On May 22, 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator signed a proposed rule entitled “EPA Guidance; Administrative Procedures for Issuance and Public Petitions” that provides guidance and procedures for regulatory documents issued by the agency. The proposed rule purports to address concerns from the regulatory community that guidance documents were sometimes used to modify legal obligations which should only be imposed by statute or formal regulations. Continue Reading EPA Issues Proposed Rule Intended to Increase Transparency and Public Participation Related to Agency Guidance Documents
With parts of the Midwest setting records for wet weather this month, many eyes have turned toward the shorelines of the Great Lakes, which are experiencing an extended period of near-record high water levels. High water has wreaked havoc on public and private shorelines alike, eroding beaches, damaging seawalls, and threatening buildings. For many property owners, installation or repair of infrastructure such as breakwaters or bulkheads may be an attractive solution to limit future losses. But owners and their contractors must be careful to comply with state and federal laws that require permits for construction that impacts a navigable waterway. Continue Reading Without Careful Permitting, Erosion Control Projects Can Lead to a Flood of Legal Headaches
The EPA’s controversial science adviser policy has suffered two more defeats following the recent Union of Concerned Scientists v. Wheeler decision, making three straight losses in court for the Trump Administration’s policy limiting scientist participation in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency advisory boards. Continue Reading Three Strikes and the EPA’s Scientist Advisory Committees Directive May Be Out
A landmark Clean Water Act (CWA) decision by the U.S. Supreme Court presents an entirely new test to use to determine if a discharge requires federal permitting. Under the April 23 decision in Hawaii Wildlife Fund v. County of Maui, a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit is required for groundwater discharges to “navigable waters” when the groundwater discharge is the “functional equivalent of a direct discharge” from a point source. Continue Reading Supreme Court Applies Entirely New Test to Determine Clean Water Act Applicability in Highly Watched Case
The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided Atlantic Richfield v. Christian, a Superfund case involving landowners who sought to use state law claims to compel Atlantic Richfield, the successor by merger to a copper smelting company, to perform a more extensive cleanup than federal regulators had required under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). While formally remanding the landowners’ claims to state court for further evaluation because the claims require the federal EPA’s permission to meaningfully proceed, the decision emphasizes the EPA’s continued primacy in remedial decision making. The decision should give a measure of comfort to parties performing federally supervised cleanups. But parties still may be vulnerable to state court claims by landowners that convince the EPA that the remedies they request do not threaten overall cleanups. Continue Reading Three Takeaways from Atlantic Richfield Supreme Court Decision Emphasizing EPA Primacy in Remedial Decision Making
Environmental cleanup obligations can be among the most expensive liabilities and complex logistical challenges companies face. While some cleanup projects can be relatively minor in scope and occur in industrial areas far removed from where people live, other cleanup projects are essentially massive construction projects occurring in densely populated residential areas. In the best of times, these projects can involve large numbers of workers, vast amounts of equipment ranging from drilling rigs to barges, and take place over decades. COVID-19 can pose major hurdles to such complicated work. Continue Reading Five Key Highlights of EPA’s COVID-19 Guidance for Cleanup Sites
Historically, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has relied upon advisory committees comprising members from the scientific community to advise the EPA on the development and implementation of regulations. The Trump Administration has taken measures in recent years to constrain the authority and composition of these committees. But the First Circuit’s recent decision in Union of Concerned Scientists v. Wheeler signals a limit on these measures – ruling in favor of a challenge to the administration’s attempt to bar scientists who had received EPA grants from being members of advisory committees. Continue Reading First Circuit Decision Signals Vulnerability of EPA Directive Limiting Scientist Membership in Advisory Committees
In recognition of the impact the COVID-19 outbreak is having on every facet of life, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a temporary enforcement discretion policy to excuse certain civil violations occurring during and due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the EPA expects regulated facilities to maintain compliance, the agency does not expect to seek penalties for noncompliance for routine environmental monitoring and reporting obligations provided certain conditions are met. Other activities, such as the reporting of accidental releases of pollutants, will not be subject to discretion. Importantly, the EPA will not be seeking enforcement of violations occurring while the policy is in effect, even after the COVID-19 crisis subsides and the policy is terminated. The policy is retroactive to March 13, 2020. Continue Reading EPA to Relax Civil Enforcement for Non-Compliance Due to COVID-19 Pandemic
Under a new rule effective on Monday, March 23, 2020, owners and operators of stationary sources are required to report qualifying accidental releases to the ambient air of hazardous substances to the federal Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB). While many companies are currently consumed with handling operations and logistics related to the coronavirus pandemic, compliance will still be expected going forward. Importantly, however, the CSB’s preamble to the new rule expresses a one-year grace period from the effective date of the rule, during which it will refrain from referring reporting violations for enforcement absent a knowing failure to report.
No single answer exists for how the regulated community is expected to meet their environmental obligations or address potential delays in environmental compliance, especially amidst shelter-in-place orders in several states due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, relief from environmental obligations during this pandemic may be available under certain environmental laws and legal obligations. The nature of that relief will largely depend on the specific legal requirement, the impact on the source itself, and the evolving response by federal and state governments to the COVID-19 outbreak.