contribution to the well-being of China’s society.

 

 

As a result of the family planning policy, China has seen 400 million fewer births, which has resulted in 18 million fewer tons of CO2 emissions a year, Zhao said. The UN report projected that if the global population would remain 8 billion by the year 2050 instead of a little more than 9 billion according to medium-growth scenario, “it might result in 1 billion to 2 billion fewer tons of carbon emissions.”

 

 

Meanwhile, she said studies have also shown that family planning programs are more efficient in helping cut emissions, citing research by Thomas Wire of London School of Economics that states: “Each $7 spent on basic family planning would reduce CO2 emissions by more than one ton” whereas it would cost $13 for reduced deforestation, $24 to use wind technology, $51 for solar power, $93 for introducing hybrid cars and $131 for electric vehicles."

 

 

Zhao admitted that China’s population program is not without consequences, as the country is entering the aging society fast and facing the problem of gender imbalance.

 

 

Whether, and, if so, how, population control should be an active part of a country’s climate control is certainly a difficult political and cultural issue – but one that fast-growing economies such as China, India, and Brazil may have to face in the coming years.

The Deck is Still Stacked in the Government's Favor -- Is This A Good Thing?

Posted on July 22, 2010 by Seth Jaffe

Last week, in City of Pittsfield v. EPA, the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed denial of a petition by the City of Pittsfield seeking review of an NPDES permit issued by EPA. The case makes no new law and, by itself, is not particularly remarkable.  Cases on NPDES permit appeals have held for some time that a permittee appealing an NPDES permit must set forth in detail in its petition basically every conceivable claim or argument that they might want to assert. Pretty much no detail is too small. The City of Pittsfield failed to do this, instead relying on their prior comments on the draft permit. Not good enough, said the Court. 

For some reason, reading the decision brought to mind another recent appellate decision, General Electric v. Jackson, in which the D.C. Circuit laid to rest arguments that EPA’s unilateral order authority under § 106 of CERCLA is unconstitutional. As I noted in commenting on that decision, it too was unremarkable by itself and fully consistent with prior case law on the subject.

What do these two cases have in common? To me, they are evidence that, while the government can over-reach and does lose some cases, the deck remains stacked overwhelmingly in the government’s favor. The power of the government as regulator is awesome to behold. Looking at the GE case first, does anyone really deny that EPA’s § 106 order authority is extremely coercive? Looking at the Pittsfield case, doesn’t it seem odd that a party appealing a permit has to identify with particularity every single nit that they might want to pick with the permit? Even after the Supreme Court’s recent decisions tightening pleading standards, the pleading burden on a permit appellant remains much more substantial than on any other type of litigant.

Why should this be so? Why is it that the government doesn’t lose when it’s wrong, but only when it’s crazy wrong? 

Just askin’.

Alabama Court Dismisses CERCLA Section 107 Claims for Compelled Cleanup Costs

Posted on July 8, 2010 by Fournier J. Gale, III

On July 2, 2010, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama published a must read opinion regarding cost recovery claims under CERCLA.  See Solutia, Inc., et al. v. McWane, Inc., et al., Case No. 03-1345, Document No. 622 (N.D. Ala. July 2, 2010).The case was originally filed by plaintiffs in 2003 as a CERCLA cost recovery and contribution action against several industrial defendants located in Anniston, Alabama related to plaintiffs' cleanup of historic PCB contamination throughout the Anniston area. In June 2008, the Court had previously granted defendants' motion for summary judgment regarding plaintiffs' CERCLA Section 113 claims for contribution but had allowed plaintiffs to proceed with their CERCLA Section 107 cost recovery claims. However upon motion for reconsideration, the Court on July 2 issued a detailed opinion also dismissing with prejudice plaintiffs’ cost recovery claims under Section 107.

 

 

Of interest to CERCLA practitioners, the dismissal opinion provides a lengthy analysis, based on recent Circuit Court decisions, as to whether a plaintiff who seeks to recover costs of a cleanup performed pursuant to obligations under a consent decree or administrative settlement (aka “compelled” cleanup costs) can bring a claim under Section 107(a)(4)(B).  Notably, the U.S. Supreme Court did not decide the appropriate route for recovering “compelled” costs (under Section 107(a), 113(f), or both) in its most recent opinion addressing CERCLA Sections 107 and 113. United States v. Atlantic Research Corp., 551 U.S. 128 (2007). Nevertheless, the Northern District of Alabama agreed to reconsider defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' Section 107 claims in light of Circuit Court decisions issued subsequent to Atlantic Research as well as new evidence.  Indeed, the Court agreed with the defendants' assessment that the majority of Circuit Court decisions decided after the Northern District’s previous denial of defendants’ motions for summary judgment have held that a party who incurred “compelled” cleanup has a viable Section 113 claim for contribution and not a Section 107 claim for cost recovery.

 

 

Ultimately the Court concluded that the recent Circuit Court decisions were correct in their assessment that Congress had intended for Section 113(f) to be the exclusive remedy to recover costs incurred pursuant to a judgment, consent decree, or settlement.  Because the Court agreed withdefendants' argument that plaintiffs’ costs related to its PCB cleanup were incurred by virtue of a prior consent decree, the plaintiffs only had a potential right to a Section 113 claim for contribution (which was previously dismissed) – not a Section 107 claim for recovery.

 

 

Again, the opinion is a helpful summary of evolving jurisprudence under CERCLA regarding Section 107 and Section 113 claims.  

A Combined Superfund and Stormwater Rant

Posted on July 7, 2010 by Seth Jaffe

Sometimes, the practice of environmental law just takes my breath away. A decision issued earlier last month in United States v. Washington DOT was about as stunning as it gets. Ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment, Judge Robert Bryan held that the Washington State Department of Transportation had “arranged” for the disposal of hazardous substances within the meaning of CERCLA by designing state highways with stormwater collection and drainage structures, where those drainage structures ultimately deposited stormwater containing hazardous substances into Commencement Bay -- now, a Superfund site -- in Tacoma, Washington.  

I’m sorry, but if that doesn’t make you sit up and take notice, then you’re just too jaded. Under this logic, isn’t everyone who constructs a parking lot potentially liable for the hazardous substances that run off in stormwater sheet flow? 

For those who aren’t aware, phosphorus, the stormwater contaminant du jour, is a listed hazardous substance under Superfund. Maybe EPA doesn’t need to bother with new stormwater regulatory programs. Instead, it can just issue notices of responsibility to everyone whose discharge of phosphorus has contributed to contamination of a river or lake.

The Court denied both parties’ motions for summary judgment regarding whether the discharges of contaminated stormwater were federally permitted releases. Since the Washington DOT had an NPDES permit, it argued that it was not liable under § 107(j) of CERCLA. However, as the Court noted, even if the DOT might otherwise have a defense, if any of the releases occurred before the permit issued – almost certain, except in the case of newer roads – or if any discharges violated the permit, then the Washington DOT would still be liable and would have the burden of establishing a divisibility defense. 

If one were a conspiracy theorist, one might wonder if EPA were using this case to gently encourage the regulated community to support its recent efforts to expand its stormwater regulatory program. Certainly, few members of the regulated community would rather defend Superfund litigation than comply with a stormwater permit.

You can’t make this stuff up.

COUNTING DUST

Posted on July 6, 2010 by Roger Ferland

Concern is growing in western states about EPA's recent refusal to adequately  consider elevated PM-10 levels resulting from natural events as a factor in determining nonattainment.In 2005, Congress amended Clean Air Act Section 319 to require EPA to adopt rules for states to petition to exclude certain measured or modeled ambient air quality data from the determination whether a state was attaining National Ambient Air Quality Standards (“NAAQS”), because the data was affected by “exceptional events.” In general, exceptional events are those caused by natural, rather than anthropogenic sources. On March 22, 2007, EPA adopted a rule establishing the procedures and criteria to “exclude, discount, weigh, or make adjustments” to data based on the exceptional event finding. 72 Fed. Reg. 13561, 13562. 

 

From its adoption, the rule was criticized either for going too far to find exceptional events or not far enough. Particularly unhappy with the rule was the Western States Air Resources Council or WESTAR, an association of air quality managers from the western states. Criticisms include the charge that the rule did not contain clear criteria for making an exceptional event demonstration and generally ignored the real world natural conditions in the western deserts. In addition, WESTAR and others maintained that EPA acted much too slowly and inconsistently on state petitions for exceptional event determinations. In response, EPA has promised to issue guidance that would address these concerns.

 

On May 25, 2010, EPA rejected a petition for exceptional event status covering four high wind-related PM-10 NAAQS exceedances at a single monitor in Phoenix, Arizona. As a result, EPA will be compelled to disapprove the CAA Section 189(d) PM-10 nonattainment area plan for the Phoenix area. State officials expressed shock at the rejection because they believed that they had worked closely with EPA technical staff to develop a data package that would satisfy the rule criteria. They complained that their data had either been ignored or summarily dismissed. 

 

Officials from other western states attacked the EPA decision immediately and demanded new rules rather than the less legally-binding guidance promised by EPA. Although the controversy over EPA’s exceptional events rule and its implementation has been generally confined to PM-10 issues in the arid west, the adoption of a significantly more stringent 8-hour ozone NAAQS in August, and the huge increase in the size and number of nonattainment areas that will result from the new standard is likely to make the dysfunctional rule a national concern.

A Bridge Too Far? EPA's War on Lead-Based Paint Takes Aim at Commercial Buildings

Posted on June 30, 2010 by Charles Efflandt

No one doubts that EPA’s war on lead-based paint serves the cause of mitigating an established health threat. With children being particularly at risk, the regulations to date have focused on lead-based paint in older homes and other “child-occupied facilities.” On May 6, 2010, however, EPA gave notice of its intent to take the battle to an undefined set of commercial and public buildings. Can a full-scale assault on commercial facilities, which will involve a more complex set of regulatory variables and which will venture farther from the core health risk concerns, succeed in achieving a proper balance of competing factors?

 

EPA’s May 6, 2010 Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking announcing the next step in the lead-based paint campaign was published only days after the April 22, 2010 effective date of the controversial Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (“RRP Rule”). That rule regulates renovation and repair activities disturbing lead-based paint in older homes and child-occupied facilities. The RRP Rule affects contractors, landlords and others who perform RRP work for compensation.

 

The RRP Rule includes provisions for the required certification (for a fee) of firms performing covered RRP work, the training and certification (at a significant cost) of “Certified Renovators” through EPA-accredited classes, the required use of detailed RRP work practices when performing covered activities, the retention of compliance records, and the verification of compliance with work practice obligations. Even though the RRP Rule has a relatively narrow focus - residences and other child-occupied facilities - its requirements have generated substantial controversy.

 

Because the RRP Rule applies to numerous trades and contractors, as well as to certain landlords and other persons, issues related to obtaining the required training, safe implementation of the work practice requirements, costs of compliance and the possibility of a $37,500 per day, per violation penalty are only now being confronted by the regulated community as well as the regulators. Small contractors may be forced out of business, impacting competition. Needed RRP work may not be performed due to cost. Lead-contaminated waste disposal will create new environmental/health problems partially offsetting the benefits of the RRP Rule. Suffice it to say, EPA has not yet solved the numerous problems and complexities of implementing even these regulations focused on older homes and child-occupied facilities.

 

With this background, and setting aside for the moment legal mandates, one can reasonably question whether EPA is prepared to set its sights on a significantly more complex regulatory challenge- the renovation and repair of an estimated two to three million commercial and public facilities constructed prior to 1980. The ANPR includes no proposed language. Rather, the public is invited to respond to over 100 detailed questions and data requests.

 

At this time, the scope of EPA’s assault on the renovation and repair of commercial and public buildings is unknown. No current limitations on covered “commercial” and “public” buildings exist and both exterior and interior renovation and repair work are included in the ANPR. Unresolved questions include: What renovation and repair work should be covered? What activities create the most risk? Should exposure pathways be broadened to include nearby properties? How should the substantial amount of lead-contaminated waste be handled to avoid creating a different health and environmental hazard?

 

This much is known. The regulatory variables associated with extending the war on lead-based paint to commercial and public buildings are more numerous and the targeted health risks have expanded. I suggest that there is a real possibility that the regulations could fail to appropriately balance the legitimate interests of contractors, building owners and the public with the known and perceived health risks. Let us hope that the regulated community weighs-in on these issues and that the EPA gives careful thought to this next step in its campaign against lead-based paint.

 

The public comment period for this proposal ends July 6, 2010.

ACOEL MEMBER RICHARD LAZARUS NAMED STAFF DIRECTOR FOR OIL SPILL COMMISSION

Posted on June 23, 2010 by Rachael Bunday

ACOEL member Richard Lazarus has been appointed as staff director for the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, the commission announced Tuesday.

Lazarus, a Harvard University Law School graduate and current professor of environmental law at Georgetown University, will be tasked with coordinating the investigation that will determine what new regulations deepwater drilling will face after the Obama administration’s moratorium on the activity is lifted.

Current ACOEL president Jeff Thaler, a partner at Bernstein Shur, in Portland, Maine, applauded the commission’s choice.

“The Commission made a wise choice in selecting Richard Lazarus as staff director,” said Thaler.  “Prof. Lazarus is a superb environmental lawyer and legal scholar with broad experience inside and outside of government.  The College is proud to have him as a member.”

EPA Issues New Requirements for Pesticide Discharges and Sets Stricter Standard for Sulfur Dioxide

Posted on June 23, 2010 by John Crawford

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week announced new permit requirements for pesticide discharges and also issued a stronger standard for sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions.  These new regulations come on top of other efforts by the EPA to control and limit pollutants and the notice earlier this year that EPA will enforce stricter standards for ground-level ozone. 

Pesticide Discharges

In response to the  April 2009 National Cotton Council v. EPA  decision wherein the court found that pesticide discharges to U.S. waters were pollutants, the EPA has proposed a new permit on pesticide use.  According to a release by the agency, the proposed permit “would require all operators to reduce pesticide discharges by using the lowest effective amount of pesticide, prevent leaks and spills, calibrate equipment and monitor for and report adverse incidents.”

The proposed permit covers the following pesticide uses:
- Mosquito and other flying insect pest control
- Aquatic weed and algae control
- Aquatic nuisance animal control
- Forest canopy pest control

Importantly, the proposed permit does not include earthbound applications to control pests on agricultural crops or forest floors.  However, the agency could decide to regulate these activities through  future rule-making.

The EPA estimates that the new regulations would affect approximately 35,000 pesticide applicators nationally.  The agency is currently soliciting public comment on the permit and plans to finalize it by December of this year.  The new permit requirements will take effect in April of 2011.

Sulfur Dioxide Standard

EPA has issued a new health standard for sulfur dioxide emissions. The new  rule changes the current 24-hour and annual standards to an hourly health standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb).  The existing SO2 standards were established in 1971 and included a 24-hour standard of 140 ppb and an annual average standard of 30 ppb.

Additionally, EPA is also changing the monitoring requirements for SO2, requiring that monitors be placed where SO2 emissions impact population at certain levels.  The new monitors must be operational by January 1, 2013.

2010 American College of Environmental Lawyers Annual Meeting

Posted on June 21, 2010 by Rachael Bunday

Houston, TX

October 21 to 23, 2010

 

 

 The American College of Environmental Lawyers is having its Annual Meeting in Houston, Texas, October 21-23, 2010 at the law offices of Vinson & Elkins. You may register and pay conference fees below.  Please note that dress attire is business casual.

 

Hotel

We have reserved a block of  85 rooms at the Hilton Americas - Houston (713) 739-8000.  Please make sure to mention you are with the American College of Environmental Lawyers to get our discounted rate of $129 for a single or double room.

 

Agenda

 

 

 


THURSDAY, OCTOBER 21

 

6:00 p.m. -  Welcome Reception with plentiful hors d'oeuvres hosted by Vinson & Elkins at The Grove at Discovery Green, across from The Hilton Americas. Open to College members and their spouses/significant others.

 

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 22

7:30 a.m. - Breakfast in the Vinson & Elkins Courtroom on the 24th Floor

9:00 - President's welcome and announcements

9:15 - Keynote speaker: John Hofmeister -- Founder and Chief Executive, Citizens for Affordable Energy, Washington, D.C. and author of "Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk from an Energy Insider;" former President, Shell Oil Company, Houston, TX (retired 2008).

 

10:00 - Break

10:15 - Business meeting, including election of officers and induction of new Fellows and installation of new President

10:45 - Third annual "around the room" introductions of ACOEL Fellows

12:30 - Lunch and Committee Meetings, 26th Floor Conference Center. Fellows who are not currently assigned to a committee, please self-select and join one.

Policy Committee - 26C

Membership Committee - 26D

Programs Committee - 26G

Website Committee - 26H

Afternoon Plenary Sessions in the Courtroom

2:00 p.m. - Pending Actions Concerning the Gulf Oil Spill

Panelists: Bradley Marten, Marten Law Group

John Cruden, U.S. Dept. of Justice

James Bruen, Farella Braun + Martel

  

3:00 p.m. - Break

3:15 - 5:00 pm -  Imagining the Future of the College: An Open, Free-Wheeling Discussion on Mission, Direction and Expectations

                       *chaired by Jeff Thaler and Carol Dinkins, with participation by all

Evening

Dinner:   Choose from several venues previously announced for no-host groups.

 

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 23

Morning Concurrent Sessions (26th Floor Conference Center)

10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

  • Session A (26C): Climate Change Update, and the Resurgence of Common Law Nuisance in Climate Change Cases.

Format: Panel discussion with participation of attendees.

Panelists:

Michael B. Gerrard,  Center for Climate Change Law,Columbia University Law School

                        Pamela M. Giblin, Baker Botts

                        R. Kinnan Goleman, KG Strategies

Moderator: Karen Crawford, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough 

           

  • Session B (26D): In the Wake of Burlington Northern: Private Party and Government Responses, and Case Law Developments

Format: Panel discussion with participation of attendees.

Panelists:

Carol E. Dinkins, Vinson & Elkins

Theodore L. Garrett, Covington & Burling

William H. Hyatt, Jr., K&L Gates

Moderator: David B. Farer, Farer Fersko

 11:30 - Adjornment of 2010 Annual Meeting

Afternoon and Evening

 

Excursion Options:

 

1:30 pm - Travel on your own by taxi to meet at The Menil Collection, 1515 Sul Ross Street, Houston, TX 77006, for an overview by Emily Todd, Deputy Director, followed by guided tour of campus.

or

Travel on the Main Street light rail to the Museum District and Hermann Park, where you will find close by:

Houston Museum of Natural Science with butterfly house, planetarium and energy hall, and gem and mineral collection.
Houston Museum of Fine Arts
Contemporary Arts Museum
Holocaust Museum
Japanese Tea Garden
Houston Rose Garden at Hermann Park
Houston Zoo

6:00 – 8:00 pm:

Dinner and private cruise of the Houston Ship Channel on the Houston Port Authority’s Sam Houston. Mexican flood catered by Ninfa’s with beer, wine and margaritas. Travel by taxi to 7300 Clinton Drive, Houston, TX 77020; look for Gate 8. Please arrive no later than 5:30 pm at the Visitors Pavilion for boarding. 
 

Optional Evening Outing
 
The College has booked a ride on the Sam Houston Boat Tour  from 6-8pm for all members and their guests. Heavy hors d'oeuvres, beer and wine will be served. Please RSVP to Carol Dinkins (cdinkins@velaw.com) if you plan on attending. There will be modest fee for food and drink - more details to follow.
 
See below for more information about the boat tour.
 
____________________________ 

Get ready for an unforgettably spectacular waterborne tour of one of the busiest ports in the world aboard the Port of Houston Authority's free public tour boat!

Named for the legendary military commander who led the fight for Texas independence from Mexico and later statehood, the M/V Sam Houston offers free leisurely 90-minute round-trip cruises along the Houston Ship Channel.

Embarking from the port's Sam Houston Pavilion, visiting sightseers can enjoy passing views of international cargo vessels, and operations at the port's Turning Basin Terminal. Measuring 95 feet in length and 24 feet in width, the boat carries a maximum capacity of 90 passengers with air-conditioned lounge seating and additional standing room on the boat's rear deck.

The M/V Sam Houston has been operating as the Port Authority's public tour vessel since its inaugural voyage on July. 30, 1958. By 1979, a total of 1 million passengers had taken the tour.

 

 ____________________________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

Conference Registration Fees and Payment

 

The meeting fee this year is $275 per person. You may use the PayPal button below to pay your conference fees or, if you prefer, you may mail a check to:  

 

Bob Whetzel

Richards Layton & Finger

One Rodney Square

P.O. Box 551

Wilmington, DE 19899

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


THURSDAY, OCTOBER 21

If You Thought That State RCRA Enforcement Order Was a Bar to Any Citizen Suit, Think Again

Posted on June 21, 2010 by Karen Aldridge Crawford

Natural Resource Defense Council, Inc. v. County of Dickson, Tennessee, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32423 (M.D. Tenn. Apr. 1, 2010).

A district court denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss an environmental group’s claims under the citizen suit provisions of RCRA to abate an alleged imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment posed by trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene disposed at a landfill.  The state agency had issued an order addressing this issue, and so Defendants, among other defenses, asserted that the group’s claims should be dismissed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 6972(b)(2)(B)(iv) which bars citizen suits where a court order or administrative order has been issued.  According to the Court, "Administrator" is defined as the "Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency," and thus the Court was not persuaded by Defendants' argument that Tennessee had stepped into the shoes of the EPA administrator for purposes of enforcing the federally-mandated hazardous waste program based on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the state and EPA.  According to the Court, the MOU referenced Subchapter III, while the provision governing "imminent hazards" is located in Subchapter IV.  Therefore, the MOU did not authorize the state to step into the shoes of the EPA administrator for purposes of bringing an action or issuing an order regarding an imminent hazard. That authority is retained by the EPA administrator.  The Court also found that despite Defendants’ assertions otherwise, the group had standing to sue, its claims were not moot, and the doctrines of abstention and primary jurisdiction did not warrant dismissal of the case.

Livable Communities -- And How to Achieve Them

Posted on June 10, 2010 by Seth Jaffe

With work on financial reform almost complete, Senator Dodd announced this week that his remaining legislative priority is the enactment of the Livable Communities Act, S. 1619. There is a companion house bill, H.R. 4690. A hearing on the Senate bill will be held tomorrow.

It’s hard to be against livable communities and I may just be getting crotchety, but this legislation seems some combination of pointless and misguided. The legislative findings discuss traffic congestion, the percentage of oil used for transportation and CO2 generated from transportation, and the need to encourage and sustain compact development and historical town centers.  And we’re going to solve this – or even make a dent – by making grants to “micropolitan” statistical areas? I don’t think so.

I agree that sprawl is a problem. I support transit-oriented development. However, there are reasons why we see development where we sit it in the United States. People still like the freedom and flexibility of personal automobile use. If we think that all that driving causes externalities – and I do – I’ve got two words for you: carbon tax. Until we make people internalize the cost of their living choices, they will continue to make those same choices and money spent on encouraging livable communities will be largely wasted. If we can’t summon the political will to tax carbon, we shouldn’t pretend that we’re solving the problem by spending money on micropolitan areas.

No New Standards for Chemical Plant Security This Year

Posted on June 8, 2010 by Susan Cooke

Despite earlier expectations, it appears increasingly unlikely that the House and Senate will consider passage of legislation this year on the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (“CFATS”) program.[1] Under that program the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) adopted regulations at Title 6 Part 27 which list about 300 chemicals of interest, each with a screening threshold quantity. Facilities with a chemical of concern above the screening threshold quantity are required to complete a screening questionnaire for review by DHS. 

If the DHS determines that the facility presents a high level of security risk, it notifies the facility which must then prepare a security vulnerability analysis and file the analysis with DHS. This analysis must address each vulnerability that is identified, and it must satisfy security performance standards set forth in the regulations, most of which are phrased in very general terms. DHS may inspect such high risk facilities to assess their compliance with regulatory requirements, and it may issue orders assessing civil penalties which it can enforce through an adjudicatory hearing process.

The statutory provisions governing CFATS are due to expire on October 4, 2010, and Congress was expected to consider substantive revisions to the program and extend it for several years before its expiration in October. Two bills, H.R. 2868 and S. 2996, were expected to receive serious attention in crafting that legislation.



[1] The program was established under the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2007, § 550, Pub. L. 109-295, and was extended by the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2010, § 550, Pub. L. 111-83.

 

H.R. 2868 passed the House in November 2009 and is entitled the “Chemical and Water Security Act of 2009”. It would extend the program’s current requirements to facilities that treat drinking water or wastewater, with the requirements administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state authorities rather than DHS. The House bill would also require high risk facilities to assess inherently safer technology (“IST”) alternatives (referred to in the bill as “methods to reduce the consequences of a terrorist attack”). In addition, the bill would provide for citizen petitions seeking DHS investigation of a chemical facility allegedly in violation of CFATS requirements.

The Obama Administration has advocated modifications to CFATS that are similar to the provisions of H.R. 2868, and Senator Lautenberg who chairs the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee has stated his intention of introducing a chemical security bill which is expected to be at least as stringent as the H.R. 2868. However, he has yet to introduce such a bill. 

S. 2996 has received the support of several industry sectors and is entitled “Continuing Chemical Facility Antiterrorism Security Act of 2010”. It would extend CFATS for another five years, leaving the current provisions essentially intact except for the addition of voluntary chemical security training and exercise programs. 

It now appears that the House and Senate will extend statutory authorization of the CFATS program for another year, with supplemental funding provided in the Homeland Security budget bill now under consideration. Of course, the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could engender renewed interest in the earlier adoption of an IST provision which has been the subject of the greatest discussion. Indeed, one Green Peace blog points to failure of the shut off valve on the oil rig where the Gulf of Mexico oil spill occurred as demonstrating the need for immediate adoption of such a provision. However, absent a major catastrophe on land or connected to a terrorist plot involving a chemical facility or refinery here in the United States, legislative action on proposed changes to the CFATS program is not expected to occur until after the fall elections.

SEC Issues Interpretative Guidance on Climate Change Disclosures

Posted on June 7, 2010 by Michèle Corash

by Michele B. Corash and Robert L. Falk

Morrison & Foerster LLP

San Francisco, California

 

 

In the first quarter of 2010, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued a potentially significant “interpretative release” providing guidance to public companies on their disclosure obligations relating to climate change (Release Nos. 33-9106; 34-61469). The release focused on recent business and legal developments regarding climate change and advised companies to more carefully evaluate the impact these developments may have on their business and whether such impact should be disclosed. 

 

As a technical matter, an interpretive release by the SEC does not create new legal requirements. Instead, it furthers a policy objective by “clarifying” the applicability of current SEC rules. In this case, the relevant SEC rules require the disclosure of material items associated with the impact of climate change on a business and cover a company’s risk factors, business description, legal proceedings, and management discussion and analysis. 

 

While the SEC’s Chair, Mary Schapiro, has carefully noted that this interpretive release should not be construed as the SEC making a statement about the facts surrounding climate change or global warning, the release does acknowledge an increase in climate-related legislation and international accords, as well as changing business trends where environmental issues have the potential to create new risks or opportunities for companies. In fact, in the release, the SEC specifically provided the following examples of areas where climate change may trigger disclosure requirements:

 

  •  Impact of Legislation and Regulation:  When assessing potential disclosure obligations, a company should consider whether the impact of certain existing laws and regulations regarding climate change is material.  In certain circumstances, a company should also evaluate the potential impact of pending legislation and regulation related to this topic.
  • Impact of International Accords:  A company should consider, and disclose when material, the risks or effects on its business of international accords and treaties relating to climate change.
  • Indirect Consequences of Regulation or Business Trends:  Legal, technological, political and scientific developments regarding climate change may create new opportunities or risks for companies.  For instance, a company may face decreased demand for goods that produce significant greenhouse gas emissions or increased demand for goods that result in lower emissions than competing products. As such, a company should consider, for disclosure purposes, the actual or potential indirect consequences it may face due to climate change related regulatory or business trends.
  • Physical Impacts of Climate Change: Companies should also evaluate for disclosure purposes, the actual and potential material impacts of environmental matters on their business.[1]

SEC Commissioner, Luis Aguilar, in speech discussing the SEC’s interpretive release concerning climate change, provided further guidance. He cautioned that each company “should ensure that it has sufficient information regarding [its] greenhouse gas emissions and other operational matters to evaluate the likelihood of a material effect arising from the subject legislation or regulation.”[2] Additionally, the SEC has long reminded companies that in determining whether certain information is material, the company should err on the side of disclosure.

The guidance provided in the SEC’s interpretive release is effective immediately and should be considered during the preparation of all future public company annual reports and SEC filings.



[1] Interpretative Release “Commission Guidance Regarding Disclosure Related to Climate Change,” dated February 2, 2010, is available at: http://www.sec.gov/rules/interp/2010/33-9106.pdf.

[2] Speech by SEC Commissioner Luis A. Aguilar: Responding to Investors’ Requests for SEC Guidance on Disclosures of Risks Related to Climate Change, dated January 27, 2010, available at: http://www.sec.gov/news/speech/2010/spch012710laa-climate.htm

EPA ANNOUNCES STRATEGY FOR CHESAPEAKE BAY RESTORATION

Posted on May 27, 2010 by Ridgway Hall

On May 12, 2010, EPA, with the support of six other federal agencies, issued a Strategy For Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The strategy document is a major milestone in an enormous multi-stakeholder exercise involving issues of science, law, policy and politics launched a year ago by President Obama. Executive Order 13508, 74 Fed. Reg. 23099, entitled “Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration,” recognized the unique ecological, economic, recreational and cultural value of the Bay, and the failure of federal and state efforts over the previous 25 years to reverse its serious degradation. The Order directed the seven federal agencies to work together to develop a strategic plan to restore the Bay to a healthy condition by 2025, in consultation with the six states whose lands are included in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and the District of Columbia, plus stakeholder groups, NGOs and concerned citizens among the 17 million people who live in the watershed. While the most relevant law in this effort is the Clean Water Act, other federal, state and local laws are also in play. This article briefly describes the problems faced by the Bay and then discusses the strategy for its restoration.

The Problem


The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in North America and the third largest in the world. Water quality problems are particularly challenging because it is relatively shallow compared with the land mass—64,000 square miles—which drains into it. EPA has called it a “world-class ecological treasure that is home to several thousand species of plants and animals,” including migratory birds. Its production of crabs, oysters and other seafood, plus recreational uses and shipping, “make the Chesapeake Bay a multi-billion dollar economic driver for the mid-Atlantic.”

 


Over a century of pollution from heavy industrial, commercial, agricultural and other uses has resulted in serious degradation. The principal pollutants are nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment, which have prevented attainment of water quality standards for dissolved oxygen, clarity/underwater grasses and chlorophyll-a (a measure of algae levels). In the summer large “dead zones” spread out across the Bay where fish cannot live because the oxygen is depleted by decaying algae which bloom as a result of excess nutrient discharges.

 


For the past 25 years, despite a series of cleanup agreements among federal agencies and the Chesapeake Bay states, with leadership from EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program established under Section 117 of the Clean Water Act, efforts to stem the pollution have been unsuccessful. Regulation has been weak and enforcement has been lax. Currently 89 of the 92 tidal segments of the Bay fail to meet one or more water quality standards.

 

 

The Strategy For Restoration


On May 12, 2009, President Obama issued Executive Order 13508 in response to widespread calls from many of the Bay states and citizens groups for federal leadership. The Order required the seven federal agencies with responsibility for the Chesapeake, including EPA and the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, Commerce (including NOAA), Defense, Transportation and Homeland Security, to develop reports on environmental conditions throughout the watershed, identify tools and resources to protect and restore water quality, wildlife habitat and adjacent lands, and develop a schedule for restoration and protection of these resources by 2025, including measurable 2-year milestones.

 


EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is committed to restoration of the Bay and appointed as her Senior Advisor on the Chesapeake Bay and Anacostia River Charles (“Chuck”) Fox. Fox, a Bay sailor who previously served as EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Water under President Clinton as well as Secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, has been a key player in the implementation of the Executive Order.

 


The Strategy document issued on May 12 lays out a series of measurable objectives designed to achieve, among other things, sustainable and healthy populations of blue crabs, oysters, fish and other wildlife; restoration of degraded wetlands and creation of new wetlands and forest buffers along the Bay and its tributaries; protection of forests, farms and land that is naturally or historically important; expanded public access, recognizing that people will work to protect the things they enjoy; and an enhanced public awareness of the importance of a healthy Bay and watershed to the enjoyment and economic well-being of its citizens.

 


At the heart of the Strategy is restoration of water quality, based on the establishment of a total maximum daily load (TMDL)—actually a large number of TMDLs—under Section 303 of the CWA which will cover all 92 segments of the Bay and its tidal tributaries. Based on decades of data gathering and modeling, the final TMDL will be the largest in history. It will include “waste load allocations” for point sources and “load allocations” for non-point sources addressing the three pollutants of major concern: nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment. EPA seeks to finalize it by year end.

 


The TMDL allocations will be applied to point sources through NPDES permits, and to non-point sources through various state regulatory programs, all of which will be collectively embodied in Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) which each Bay state and the District of Columbia are already developing. The WIPs will be evolving documents, updated as experience is gained with their initial application. If states fail to adopt timely WIPs, or the WIPs are not adequate to achieve reasonable progress at two-year milestone intervals, EPA will write the WIP itself, and provide backup enforcement wherever state enforcement is lax.

 


Compliance challenges may be especially great for non-point sources. For example, EPA currently estimates that approximately 42% of nitrogen, 46% of phosphorus and 72% of sediment discharged to the Bay come from agricultural activities, most of which involve non-point sources such as farms. States currently require nutrient management plans and best management practices for most farms, but the enforcement tools are weak. Legislation is pending before the Senate and House to strengthen the Chesapeake Bay provision of the Clean Water Act, Section 117, but as of this writing the fate of that legislation is uncertain. Funding is available to assist farmers develop and implement improved practices through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state agencies. Technical resources are available from those agencies and various NGOs and university programs. Given traditional suspicion of government programs, however, substantial community outreach and stakeholder involvement will be required to achieve the goals of the strategy.

 


EPA is also launching several related regulatory initiatives. These include more effective regulation of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to reduce runoff from animal manure and process waste, expanded regulation of municipal separate storm sewer systems, supporting state and local regulation of septic systems, and developing nutrient trading programs and the use of offsets for new and expanded discharges. More rigorous regulation is being considered for stormwater runoff from impermeable surfaces and construction sites from which large quantities of sediment are washed into rivers and streams. To address air emissions of nitrogen which result in atmospheric deposition on the Bay, the Strategy proposes more stringent regulation of power plants and other sources of nitrogen to the air.

 


This brief summary does not address many elements of this massive Strategy. For more information, see the EPA Executive Order web site and EPA’s web site for the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. EPA and the Bay states are conducting public meetings and outreach efforts throughout the watershed.

 


Conclusion


The Chesapeake Bay Restoration Strategy will, among many other things, provide numerous opportunities for lawyers to provide counseling to those who will be subject to federal and state permitting and regulatory requirements driven by the TMDL and the related WIPs. The restoration effort provides many opportunities to find novel approaches outside the courtroom for resolving the problems and conflicts which will inevitably result during the course of implementation. Finally, much of this activity will provide models for addressing similar problems elsewhere around the country.

Just What We Need: More Community Engagement in Superfund Sites

Posted on May 26, 2010 by Seth Jaffe

Last week, EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response announced release of its Community Engagement Implementation Plan. Who could be against community engagement? It’s as American as apple pie. It’s environmental justice. It’s community input into decisions that affect the community. It’s transparency and open decision-making.

 

Call me a curmudgeon, but I’m against it. Study after study shows that, in terms of the actual risks posed by Superfund sites, we devote too many of our environmental protection dollars to Superfund sites, when we should be focusing on air and water. Why do we keep doing this? Because the community demands it. As Peter Sandman has noted, perceptions of risk are driven only partly by the actual hazard posed. To a significant degree, those perceptions are more driven by outrage over the situation. In some circumstances, what Sandman calls outrage management makes sense, but I’m skeptical that EPA’s community engagement initiative is really about outrage management.

 

In any case, here’s the public policy question of the day. Does it really make sense to spend scarce environmental protection resources, not to reduce risk, but to reduce outrage?

BNSF No Big Deal, says U. S. District Court

Posted on May 25, 2010 by Rick Glick

The U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of California has denied reconsideration of its pre-BNSF order finding defendants jointly and severally liable under CERCLA. U. S. v. Iron Mountain Mines. Defendants had argued that the Supreme Court in the BNSF case mandated the district courts to consider grounds for reasonable apportionment. They had earlier argued for apportionment before BNSF and then cited the Supreme Court’s decision as an intervening change of law that entitles it to reconsideration.

 

The court disagreed, finding that BNSF did not change the law, rather it simply reaffirmed existing law and applied it to a specific set of facts. It seems strange that the Supreme Court would grant cert in a case where the law is settled just to apply the facts. In fact, the working presumption in CERCLA litigation had been that joint and several liability is the rule and apportionment is rare, even though CERCLA doesn’t say that. Most practitioners saw BNSF as a game changer, reopening the possibility of a hard look given to reasonable bases for apportionment in mediated allocations and in court. But the District Court followed the lead of the Justice Department, which has consistently said BNSF marks no departure from standard CERCLA jurisprudence.

 

It sure would be great if the Supreme Court would provide some clarity in its environmental decisions. Few would think Rapanos helped much with our understanding of the Clean Water Act, and now we need to muddle through a certain lack of precision in representing clients in Superfund matters. While BNSF opens the window, it remains to be seen whether the opening is just a crack or will really let some fresh air in.

Fighting the Last War: The Relevance (and Irrelevance) of the Exxon Valdez Spill to the Deepwater Horizon Spill

Posted on May 24, 2010 by Bradley Marten

A number of us in the Pacific Northwest can remember the phone call that came in the spring of 1989 telling us to come to Alaska. There had been an oil spill, the caller said, and we had better get up there right away. We packed up and left, sometimes with just a couple of sets of clothes, and ended up staying for months, or years. We were lawyers, not scientists, and we could neither contain the spill nor predict its impacts. What we could do – or thought we could do – was assess blame and assign damages. That turned out to be harder than any of us imagined.

Nearly twenty years of litigation followed the Exxon Valdez spill, and there was not a single case, but many. By understanding some of the history of the Exxon Valdez cases, one can appreciate what the lawyers working on the Deepwater Horizon case have in front of them. At the same time, the many differences between the two spills suggest that history will not repeat itself. The legal response to the Deepwater Horizon case, like the cleanup response being carried out in the Gulf at this time, is likely to be far more complex, involve even more parties, and possibly even more time. By way of example:

  • The federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990 ("OPA 90"), one of the principal laws likely to be invoked in response to the Deepwater Horizon, was enacted after (indeed, in response to) the Exxon Valdez. While the elements of the liability case against responsible parties under OPA 90 are similar to those asserted under the Clean Water Act in the Exxon case, OPA 90 allows plaintiffs to potentially recover a broader range of compensatory damages, including: damages to real or personal property; subsistence use; federal, state, and local tax revenues; lost profits and earning capacity; and the cost of providing additional public services resulting from the spill. In that sense, the law is more complex now than it was at the time of the Exxon Valdez spill, involves more parties and more and different potential claims. There is also very little case law decided under it;
  • The causation issues in the Exxon Valdez case were far simpler than in the present spill. There was no question as to the cause of the 1989 spill into Prince William Sound – a tanker hit a reef. In the case of the Deepwater Horizon, on the other hand, press reports and briefings by BP point to a chain of events, each of which may have contributed to the explosion and to the still mounting damages;
  • Unlike the Clean Water Act, OPA 90 expressly allows for contribution claims among responsible parties that were not available under the Clean Water Act. Therefore, the party that initially responds to the spill (BP) may have statutory claims that they choose to assert against other responsible parties at some future time;
  • The Exxon case involved a single state (Alaska) and the federal government (and Alaska Native corporations). By comparison, several states have already become involved in the Deepwater Horizon spill (including Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama), raising potential jurisdictional questions and possible conflicting claims among the governmental plaintiffs;
  • In oil spill cases, one of the potentially largest claims the government can bring is for natural resource damages. In order to do so, however, the government has to establish a "baseline" of pre-spill conditions. This is much more difficult to do in some of the ports and commercial areas along the Gulf Coast that are already impacted by hydrocarbons, as opposed to the relatively pristine waters of Alaska's Prince William Sound.
     

II. The Exxon Valdez Litigation

Against this backdrop, it may be helpful to review the history of the litigation that began in March, 1989 with the grounding of the oil tanker Exxon Valdez on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Estimates of the quantity of oil spilled range from 10.8 million to 30 million gallons. More than 1,200 miles of coastline were contaminated, 250,000 birds were killed, and 330 civil lawsuits were filed.

  • Criminal Prosecution

The state of Alaska criminally prosecuted the Exxon Valdez’s captain, Joe Hazelwood. The United States prosecuted Exxon for various environmental crimes, including criminal violations of the Clean Water Act, the Refuse Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Exxon Corporation pled guilty to one count of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and Exxon Shipping pled guilty to one count each of violating the Clean Water Act, the Refuse Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The corporations were jointly fined $25 million and were ordered to pay restitution of $100 million.

  • Civil Litigation: The Natural Resource Damage Claims

The United States and the state of Alaska sued Exxon for natural resource damages. That litigation was settled by entry of a consent decree under which Exxon agreed to pay $900 million over a period of ten years. The money was used at the direction of the Oil Spill Trustee Council for species and habitat restoration and recovery. The consent decree contain a reopener provision that allowed the governments to make additional claims of up to $100 million for natural resource damages not known when the settlements were reached.


In 2006 the Department of Justice and the State of Alaska asserted a claim against Exxon under the reopener provision, seeking payment of $92 million clean up oil the governments contend remains in the environment from the 1989 spill. Exxon responded that the nearly 350 studies that have been conducted demonstrate that the spill has left no lingering damages in Prince William Sound, and that the governments’ demands do not satisfy the requirements of the settlement agreement. No case has yet been filed.

 

  • The Private Party Claims

Most of the private civil lawsuits were consolidated before Judge H. Russell Holland in the United States District Court for the District of Alaska. The damages trial proceeded in phases: Phase I determined whether Exxon was liable for punitive damages, and held that it was. Phase II determined the amount of compensatory damages owed to the plaintiffs. Phase III determined the amount of punitive damages to award to the plaintiffs. Subsequent proceedings adjudicated the claims of members of the fifty classes of claimants in the consolidated class action lawsuit.
On August 11, 1994, following the second phase of the trial, the jury returned a verdict of compensatory damages against Exxon of nearly $287 million. On September 16, 1994, following the third phase of the trial, the jury returned a $5 billion punitive damages verdict against Exxon. Exxon appealed, marking the start of an additional fifteen years of litigation and three appeals to the Ninth Circuit and, ultimately, the Supreme Court.


In the first appeal, the Ninth Circuit remanded the punitive damage award to the district court to be reconsidered in light of intervening decisions by the United States Supreme Court addressing the constitutionality of punitive damage awards. In BMW v. Gore and Cooper Industries v. Leatherman Tools, the Supreme Court articulated factors a court must consider when reviewing a punitive damage award: the reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct; the ration of the award to the harm inflicted on the plaintiff; and the difference between the award and civil and criminal penalties in comparable cases. The district court conducted an extensive analysis of those factors, and concluded the actual harm to plaintiffs was more than $500 million and a ratio of punitive damages to harm was 10 to 1, supporting the original $5 billion award. Nonetheless, the court reduced the punitive damages to $4 billion, to conform to what it viewed as the Ninth Circuit’s mandate. Exxon appealed.


While the second appeal was pending, the Supreme Court issued another punitive damages opinion, State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co. v. Campbell. State Farm instructed courts to weigh five specific considerations in calculating punitive damages, and “strongly indicated the proportion of punitive damages to harm could generally not exceed a ration of 9 to 1.” Those five factors are (1) whether the harm caused was physical as opposed to economic; (2) whether the conduct causing the plaintiff’s harm showed “indifference to or a reckless disregard of the health or safety of others;” (3) whether the “target of the conduct” was financially vulnerable; (4) whether the defendant’s conduct involved repeated actions as opposed to an isolated incident; and (5) whether the harm caused was the result of “intentional malice, trickery, or deceit, or mere accident.” The Ninth Circuit summarily remanded the second appeal of the punitive damage award to the district court for recalculation in light of State Farm. On remand, the district court again determined actual harm to be $513.1 million and increased the punitive damage award to $4.5 billion, a ratio of just under 9:1. Exxon appealed again, and this time, the plaintiffs cross-appealed, seeking reinstatement of the $5 billion award.


In the third appeal, Exxon argued that all of its settlement and other pre-judgment compensatory payments to the plaintiffs, which totaled approximately $493 million, had to be subtracted from the more than $500 million in actual harm before calculating the ratio of punitive damages to actual harm. As a result, Exxon argued, the measure of damages would be reduced to $20.3 million. Applying what it contended was the appropriate ratio, 1:1, Exxon argued that a punitive damage award should be capped at $25 million. This time, the Ninth Circuit accepted the District Court’s approximation of $500 million as the amount of actual harm, but in determining the appropriate ratio of punitive damages to actual damages, took into account the fact that while Exxon’s conduct (its “reckless decision to risk the livelihood of thousands by placing a relapsed alcoholic in command of a supertanker”) was particularly egregious and the economic damages significant, it was not intentional. And, as a mitigating factor, Exxon promptly took steps to ameliorate the harm. Thus, Exxon’s conduct, “though inexcusable,” warranted a ratio of 5:1 rather than 9:1, resulting in a punitive damage award of $2.5 billion dollars.


The parties then appealed to the United States Supreme Court. In 2008, the Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit and limited the punitive damage claim to a 1:1 ratio, or roughly $507 million. However, the high court declined to decide whether Exxon was required to pay interest on the amount of the award, and sent the issue back to the Ninth Circuit. Two months later, the appeals court held that Exxon was required to pay the interest, dating back to 1996, roughly doubling the amount of the final award. The average award to the 33,000 claimants came to about $15,000 -- roughly 20% of the amount that was awarded by the jury in 1994.

III. What Happens Next


Press reports indicate that a number of economic damage cases have already been filed against BP, Halliburton and Transocean over the Deepwater Horizon spill, and there are almost certain to be many more, depending on the impact of the spill. The government has yet to file litigation, but it can be expected to do so, under a variety of federal laws including OPA, the Clean Water Act, the Refuse Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, among others. There will be a lengthy and expensive natural resource damage assessment that the defendants will be expected to pay for. There are potential insurance claims, potential shareholder claims, and possibly contractual and statutory contribution claims between the responsible parties, among others. And if the sum of these were not enough to challenge even the most battle-tested lawyers on all sides, there is the reputational and political overlay which can dominate the legal and scientific issues at play, including Congressional hearings. A spill the size of this one not only impacts BP and its partners, but the entire industry. It also will test the legal system and the brightest minds in it.

For more information regarding the legal impacts of the Gulf spill, please contact Brad Marten or any other member of Marten Law’s Energy, Climate Change or Waste Cleanup practices.

EPA REVISITS REGULATION OF COAL COMBUSTION RESIDUALS

Posted on May 12, 2010 by Larry Ausherman

Summary

On May 4, 2010, EPA released its proposed rule to regulate disposal and management of coal combustion residuals (“CCRs”) from coal-fired power plants. The 563 page proposal presents for public comment two alternative approaches. In one approach, EPA would regulate CCRs as a new category of “special wastes” under Subtitle C of RCRA when they are destined for disposal in landfills or surface impoundments. Under the alternative approach, EPA would use Subtitle D of RCRA to set performance standards for disposal of CCRs in landfills and impoundments that would be enforced principally by States. Under both proposals, beneficially used CCRs would be exempt from hazardous waste regulation under RCRA. Neither proposal would have EPA regulate placement of CCRs in mines or non-minefill uses of CCRs at coal mine sites.

 

What are CCRs?

CCRs are residual materials that remain after combustion of coal to generate electric power. This material is also sometimes referred to as coal ash, coal combustion waste, or coal combustion byproducts. Large volumes of CCRs are generated by power plants in the United States. Some CCRs are beneficially used in other products or processes, some are returned to mines as reclamation material or for non-minefill uses and the rest is disposed at landfills.
 

How are CCRs Regulated Now?

In August 1993 and May 2000, EPA considered whether to regulate CCRs as a hazardous waste under Subtitle C of RCRA, and determined not to do so. Instead, it applied the Bevill Amendment exception (for mining activities) to CCRs and left open the possibility that States may regulate disposal of CCRs. The Office of Surface Mining in the United States Department of the Interior (“OSM”) has authority to regulate placement of CCRs in mines as part of coal mine reclamation.

 

Why is EPA Revisiting its Previous Determinations Not To Regulate CCRs Under RCRA, Subtitle C?

In December 2008, in Kingston, Tennessee, a retaining wall of a TVA surface impoundment used for disposal of CCRs breached, and CCRs saturated with water from the impoundment were released. The release prompted renewed scrutiny of CCR disposal practices and, in large part, prompted EPA’s decision to revisit previous determinations not to regulate CCRs. EPA’s re-evaluation of CCR disposal since the Kingston release has prompted substantial debate resulting in the delayed announcement of EPA’s May 4, 2010 proposal.

 

Two Options for Regulation.

In light of strongly held opposing views about regulation of CCRs and the EPA’s desire to avoid further delay in issuing a proposed rule, EPA’s proposal is in the somewhat unusual format of two alternative options. After a 90 day public comment, EPA will decide upon an approach to regulation.

 

Under the more stringent of the two options, EPA would reverse its previous Bevill Amendment determination, address CCRs as a “special wastes” under RCRA Subtitle C, and regulate the disposal of CCRs in landfills or surface impoundments. “Special wastes” would be a new waste category that would be subject to some, but not all, of Subtitle C requirements applicable to hazardous waste. The Subtitle C option would regulate CCRs from the point of generation to final disposal and would include regulation of siting, liners, run-on and run-off controls, ground water monitoring, fugitive dust controls, financial assurance, corrective action and closure. The Subtitle C approach is favored by environmental groups but opposed by electric power generators because it would significantly increase CCR disposal costs.

 

The less stringent alternative regulatory option proposed by EPA would leave the Agency’s previous Bevill determination in place so that CCRs would not be regulated under Subtitle C of RCRA. However, CCRs disposed of in surface impoundment or landfills would be subject to RCRA Subtitle D. This option would not require permits from EPA, and requirements would be enforced primarily by States rather than EPA.

 

Exclusions.

Certain uses and disposals of CCRs are not covered by EPA’s proposed rule making. First, EPA is not proposing to change the existing regulatory exemption from hazardous waste regulations for beneficially used CCRs. Examples of beneficial uses of CCRs may be road construction, agriculture, and building products. EPA is seeking comment on potential refinements for certain beneficial uses. Second, EPA is not proposing to address placement of CCRs in coal mines or non-minefill uses of CCRs at coal mines. Instead, OSM, in consultation with EPA, will consider recommendations of the National Research Council and take the lead in developing national standards for placement of CCRs at coal mines. Third, EPA has not proposed to revise its previous Bevill determination for CCRs generated by non-utilities.

 

Public Comment.

A 90 day public comment period will begin when the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register. Comments can be submitted to EPA, identified by docket ID No. EPA-HQ-RCRA-2009-0640.

Interview: Obama Administration Environmental Initiatives & Priorities

Posted on May 10, 2010 by Rachael Bunday

On March 4th and March 9th, 2010, Angus Macbeth conducted interviews of Robert Sussman and Igancia Moreno regarding the Obama Administration Environmental Initiatives and Priorities.

Robert Sussman is Senior Policy Counsel for the United States EPA and Ignacia Moreno is Assistant to the Attorney General, Environment and Natural Resources Division, Department of Justice.

Audio of the two interviews is accessible by clicking the links below: 

Robert Sussman - March 4, 2010

Ignacia Moreno - March 9, 2010

Energizing Brownfields

Posted on May 7, 2010 by George von Stamwitz

It has always amused me how many people are involved with Brownfields work as compared to how few projects have been completed. It is tough to make the economics work on a Brownfield development in the best of times. Thanks to clean energy rules and incentives this may be changing.

 

Brownfields and clean energy have several synergies. Brownfields are often in industrial corridors, with great infrastructure and proximity to electrical grids. Biomass projects in particular need access to efficient transportation networks in order to move large volumes of material. Clean energy projects such as solar, wind and biomass plants work well with risk based remediation and institutional controls required for cost effective risk management at a Brownfields sites.



Add to these synergies a vast array of incentives, mandatory quotas and grants for clean energy and we just may have a path to economic viability for some Brownfields projects. EPA has a task force known as ER3 to help facilitate such projects. Keep your eye on a project in Charlotte, North Carolina known as ReVenture Park which seems destined to put wind energy, wastewater treatment and a biomass plant on a large, complex CERCLA/RCRA site.

"CLIMATEGATE" GOES TO COURT

Posted on May 6, 2010 by Mark Walker

By now, everyone is familiar with "Climategate", the scandal surrounding the hacked e-mails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in England. The inner workings of CRU are significant because the CRU is responsible for preparing the land temperature records upon which most of the climate change studies are based and which, more importantly, form the foundation for the assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that manmade greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for global warming. The e-mails at issue include many e-mails which had previously been requested by numerous Freedom of Information requests, but which East Anglia had refused to produce, including e-mails relating to the preparation of the IPCC 2007 Fourth Assessment Report.


The CRU Temperature "Adjustments"


Most people probably think that land temperature records are the product of the rather mundane ministerial task of collecting and reporting actual temperature readings from weather stations around the world. However, there are numerous "adjustments" to the actual temperature readings which are made by CRU. There are adjustments made to account for the different times of day that the readings are taken. In addition, it is well recognized that urban areas artificially increase the measured temperature because materials like concrete, asphalt and metal structures collect and retain heat during the day and release the heat during the night. This artifact, known as the "urban heat index" (UHI), must be accounted for in the land temperature records. The magnitude of the proper adjustments for UHI are the subject of intense scientific debate, and the extent of any adjustments made for UHI serve to reduce global warming attributed to manmade greenhouse gases. Scientists that have studied UHI have also made subjective calls as to which weather stations to include and exclude in their studies, thereby injecting another "adjustment" into the equation. Numerous Freedom of Information requests had been made to and resisted by East Anglia for the underlying raw temperature data and the UHI adjustments that CRU made to such data, as well as requests for the underlying data upon which the Director of CRU, Dr. Phil Jones, had based his previous UHI studies.
 

EPA Endangerment Finding Based Upon IPCC Assessments


As one of the foundational components of the IPCC's assessments, the accuracy of CRU's temperature records have far reaching implications. The IPCC assessments were relied upon by the United States Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. EPA, and were a cornerstone of the EPA's Endangerment Finding in response to Massachusetts.

 


Commonwealth of Virginia's Challenge to Endangerment Finding


Although there have been numerous challenges to EPA's Endangerment Finding, several have specifically raised Climategate as the basis for their challenges. Noteworthy are the separate challenges filed by Virginia and Texas. In its challenge, Virginia claims that the Climategate e-mails demonstrate that the, "CRU scientists questioned the reliability of their own data, the methodologies used in developing and analyzing such data, and the conclusions based thereon." Virginia maintains that the EPA had a duty to independently investigate and verify the accuracy of the CRU temperature records upon which most of the climate change research and IPCC assessments are based. In addition, Virginia claims that the, "EPA substantially ceded its obligation to make a judgment whether GHGs may endanger public health and welfare to the IPCC, an international body that is not subject to U.S. data quality and transparency standards."

 


State of Texas' Challenge to Endangerment Finding


Texas' 38 page Petition for Reconsideration takes the drama and intrigue to the next level, painstakingly discussing the Climategate e-mails, the context in which they were made, and the conclusions which Texas maintains should be drawn therefrom:
"Previously private email exchanges among top IPCC climatologists reveal an entrenched group of activists focused less on reaching an objective scientific conclusion than on achieving their desired outcome. The scientists worked to prevent contravening studies from being published, colluded to hide research flaws, and collaborated to obstruct the public's right to public information under open records laws."


The future of Climategate in the courts is uncertain. It may eventually be viewed as the event that exposed the political agenda behind some of the climate change "science", or it may be viewed as a tempest in a teapot. In any event, its inclusion in these legal proceedings ensures that Climategate will for the foreseeable future be included in the ongoing climate debate and certainly that it will survive beyond the usual 24 to 72 hour news cycle.

Climate Change Work Group Phase Two - EPA Searches for Energy Efficiency and Innovation Using an Unlikely Tool

Posted on May 5, 2010 by Robert Wyman

EPA is stuck between a rock and a hard place in using the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Having made an endangerment finding and issued final motor vehicle regulations, EPA soon (commencing January 2, 2011) must implement its Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) preconstruction review program for stationary sources as one or more greenhouse gases become “regulated pollutants” under the statute. But the PSD program is hardly an ideal tool for the job, and may indeed be one of the worst.

 

Recognizing the difficulty of its task, in late 2009 EPA commissioned a Climate Change Work Group to advise it regarding how best to implement the PSD permit program and how to define Best Available Control Technology (BACT) for sources of greenhouse gas emissions. This January the Work Group issued a Phase One report that contained some important but relatively basic recommendations.
 

Now the Agency has launched Phase Two of the Work Group effort. In an April 9 letter to Work Group Co-Chairs, EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy asked the Work Group to focus on two of the most important strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions – energy efficiency and innovation.

 

Most seasoned observers recognize that the PSD process currently discourages energy efficiency investments. That is because PSD rules assume that more efficient units will be used more and that such projects could cause net emission increases that trigger PSD review and require the installation of BACT. The PSD process thus significantly delays and adds cost to many energy efficiency projects. As a result, many efficiency upgrades are foregone for fear that they will trigger the PSD process. This is tragic because efficiency upgrades offer the greatest potential for near-term and cost-effective greenhouse gas reductions. See, e.g., Unlocking Energy Efficiency in the U.S. Economy (July 2009).

 

The Work Group’s task of encouragingenergy efficiency by using the instrument most responsible for chilling such investments is the policy equivalent of placing a square peg into a round hole. If the Work Group recommends expediting or exempting from PSD review appropriate efficiency projects, then there is some hope that EPA can use the program to capture as-yet-untapped efficiency and innovation opportunities that currently exist. If, on the other hand, the Work Group, and ultimately EPA, remain unwilling to clear the regulatory costs and hurdles that PSD customarily imposes, then the opportunity will be lost.

 

EPA has asked the Work Group to provide its recommendations by no later than mid July. So stay tuned.

Groundwater Cleanups - What If Drinking Water Standards Cannot Be Met?

Posted on April 20, 2010 by Charles Tisdale

EPA began the CERCLA program in 1980 with the view that all sites could be remediated to stringent cleanup standards, including drinking water standards for contaminated groundwater. The primary remedy selected for groundwater contamination was extraction and treatment. Consent Orders typically required groundwater remediation to be conducted for 30 years, if necessary, to achieve drinking water standards.

            New technologies are being used to remediate groundwater and there has been much progress. However, there are still sites where it is clear that drinking water standards will not be met in 30 years and where the cost of continued treatment produces only limited reduction of contaminant levels.  CERCLA is 30 years old and there are many case histories to use in the evolution of policies developed when the program began. 

            EPA provides relief for contaminated groundwater that exceeds drinking water standards through technical impracticability waivers, alternative concentration limits and monitored natural attenuation. However, these mechanisms have not provided the relief that many expected at sites where the facts show that standards will not be met.

            EPA and states have changed their original position with respect to cleanup of soil to stringent limits in all locations. Environmental agencies now look at issues of risk and actual exposure to contaminated soil rather than theoretical exposure. Some states have developed new policies with respect to groundwater remediation which include more thorough considerations of risk and actual exposure.

            There is growing concern over the availability of water, even in areas of the United States which have not experienced water supply problems in the past. Thus, there are strong reasons for remediating contaminated groundwater to drinking water standards. However, there are a number of sites where long term remediation will not achieve drinking water standards.

            Is there a need for new policies and procedures for sites where contamination levels can be reduced but drinking water standards will not be achieved? What elements are appropriate for a new policy? Should there be a procedure for environmental agencies to restrict the use of groundwater where there is no risk to actual drinking water supplies? Should EPA provide guidance to encourage the use of technical impracticability for these sites? Should the agency consider a policy to control the plume of contamination rather than requiring drinking water standards to be met throughout the contaminated groundwater?

In Search of Mitigation: Savannah Harbor Deepening Project

Posted on April 15, 2010 by Drew Ernst

With the anticipated Panama Canal expansion (expected to be completed by 2014), the Port of Savannah, Georgia is preparing for the new super-sized container vessels coming its way. Part of that preparation includes a proposed harbor deepening project (“Savannah Project”). The Savannah Project carries with it a price tag of $588,000,000 with a sizable portion of this amount earmarked for mitigation.

 

The primary component of the Savannah Project is deepening the existing entrance channel from forty-two feet up to forty-eight feet. The concern with any large-scale project like this, however, is the impact it will have on the surrounding environment and how that impact can be appropriately managed and mitigated. Adding to the mix is the tremendous economic impact the Savannah Harbor has on the entire State of Georgia. Georgia's deepwater ports support over 286,000 jobs and contribute 14.9 billion dollars in income to the State of Georgia.

 

Mitigation is both a hot topic in environmental law, and in many cases, a moving target. The Savannah Project provides a unique case study for both the process of approving a large-scale project like the Savannah Project and the creative and innovative ways mitigation can be discussed and hopefully achieved. 

 

With respect to the Project, the concomitant mitigation plan includes mitigation for cultural resources, natural resources mitigation, an impact avoidance plan, and in an unusual move, a monitoring and adaptive management plan. Primary concerns include the potential loss of freshwater marsh due to intrusion and an increase in salinity levels; potentially decreased dissolved oxygen levels in the Savannah River; potential harm to the Striped Bass and Shortnose Sturgeon population; and cadmium levels in dredged sediment. As an example, without mitigation of any kind, deepening the channel to 48 feet would impact approximately 1,212 acres of freshwater wetlands. With mitigation, the impact could be limited to 337 acres.

 

Proposed mitigation measures include altering the flow of fresh and saltwater through a variety of cuts and contouring, construction of a fish bypass structure, closing of selected channels connecting the Savannah River and its tributaries and opening cuts between various adjacent waterways. To specifically address concerns about dissolved oxygen, proposed mitigation efforts call for oxygen injection in several places in the Savannah River through a “bubbler” system made up of injection cones. Each cone would inject up to 15,000 pounds of oxygen into the river per day.

 

Further mitigation efforts call for the purchase and/or preservation of freshwater wetlands in the upper harbor basin to offset the impact of the Savannah Project on existing freshwater estuaries and the creation of a new 80.5 acres of saltwater marsh to reclaim marshland which will be lost. Further, in a somewhat unusual move, the adaptive management plan would monitor the success of mitigation not only during the construction phase of the Savannah Project, but for up to five years after it is completed. 

 

The Savannah Project is not without opposition. Beginning with a lawsuit filed in March 2000 to forestall decision-making on the Savannah Project (which was eventually dismissed), critics remain concerned that the Savannah Project will not be appropriately mitigated and are not convinced that mitigation success can be measured in a meaningful way. How the Savannah Project will shape and develop after the draft EIS is issued in the next few months is yet to be seen. However, all involved will continue to search for mitigation.

A full overview of the Savannah Project and its proposed mitigation efforts can be found here.

EPA Completes Six-Year Review of National Primary Drinking Water Regulations

Posted on April 14, 2010 by Jarred O. Taylor, II

EPA recently completed a six year review of the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWRs) “to identify those NPDWRs for which current health effects assessments, changes in technology, and/or other factors provide a health or technical basis to support a regulatory revision that will support or strengthen public health protection.” This six-year review is mandated by the Safe Drinking Water Act. The first six year review was completed in 2003. The sixty-plus page March 29, 2010 Federal Register issuance of the notice and request for comments can be found here.

 

EPA reviewed the 85 NPDWRs, included in the Federal Register Statement a detailed explanation for 71, and is proposing that four of them be considered for revision. Not surprisingly, the proposed revisions are to decrease the maximum contaminant level (MCL) closer to the maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG). As a reminder, the MCLG is “set at the level at which no known or anticipated adverse effects on the health of persons occur and which allows an adequate margin of safety.” The MCL, a term with which many are more familiar, is the highest allowed level of a contaminant in water delivered to one using a public water system, and is supposed to be as close to the MCLG as possible. MCLs, however, are not used by regulators just to judge official public drinking water systems, but also groundwater. If you are involved at a site where cleanup standards have been set, or are in the process of being set, for these four NPDWRs, be prepared for some re-negotiation. And, it will not be long after any such changes are made that many states will follow.

 

The primary reason an MCL is higher than an MCLG is technology—our testing methods and analytical abilities cannot detect as low as the MCLG, many of which are zero—aka the practical quantitation limit (PQL). Thus, one of the pieces of EPA’s six year review was whether technology had advanced, with sufficient confidence, to allow a reduction in the MCL closer to the MCLG.

 

The four contaminants EPA is proposing receive revised NPDWRs are acrylamide, epichlorohydrin, and two more common contaminants with which most of us have run into before—tetrachloroethylene (PCE), and tricholorethylene (TCE). PCE and TCE received almost identical recommendations, and both have a current MCLG of 0.0, and an MCL of 0.005 mg/L because of PQL. EPA made no final recommendation on PCE and TCE because the risk assessment for these two contaminants was still in progress and, thus, EPA could not determine whether revised MCLs would gain potential health benefits. However, EPA concluded that advancements in analytical and treatment technologies were such that “analytical feasibility could be as much as ten times lower [than the current MCL] (~ 0.0005 mg/L)”, noting that its review also concluded that levels of PCE and TCE in the environment at this reduced level are “relatively widespread”. EPA is giving stakeholders the opportunity to submit information to it about what laboratories “can reliably and consistently achieve.”

 

Stay tuned—technology’s exponential increase in our ability to detect smaller and smaller concentrations of contaminants in the environment may very well exponentially increase treatment costs and higher costs at cleanup sites. Whether health risks decrease sufficiently from driving down MCLs is yet to be determined, but the writing appears on the wall for now.