Jenner & Block

Corporate Environmental Lawyer Blog

October 12, 2017 Imagine a Day Without Water

Grayson

 

By E. Lynn Grayson  Imagine a Day Without Water 2017

  Today recognizes the third annual Imagine a Day Without Water event to raise awareness and educate America about the value of water. Over 500 organizations, cities, water authorities, and corporations have joined together once again to focus attention on the importance of this valuable resource and the critical need to upgrade and improve water infrastructure throughout the U.S.

No water to drink, or even to make coffee with. No water to shower, flush the toilet, or do laundry. Hospitals would close without water. Firefighters couldn't put out fires, and farmers couldn't water their crops. Some communities in America already know how impossible it is to try to go a day without our most precious resource: water.

The 2017 Infrastructure Report Card published by the American Society of Civil Engineers provided an overall grade of a D+ for the status and condition of U.S. infrastructure. Particularly as to drinking water, the Report Card noted the following:

  1. One million miles of pipes deliver drinking water and most date from the early 20th century with a 75-100 year lifespan
  2. Over 240,000 water main breaks occur annually
  3. Over $1 trillion dollars is the estimate needed to maintain/upgrade/expand service to meet water demands over the next 25 years.

Can you imagine a day without water? In the context of your business and its operations, please consider the resources available from these two organizations that address the following water-related considerations, including conditions and capacity, funding, public safety, future needs, and resilience and innovation.

CATEGORIES: Climate Change, Real Estate and Environment, Sustainability, Water

PEOPLE: E. Lynn Grayson

September 29, 2017 EPA Announces Smart Sectors Program to Ease Regulatory Burden on Industry

Torrence_jpgBy Allison A. Torrence

US EPAOn September 26, 2017, EPA announced its new Smart Sectors program, a program aimed at easing the regulatory burden on industry. The official notice for this program was published in the Federal Register on September 26th (82 FR 44783), with a correction published on September 29th (82 FR 45586). EPA explained the purpose behind the Smart Sectors program in the notice:

EPA’s Smart Sectors program will re-examine how EPA engages with industry in order to reduce unnecessary regulatory burden, create certainty and predictability, and improve the ability of both EPA and industry to conduct long-term regulatory planning while also protecting the environment and public health.

EPA has initially identified 13 sectors of industry to work with under this program, based on each sector’s potential to improve the environment and public health:

  • Aerospace
  • Agriculture
  • Automotive
  • Cement and concrete
  • Chemical manufacturing
  • Construction
  • Electronics and technology
  • Forestry and paper products
  • Iron and steel
  • Mining
  • Oil and gas
  • Ports and marine
  • Utilities and power generation.

EPA will designate staff-level points of contact for each industry who will act as liaisons among industry trade associations and companies, EPA program and regional offices, state and local governments, and other stakeholder groups.

Under this program, EPA will focus on three main areas:

  • Building relationships and improving customer service to sectors;
  • Developing additional expertise in each industry’s operations and environmental performance; and
  • Informing the planning of future policies, regulations, and Agency processes.

EPA is inviting participating industries to engage in dialogue and offer their own ideas to reduce environmental impacts. In addition, EPA will work to find creative ways to document environmental progress and regulatory burden reductions.

CATEGORIES: Air, Climate Change, FIFRA, Greenhouse Gas, RCRA, TSCA, Water

PEOPLE: Allison A. Torrence

September 26, 2017 Jenner & Block Welcomes Sam Hirsch Back from ENRD

Linkedin_Steven_Siros_3130By Steven M. Siros

Sam Hirsch

Jenner &  Block is pleased to report that Sam Hirsch, former Acting Assistant Attorney General and Principal Deputy at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), has returned to the Firm as a Partner in our Washington, DC office. Sam was formerly an attorney with Jenner & Block until 2009 when he moved to the U.S. Department of Justice, where he served as Deputy Associate Attorney General  before taking on his most recent role. During his time at ENRD, Sam was primarily responsible for litigation and policy work relating to the prevention and cleanup of pollution, environmental challenges to federal programs, stewardship of public lands and natural resources, property acquisition, wildlife protection, and Indian rights and claims. As Acting Assistant Attorney General and Principal Deputy, he oversaw the drafting of more than 200 briefs, including more than 40 U.S. Supreme Court cert-stage, merits, and amicus briefs, as well as more than 150 appeal-recommendation memos to the Solicitor General. These briefs and memos dealt with cases in all 13 federal circuits and covered nearly the entire range of federal environmental and natural resources statutes, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, or Superfund), the Oil Pollution Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the Lacey Act.

Sam was involved in all phases of the Deepwater Horizon litigation, including helping structure the global settlement, which directed more than $8.1 billion toward restoring damaged natural resources in the Gulf of Mexico. He also drafted portions of  the criminal plea agreements that created the National Academy of Sciences' $500 million Gulf Research Program, which funds and conducts studies and projects to enhance oil-system safety, human health, and environmental resources in the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. outer-continental-shelf regions that support oil and gas production. 

Sam may be reached at (202) 637-6335 or shirsch@jenner.com.  Welcome back Sam!  

CATEGORIES: Air, Cercla, Climate Change, RCRA, Sustainability, Water

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund, Steven M. Siros

September 21, 2017 President Trump’s U.S. EPA—Status Update on Nominations

Linkedin_Steven_Siros_3130By Steven M. Siros

EPA logo 2017Unless one has been living under a log (and even that might not be an excuse), we all know that Scott Pruitt was confirmed as U.S. EPA Administrator on February 17, 2017. However, the status of President Trump’s other U.S. EPA nominations may not be as front and center. As such, here is a quick cheat sheet for those watching at home (current as of 9/21/2017):

  • General Counsel: Matthew Leopold. Mr. Leopold was nominated as General Counsel to U.S EPA in September 2017. Mr. Leopold was an attorney with the Environment and Natural Resources Division of DOJ for approximately six years and then became general counsel for Florida Department of Protection. Upon leaving FDEP in 2015, he joined the Florida-based law firm Carlton Fields. Mr. Leopold’s nomination has been referred to the Senate Environmental and Public Works committee and his nomination (along with the nominations of Dourson, Wehrum and Ross) were to have been considered by the committee yesterday (Sept. 20th) but the hearings were cancelled when the Senate decided it had worked enough and adjourned early for the week.
  •  
  • Enforcement and Compliance Assurance: Susan Parker Bodine. Ms. Bodine was nominated as Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance in May 2017. Since 2015, Ms. Bodine has been serving as chief counsel on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and previously served as the Assistant Administrator of the Office of Land and Emergency Management. Ms. Bodine’s nomination was approved by the Senate Environmental and Public Works committee on July 12th and she is awaiting full Senate confirmation. Ms. Bodine has over 29 years of environmental law experience, including having worked at two law firms and being the staff director and counsel for the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s water panel.
  •  
  • Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention: Michael Dourson. Mr. Dourson was nominated in July 2017 to become the Assistant Administrator for the Office of  Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.  Mr. Dourson is a toxicologist who had formerly worked at U.S. EPA. After leaving U.S EPA in the 1990s, Mr. Dourson founded the non-profit group Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment which opponents have criticized for being at least partially funded by industry. Mr. Dourson is currently a professor at the University of Cincinnati. His nomination has been referred to the Senate Environmental and Public Works committee but his nomination hearing has been delayed. 
  •  
  • Office of Water: David Ross. Mr. Ross was nominated in September 2017 to become the Assistant Administrator of the Office of Water. Mr. Ross currently serves as Wisconsin’s assistance attorney general and Director of the Environmental Protection Unit for the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Mr. Ross previously served in the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office. Mr. Ross seems generally to have bi-partisan support and his nomination has been referred to the Senate Environmental and Public Works committee but his nomination hearing has been delayed.
  •  
  • Air and Radiation: William Wehrum. Mr. Wehrum was nominated in September 2017 to become the Assistant Administrator of the Office of Air and Radiation. Mr. Wehrum had previously served as U.S. EPA’s acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation from 2005 to 2007. He is currently with the law firm of Hunton & Williams and has over 31 years of experience working in the environmental field. Mr. Wehrum also seems to have some limited bi-partisan support but he was also nominated for this same position by President Bush in 2005 but his nomination was pulled after Democrats accused Mr. Wehrum of working with polluters.  This same charge is currently being levied by environmental organizations.  Interestingly, Mr. Wehrum is scheduled to argue before the D.C. Circuit on September 26th in a lawsuit challenging OSHA's silica rules pertaining to the construction industry.  His nomination has been referred to the Senate Environmental and Public Works committee but his nomination hearing has been delayed.

President Trump has yet to nominate someone for the Deputy Administrator. Potential nominees that had been floated were Jeff Holmsted and Andrew Wheeler, but for now, the position is held by Mike Flynn who had previously been U.S. EPA’s Associate Deputy Administrator.

CATEGORIES: Climate Change, Sustainability

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund, Steven M. Siros

September 12, 2017 Third-Annual Environmental Attorney Reception at Jenner on Thursday 9/14

Torrence_jpgBy Allison A. Torrence

On Thursday, September 14th, from 5 pm to 7 pm, environmental attorneys and professionals will come together for a networking reception at Jenner & Block's offices in Chicago. Complimentary food and drinks will be provided thanks to the event’s sponsors. This is the third year Jenner & Block has hosted this event, which continues to grow every year. Jenner & Block will be joined by a number of bar associations and organizations:

  • CBA Environmental Law Committee
  • CBA Young Lawyers Section Environmental Law Committee
  • ISBA Environmental Law Section
  • ABA Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources
  • Air & Waste Management Association Lake Michigan States Section
  • DRI Toxic Tort and Environmental Law Committee

Jenner & Block partner Allison Torrence is a former Chair of the CBA Environmental Law Committee and will be giving brief welcome remarks.

Details for this event are below. If you would like to join us at this reception, please RSVP here.

Environmental Attorney Reception

September 14, 2017 | 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm

Jenner & Block Conference Center | 45th Floor | 353 N. Clark St. | Chicago, IL 60654

RSVP

Reception Sponsors:

Sponsors

CATEGORIES: Air, Cercla, Climate Change, Consumer Law and Environment, FIFRA, Greenhouse Gas, Hazmat, OSHA, RCRA, Real Estate and Environment, Sustainability, Toxic Tort, TSCA, Water

PEOPLE: Allison A. Torrence

September 8, 2017 Who is in Charge of Protecting the Environment--The Role of U.S. EPA and State Environmental Agencies During a Hurricane

Linkedin_Steven_Siros_3130Torrence_jpgBy Steven M. Siros and Allison A. Torrence

weather map of hurricane approaching Florida

Following Hurricane Harvey, and with the pending landfall of Hurricane Irma, the manner and degree to which federal and state agencies coordinate environmental protection duties may seem chaotic and disorganized. However, there is a specific protocol that guides these federal agencies in taking steps to protect the environmental in anticipation of and following a hurricane.

As brief background, in 1988, the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the “Stafford Act”) was promulgated in an effort to establish an orderly process pursuant to which the Federal Government provides disaster and emergency assistance to State and local governments. At the request of the Governor of an affected State, the President may declare a major disaster or emergency. For example, on September 4, 2017, Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in anticipation of Hurricane Irma. Shortly thereafter, President Trump declared a major emergency. Upon declaration of such a major disaster or emergency, the President appoints a Federal Coordinating Officer (“FCO”), a FEMA official who is charged with coordination of Federal assistance to the affected State and local governments. 

FEMA’s primary focus is protection of human life and the majority of federal resources are obviously directed towards that goal. However, FEMA also works closely with other agencies such as U.S. EPA and state environmental agencies to implement emergency response activities focused on protecting the environment. FEMA has established numerous Emergency Support Functions (ESFs), which provide the structure for coordinating interagency support for a Federal response to declared disasters and emergencies. U.S. EPA has been designated as the ESF Coordinator for Emergency Response # 10—Oil and Hazardous Materials Response.

Here are some key environmental issues that federal and state agencies focus on during a natural disaster such as a hurricane:

  • Performing initial evaluations of drinking water systems to identify potential vulnerabilities, and then performing post-disaster damage assessments to identify impacted systems and provide resources to bring those systems back on line as rapidly as possible. Over 4,000 public drinking water systems were impacted in Texas and Louisiana as a result of Hurricane Harvey.
  • Taking steps to secure federal and state cleanup sites (i.e., proactively removing drums of waste and either shutting down remedial systems or ensuring that those systems will continue to operate) in advance of the hurricane, and then promptly assessing damage to those sites and taking emergency measures to abate any ongoing releases to the environment.
  • Assessing conditions at major industrial facilities and proactively ensuring that chemical and waste containers are appropriately secured and assisting in the implementation of preventive measures (i.e. process shutdowns).
  • Assessing and taking steps to abate releases from smaller industrial facilities that are likely to lack the emergency preparedness plans that should be present and implemented at larger industrial facilities.

U.S. EPA also has the ability to address potential fuel shortages by waiving certain fuel emission requirements under the Clean Air Act, as has already occurred in response to Hurricane Harvey.

U.S. EPA has a general hurricane website that provides useful information about protecting health and the environment before and after a hurricane. U.S. EPA will also typically set up websites that are intended to keep the public informed as to the status of its ongoing operations. For example, U.S. EPA set up a website for Hurricane Harvey and a website for Hurricane Irma.  State regulatory agencies have also set up similar websites—TCEQ has a Hurricane Harvey website and FDEP has a Hurricane Irma website.  Although we certainly hope that Hurricane Irma veers far east off into the Atlantic, if it does not (which unfortunately appears likely to be the case), federal and state resources are being readied in an effort to prevent and mitigate adverse environmental impacts associated with this storm.

CATEGORIES: Air, Climate Change, Sustainability, Water

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund, Allison A. Torrence, Steven M. Siros

September 7, 2017 Hurricane Harvey Response: TCEQ Suspends Environmental Rules

TCEQ logoGrayson

 

By E. Lynn Grayson  

As the cleanup, rebuilding, and recovery continues in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, there has been increasing news coverage about the environmental consequences resulting from impacts of this devastating storm in Texas. We have all seen the coverage on the Arkema SA chemical plant explosion and fire in Crosby, Texas, as well as this weekend’s news that 13 Superfund sites in the Houston area have been flooded and are experiencing possible damage. What we have not heard much about is action on the part of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to do its part to allow residents and their commercial and industrial businesses to recover.

Last week, TCEQ issued a Request for Suspension of TCEQ Rules that may prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with Hurricane Harvey. The rules suspended in order to manage Hurricane Harvey impacts address regulatory obligations related to air, water, storage tank, fuel and waste management. In addition, TCEQ has developed a Hurricane Response webpage and made clear the Agency's priority is the recovery efforts helping to restore water and wastewater services as well as to assess damage, manage debris, and bring other critical services back online.

Most substantive federal environmental laws and their implementing regulations also provide emergency exemptions that can be triggered following any natural or manmade disaster to ensure laws do not interfere with rescue and recovery efforts. Most emergency exemptions require a declaration or finding on the part of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or of another high-ranking government official. We will address EPA's Hurricane response actions in future blogs.

At a time when the residents of Texas need the best of their government, TCEQ is providing an excellent example of support, help, and a willingness to do what is right under the circumstances. Kudos to TCEQ!

CATEGORIES: Air, Cercla, Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Hazmat, RCRA, Real Estate and Environment, Sustainability, Water

PEOPLE: E. Lynn Grayson

September 5, 2017 New Climate Change Disclosure Guidance

Grayson

SSGA logo

By E. Lynn Grayson  

State Street Global Advisors (SSGA), managing $2.6 trillion in assets, recently took action to motivate companies to treat climate change as a significant risk and to encourage businesses to ensure that assets and long-term business strategies are resilient to climate change impacts. SSGA published “Perspectives on Effective Climate Change Disclosure” to provide guidance to companies on best practices  for climate-related scenario-planning disclosure.

The new guidance provides insight into four (4) areas:

  1. Governance and board oversight of climate change;
  2. Establishing and disclosing long-term greenhouse gas emission goals;
  3. Disclosing the average and range of carbon price assumptions; and
  4. Discussing impacts of scenario planning on long-term capital allocation decisions.

The guidance is intended to identify current disclosure practices that are useful to investors in evaluating the robustness of climate-related scenario-planning exercises and climate-related strategic reports by companies in high impact sectors, such as oil and gas and mining.

SSGA drew upon its work with over 240 climate-related engagements with 168 companies that their Asset Stewardship Team had conducted over the past four (4) years.

This guidance document provides good insight to measure and evaluate existing climate change-related disclosures and may offer additional incentive to companies considering new or additional disclosures.

CATEGORIES: Air, Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Sustainability

PEOPLE: E. Lynn Grayson

September 1, 2017 Hurricane Harvey and Act of God Defense—Viable Defense or Futile Prayer

Linkedin_Steven_Siros_3130

 

 

 By Steven M. Siros

Following the disaster that has unfolded in Texas as a result of the unprecedented flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey, affected businesses might be asking whether they might be able to avail themselves of the “Act of God” defense that is embodied in several federal environmental laws and the Texas Health and Safety Code. If ever an event qualified as an “Act of God,” many would likely agree that Hurricane Harvey falls into that category. However, if the experience of Hurricane Katrina provides any guidance, regulated entities are likely to face substantial hurdles triggering the “Act of God” defense for releases attributable to Hurricane Harvey.

Although not defined in the Texas Health and Safety Code, CERCLA defines an “Act of God” as the “unanticipated grave natural disaster or other natural phenomenon of an exceptional, inevitable, and irresistible character, the effects of which could not have been prevented, or avoided by the exercise of due care or foresight.” 42 U.S.C. §9601(1). The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 contains a verbatim definition of “Act of God.” 33 U.S.C. §2701(1). 

One might ask how many times the “Act of God” defense has been successfully asserted, and the answer is that there is not a single reported case where that defense has been successful.

Perhaps one reason that the defense has never been successfully asserted is that it requires the natural event to have been “unanticipated” and that the effects of the natural event could “not have been prevented, or avoided by the exercise of due care and foresight.” Hurricanes in the summer in Texas are unlikely to be considered unanticipated events (even if occasioned by massive flooding), and, in fact, CERCLA’s legislative history specifically notes “[f]or example, a major hurricane may be an ‘act of god,’ but in an area (and at a time), where a hurricane should not be unexpected, it would not qualify” as an “Act of God”.  H.R. Rep. No. 99-253 (1977).  Moreover, proving that the effect could not have been prevented or avoided also is likely to prove difficult.  For example, during Hurricane Katrina, a 250,000 barrel above ground storage tank was dislodged which resulted in the release of approximately 1,000,000 gallons of crude oil.  However, the responsible entity did not assert an “Act of God” defense but instead proceeded to remediate the spilled oil. 

That is not to say that affected entities should not give due consideration to all potentially applicable defenses in the face of a natural disaster such as Hurricane Harvey. However, one should not turn a blind eye to the fact that reliance on an “Act of God” defense is likely to continue to face hurdles of biblical proportion.

CATEGORIES: Air, Climate Change, Sustainability, Water

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund, Steven M. Siros

August 31, 2017 Shell Latest Target of CWA Climate Change Citizen Suit

                              Linkedin_Steven_Siros_3130

By Steven M. Siros

 

On August 28, 2017, Shell Oil Company became the latest target of a Clean Water Act citizen suit lawsuit filed by the Conservation Law Foundation (“CLF”). Coming on the heels of the unfolding disaster in Texas caused by Hurricane Harvey,  this most recent lawsuit alleges that Shell’s stormwater pollution prevention plan for its Providence, Rhode Island Terminal is inadequate in that it fails to account for sea level rise, increased precipitation generally, and the increased frequency of storms that CLF alleges will occur due to climate change. This latest lawsuit follows a previously filed citizen suit by CLF against Exxon under both the Clean Water Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act relating to Exxon’s Everett Terminal located in Everett, Massachusetts. A hearing on Exxon’s pending motion to dismiss is currently set for September 12, 2017.

Events like Hurricane Harvey will provide continuing fodder for what is likely to be sharp increase in citizen suits being filed by environmental organizations seeking to advance their agendas in light of the current regulatory climate.  

 

CATEGORIES: Climate Change, Sustainability, Water

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund, Steven M. Siros

August 22, 2017 Court Decision Remanding FERC’s Evaluation of GHG Emissions May Derail $3.5B Pipeline

SMS Dennis_Jeffery_COLOR

 

 

 

By Steven M. Siros and Jeffery S. Dennis

PipelineOn August 22, 2017, a divided D.C. Circuit panel sided with the Sierra Club and other environmental groups by concluding that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") didn't adequately analyze the impacts of greenhouse gas ("GHGs") emissions that may result from a $3.5 billion natural gas pipeline to be constructed through Florida. The project in question is an approximately 500-mile long natural gas pipeline scheduled to be completed in 2021 and which is projected to carry over one billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.

Section 7 of the Natural Gas Act vests jurisdiction to approve such a pipeline with FERC. Before such a pipeline can be approved, FERC must grant the developer a certificate of public convenience and necessity (often referred to as a Section 7 certificate). Prior to issuing the Section 7 certificate for this project, FERC prepared an environmental impact statement ("EIS") as required by the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"). Sierra Club and other environmental groups challenged FERC's EIS and subsequent Section 7 certificate on the grounds that it failed to adequately consider the pipeline's contribution to GHG emissions and its impact on low-income and minority communities.

After dealing with several jurisdictional issues (including standing), the court addressed the merits of plaintiffs' claims.  First, the court disagreed with plaintiffs' argument that the EIS failed to adequately consider the project's impact on low-income and minority communities, noting that the EIS acknowledged and considered all of the concerns that the plaintiffs now raised. The court stated that the EIS "gave the public and agency decision makers the qualitative and quantitative tools they needed to make an informed choice for themselves. NEPA requires nothing more."

Turning next to plaintiffs' argument that the EIS failed to adequately consider the effect of GHGs that would be emitted by power plants in Florida that would burn the natural gas transported by the pipeline, the court noted that NEPA requires that an agency consider not only the direct effects, but also the indirect environmental effects, of the project under consideration. The court concluded that the reasonably foreseeable effects of authorizing a pipeline that transports natural gas is that the natural gas will in fact be burned, which will in turn generate GHG emissions. As such, the court concluded that the EIS "should have either given a quantitative estimate of the downstream greenhouse gas emissions that will result from burning the natural gas the pipelines will transport or explained more specifically why it could not have done so." The EIS then needed to include a discussion as to the "significance" of these GHG emissions as well as the incremental impact of these emissions when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions. Notably, the court rejected FERC's "practical objection" that assessing GHG emissions in the EIS requires too much speculation because it cannot know exactly what quantity of GHGs may be emitted as a result of the pipeline approval, given uncertainty in how much gas may be consumed by the power plants. The court thus remanded the matter back to FERC for preparation of an EIS consistent with the court's opinion.

In her dissent, Judge Janice Rogers Brown concludes that because FERC has no authority over the GHG emissions that would be emitted by the power plants, it has no obligation to consider those emissions as part of its EIS.

The court's decision could have far-reaching impacts on FERC's EIS procedures for proposal pipeline projects, especially given the court's apparent rejection of the agency's long-held position that assessing GHG emissions beyond the operations of the pipeline itself is too speculative to be useful for NEPA purposes. It is possible that an en banc rehearing will be sought before the D.C. Circuit and/or a petition for certiorari will be filed with the Supreme Court.

CATEGORIES: Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Sustainability

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund, Steven M. Siros, Jeffery S. Dennis

August 11, 2017 Pro-Policyholder Talc-Related Asbestos Exposure Case Endorses Favorable Allocation Rule and Rejects Pollution Exclusion

Scarbrough Larson Bandza

 

By Brian S. Scarbrough, Jan A. Larson and Alexander J. Bandza  

TalcA recent opinion from the Connecticut Appellate Court, R.T. Vanderbilt Co. v. Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co., 156 A.3d 539 (Conn. App. Ct. 2017), aides policyholders seeking coverage for asbestos-related long-tail liability claims under Commercial General Liability policies when responding to certain coverage defenses, including the allocation of risk for uninsured policy periods and the application of the pollution exclusion. In Vanderbilt, the court ruled on two significant issues—first, it endorsed the “unavailability of insurance” exception to the pro rata allocation method to allocate uninsured policy periods to the insurer, and second, it rejected the application of the pollution exclusion to talc-related asbestos exposure. As to the first, the court confronted a novel question under Connecticut law regarding whether the policyholder or the insurer should bear the risk for periods during which insurance coverage was commercial unavailable—commonly known as the “unavailability of insurance” exception to the pro rata allocation method. The court affirmed the existence of the exception, holding that the insurer should bear this risk. As to the second, the court rejected that the pollution exclusion applied, reasoning that the exclusions at issue barred coverage only when the exposure arose from “traditional environmental pollution” migrating through property or into the environment, but did not extend to “inhalation or ingestion of asbestos dust released in small quantities in an indoor environment during everyday activities.”

CATEGORIES: Climate Change, Consumer Law and Environment, Hazmat, Sustainability

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund, Alexander J. Bandza

August 8, 2017 D.C. Circuit Rejects U.S. EPA Efforts to Ban Hydrofluorocarbons

By Steven M. Siros Antarctic ozone map for 2017-08-06

On August 8, 2017, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia issued a decision concluding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) did not have statutory authority to issue a 2015 rule that restricted the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in a variety of products, including aerosols, motor vehicle air conditioners, commercial refrigerators and foams. 

Section 612(a) of the Clean Air Act required manufacturers to replace ozone-depleting substances (ODS) with "safe" product substitutes.  To that end, U.S. EPA was required to develop lists of "safe" and "prohibited" ODS substitutes.  Pursuant to this directive, U.S. EPA placed HFCs on the list of "safe" substitutes and manufacturers began to replace ODS with HFCs. 

However, over time, U.S. EPA began to learn that although not an ODS, HFCs were in fact greenhouse gases.  As such, in 2015, U.S. EPA promulgated a final rule that moved HFCs off of the "safe" list and onto the "prohibited" list.  See 80 Fed. Reg. 42,870 (July 20, 2015).  As part of the 2015 final rule, U.S. EPA also then prohibited the use of HFCs in aerosols, motor vehicle air conditioners, commercial refrigerators and foams even if the manufacturers of these products had previously elected to replace the ODS in these products with the previously "safe" HFCs.  A lawsuit was subsequently filed by manufacturers of certain HFCs.    

The parties to the lawsuit both acknowledged that U.S. EPA had the ability to ban the use of ODS and that U.S. EPA could change or modify the lists of "safe" and "prohibited" ODS substitutes based on U.S. EPA’s assessment of the risks that those substances posed to human and the environment.  However, the key dispute was whether U.S. EPA had the authority under Section 612 of the Clean Air Act to prohibit manufacturers from making products that contain HFCs if those manufacturers had previously replaced an ODS with a HFC that at the time was listed as a "safe" substitute. 

The D.C. Circuit concluded that U.S.EPA did not have that authority.   The court rejected U.S. EPA’s argument that the term “replace” as used in the statute was intended to apply each time a manufacturer uses a substitute substance as opposed to when the manufacturer originally “replaced” the ODS with the HFC finding U.S. EPA's proposed interpretation to “border on the absurd.”  As such, the D.C. Circuit  vacated the 2015 rule to the extent the rule required manufacturers to replace HFCs with a substitute substance on the "safe" list. 

CATEGORIES: Air, Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Sustainability

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund, Steven M. Siros

August 2, 2017 DHS Waives Environmental Laws to Construct San Diego Border Wall

Dept of Homeland SecurityGrayson

 By E. Lynn Grayson 

 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced yesterday its plans to waive numerous environmental laws to allow more expedient construction of barriers and roads in the vicinity of the international border near San Diego. The decision was signed by then DHS Secretary John Kelly and applies to a 15-mile border segment in San Diego where the Agency plans to upgrade fencing and build border wall prototypes.

DHS issued the waiver pursuant to its authority in Section 102 of the 2005 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA). This law grants the DHS Secretary a number of authorities necessary to carry out DHS’s border security mission. Citing this authority, the DHS notice makes clear that these infrastructure projects will be exempt from complying with critically important environmental laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and other laws related to wildlife, conservation, cultural and historic artifacts, and the environment.

This action has been under consideration by DHS and the subject of much discussion among environmental activists. The Center for Biological Diversity already sued DHS earlier this year seeking an updated environmental review of the southern border infrastructure projects.

According to yesterday’s notice, “…while the waiver eliminates DHS’s obligation to comply with various laws with respect to the covered projects, the Department remains committed to environmental stewardship with respect to these projects. DHS has been coordinating and consulting—and intends to continues to do so—with other federal and state agencies to ensure impacts to the environment, wildlife, and cultural and historic artifacts are analyzed and minimized, to the extent possible.”

Even in the wake of everything ongoing in D.C with the new Administration, this action is extraordinary and inconsistent with typical federal government practices, except in the case of an emergency or other exigent circumstances. The final decision will appear in the Federal Register soon.

CATEGORIES: Air, Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Hazmat, Real Estate and Environment, Sustainability, Water

PEOPLE: E. Lynn Grayson

July 31, 2017 Renegotiation of NAFTA Includes Environmental Considerations

Grayson

 

By E. Lynn Grayson 

Exec Office of President Office of US Trade Rep

The Trump Administration signaled its plans to renegotiate the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) by issuing the Summary of Objectives for the NAFTA Renegotiation this month. President Trump committed to renegotiate NAFTA in order to obtain more open, equitable, secure, and reciprocal market access with our two largest export markets in Canada and Mexico.

Environmental considerations currently are managed in a side agreement to NAFTA, but one of the Administration’s priorities is to incorporate environmental provisions into the new NAFTA. The Summary outlines 13 environmental issues to be addressed as part of the renegotiation process: 

  1. Bring the environmental provisions into the core of the agreement, rather than in a side agreement.
  2. Establish strong and enforceable environmental obligations that are subject to the same dispute settlement mechanism that applies to other enforceable obligations of the agreement.
  3. Establish rules that will ensure that NAFTA countries do not waive or derogate from the protections afforded in their environmental laws for the purpose of encouraging trade or investment.
  4. Establish rules that will ensure that NAFTA countries do not fail to effectively enforce their environmental laws through a sustained or recurring course of action or inaction, in a manner affecting trade or investment between the parties.
  5. Require NAFTA countries to adopt and maintain measures implementing their obligations under select Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) to which the NAFTA countries are full parties, including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
  6. Establish a means for stakeholder participation, including commitments for public advisory committees, and a process for the public to raise concerns directly with its government if they believe it is not meeting its environmental commitments.
  7. Require NAFTA countries to ensure access to fair, equitable, and transparent administrative and judicial proceedings for enforcing their environmental laws, and provide appropriate sanctions or remedies for violations of their environmental laws.
  8. Provide for a framework for conducting, reviewing, and evaluating cooperative activities that support implementation of the environmental commitments, and for public participation in these activities.
  9. Establish or maintain a senior-level Environmental Committee, which will meet regularly to oversee implementation of environmental commitments, with opportunities for public participation in the process.
  10. Combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, including by implementing port state measures and supporting increased monitoring and surveillance.
  11. Establish rules to prohibit harmful fisheries subsidies, such as those that contribute to overfishing and IUU fishing, and pursue transparency in fisheries subsidies programs.
  12. Promote sustainable fisheries management and long-term conservation of marine species, including sharks, sea turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals.
  13. Protect and conserve flora and fauna and ecosystems, including through actions by countries to combat wildlife and timber tracking.

Critics note that the above environmental considerations look much like the provisions in the now defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership that many environmental advocates opposed.

The first round of talks on the possible renegotiation of NAFTA is scheduled to take place in Washington August 16-20. The Summary confirms that “…the new NAFTA will be modernized to reflect 21st century standards and will reflect a fairer deal, addressing America’s persistent trade imbalances in North America.” While part of the agenda, it does not appear that environmental considerations will be a critical portion of these upcoming negotiations.

CATEGORIES: Climate Change, Hazmat, RCRA, Real Estate and Environment, Sustainability, TSCA, Water

PEOPLE: E. Lynn Grayson