Jenner & Block

Corporate Environmental Lawyer Blog

April 19, 2018 Can Blockchain Technology Disrupt Renewable Energy Finance?

 By Matthew G. Lawson  Blockchain

In 2016, the world underwent its largest ever annual increase in renewable power by adding an estimated 161 gigawatts of capacity in renewable power generation. The increased stemmed from a world-wide investment of USD $240 billion in renewable energy, marking the seventh straight year that the world’s investment in renewable power sources topped $200 billion dollars. Despite the world’s growing investment in renewable power, an estimated 1.2 billion people still live without access to electricity. Individuals without electricity must supplement their energy needs through fuel based lighting and heating. Burning these sources is not only more expensive relative to many forms of renewable power, but also results in the release of toxic fumes and black carbon, which are major contributors to local air pollution and climate change.

So why the disconnect between the world’s rapidly growing supply of more affordable renewable energy and the large quantity of individuals left relying on expensive and dirty alternatives? According to Renewables 2017 Global Status Report, the problem primarily stems from an inability of traditional electricity grids to provide power to these populations. With roughly 80% of those without power living in rural areas, it simply is technologically or economically infeasible to extend traditional grid networks to many of the residents. In cases where the grid has been extended, the added cost of additional infrastructure and energy transport waste can price residents out of purchasing power.

The solution to this problem could be Distributed Renewable Energy (“DRE”) systems combined with Blockchain technology. In short, DRE systems generate and distribute power to local users independent of a centralized grid. The systems often consist of module solar panels or small-scale wind turbines and operate on a Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) network that allows energy users to pay for only the energy they use on an ongoing basis. In order to manage the creation of PAYG networks, several companies are now turning to Blockchain technology. Blockchain, best known for its use in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, functions as a public ledger that allows massive amounts of data to be securely stored and accessed by the general public without a centralized platform. According to one company’s recently released white paper, utilization of Blockchain technology can spur the development of DRE systems by allowing those seeking power generation to connect seamlessly with potential financiers on a global basis without the need for utility companies or governmental bodies acting as a central coordinator. The company’s platform aims to allow applicants, from a single business owner to large-scale communities, to propose energy generating projects, which can be viewed and approved by a community of financers anywhere in the world. Approval of a project, construction of the DRE system, and even future payments for energy use are all conducted utilizing the Blockchain platform.

While the use of Blockchain technology is originating in areas typically underserved by traditional electrical grids, proponents argue that the platform’s built-in efficiencies will result in the technology one day competing with traditional utility owned grids on a worldwide basis. In fact, some companies are already taking steps towards this goal. For example, a microgrid is currently being installed in Brooklyn, New York, which will allow users to generate and sell renewable energy throughout their neighborhood. While it is still unclear what larger role DRE systems will play in future energy networks, the marriage between DRE and Blockchain creates a new playing field for alternative energy generation and delivery.

CATEGORIES: Air, Blockchain, Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Sustainability

PEOPLE: Matthew G. Lawson

April 19, 2018 Can Blockchain Technology Disrupt Renewable Energy Finance?

 By Matthew G. Lawson  Blockchain

In 2016, the world underwent its largest ever annual increase in renewable power by adding an estimated 161 gigawatts of capacity in renewable power generation. The increase stemmed from a world-wide investment of USD $240 billion in renewable energy, marking the seventh straight year that the world’s investment in renewable power sources topped $200 billion dollars. Despite the world’s growing investment in renewable power, an estimated 1.2 billion people still live without access to electricity. Individuals without electricity must supplement their energy needs through fuel based lighting and heating. Burning these sources is not only more expensive relative to many forms of renewable power, but also results in the release of toxic fumes and black carbon, which are major contributors to local air pollution and climate change.

So why the disconnect between the world’s rapidly growing supply of more affordable renewable energy and the large quantity of individuals left relying on expensive and dirty alternatives? According to Renewables 2017 Global Status Report, the problem primarily stems from an inability of traditional electricity grids to provide power to these populations. With roughly 80% of those without power living in rural areas, it simply is technologically or economically infeasible to extend traditional grid networks to many of the residents. In cases where the grid has been extended, the added cost of additional infrastructure and energy transport waste can price residents out of purchasing power.

The solution to this problem could be Distributed Renewable Energy (“DRE”) systems combined with Blockchain technology. In short, DRE systems generate and distribute power to local users independent of a centralized grid. The systems often consist of module solar panels or small-scale wind turbines and operate on a Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) network that allows energy users to pay for only the energy they use on an ongoing basis. In order to manage the creation of PAYG networks, several companies are now turning to Blockchain technology. Blockchain, best known for its use in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, functions as a public ledger that allows massive amounts of data to be securely stored and accessed by the general public without a centralized platform. According to one company’s recently released white paper, utilization of Blockchain technology can spur the development of DRE systems by allowing those seeking power generation to connect seamlessly with potential financiers on a global basis without the need for utility companies or governmental bodies acting as a central coordinator. The company’s platform aims to allow applicants, from a single business owner to large-scale communities, to propose energy generating projects, which can be viewed and approved by a community of financers anywhere in the world. Approval of a project, construction of the DRE system, and even future payments for energy use are all conducted utilizing the Blockchain platform.

While the use of Blockchain technology is originating in areas typically underserved by traditional electrical grids, proponents argue that the platform’s built-in efficiencies will result in the technology one day competing with traditional utility owned grids on a worldwide basis. In fact, some companies are already taking steps towards this goal. For example, a microgrid is currently being installed in Brooklyn, New York, which will allow users to generate and sell renewable energy throughout their neighborhood. While it is still unclear what larger role DRE systems will play in future energy networks, the marriage between DRE and Blockchain creates a new playing field for alternative energy generation and delivery.

CATEGORIES: Air, Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Sustainability

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund

April 17, 2018 CWA Regulation of Groundwater: Circuit Split or U.S. EPA Rulemaking?

Siros By Steven M. Siros   Discharge

Recent decisions from the Fourth and Ninth Circuitsfinding that the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) could regulate discharges into groundwater that ultimately migrate into navigable waterwaysmay prompt U.S. EPA to revisit its position that the CWA applies to discharges from a “point source via ground water that has a direct hydrologic connection to surface water.” On April 12, 2018, the Fourth Circuit concluded that a release from pipeline that impacted groundwater that ultimately discharged to a nearby creek could trigger liability under the CWA.  See Upstate Forever v. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, L.P. (4th Cir. April 12, 2018). This decision follows on the heels of a Ninth Circuit decision affirming a district court's decision allowing a CWA citizen suit to proceed that alleged CWA violations associated with sanitary wastewater discharges through permitted underground injection wells that ultimately discharged into the ocean. See Hawai’i Wildlife Fund v. County of Maui (9th Cir. Feb. 1, 2018). Defendants are likely to seek Supreme Court review of both the Fourth and Ninth Circuit decisions.

Following the Ninth Circuit decision, on February 20, 2018, U.S. EPA issued a notice seeking comment by May 21, 2018 on whether it should review and potentially revise its previous positions on groundwater discharges; specifically, whether it is consistent with the CWA to subject discharges to jurisdictional surface waters via groundwater to CWA permitting. U.S. EPA also is seeking comment on whether some or all of such discharges are addressed adequately through other federal authorities, existing state statutory or regulatory programs, or through other existing federal regulations and permit programs. It will be interesting to see where U.S. EPA ultimately comes out on this issue; U.S. EPA filed an amicus brief urging the Ninth Circuit to affirm the district court's decision that discharges reaching navigable waters through groundwater are covered by the CWA. However, statements in U.S. EPA’s request for comments would seem to suggest that U.S. EPA is rethinking its position on this issue.  We will continue to follow and provide updates as this process unfolds. 

CATEGORIES: Climate Change, Sustainability, Water

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund, Steven M. Siros

April 17, 2018 CWA Regulation of Groundwater: Circuit Split or U.S. EPA Rulemaking?

Siros By Steven M. Siros   Discharge

Recent decisions from the Fourth and Ninth Circuitsfinding that the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) could regulate discharges into groundwater that ultimately migrate into navigable waterwaysmay prompt U.S. EPA to revisit its position that the CWA applies to discharges from a “point source via ground water that has a direct hydrologic connection to surface water.” On April 12, 2018, the Fourth Circuit concluded that a release from pipeline that impacted groundwater that ultimately discharged to a nearby creek could trigger liability under the CWA.  See Upstate Forever v. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, L.P. (4th Cir. April 12, 2018). This decision follows on the heels of a Ninth Circuit decision affirming a district court's decision allowing a CWA citizen suit to proceed that alleged CWA violations associated with sanitary wastewater discharges through permitted underground injection wells that ultimately discharged into the ocean. See Hawai’i Wildlife Fund v. County of Maui (9th Cir. Feb. 1, 2018). Defendants are likely to seek Supreme Court review of both the Fourth and Ninth Circuit decisions.

Following the Ninth Circuit decision, on February 20, 2018, U.S. EPA issued a notice seeking comment by May 21, 2018 on whether it should review and potentially revise its previous positions on groundwater discharges; specifically, whether it is consistent with the CWA to subject discharges to jurisdictional surface waters via groundwater to CWA permitting. U.S. EPA also is seeking comment on whether some or all of such discharges are addressed adequately through other federal authorities, existing state statutory or regulatory programs, or through other existing federal regulations and permit programs. It will be interesting to see where U.S. EPA ultimately comes out on this issue; U.S. EPA filed an amicus brief urging the Ninth Circuit to affirm the district court's decision that discharges reaching navigable waters through groundwater are covered by the CWA. However, statements in U.S. EPA’s request for comments would seem to suggest that U.S. EPA is rethinking its position on this issue.  We will continue to follow and provide updates as this process unfolds. 

CATEGORIES: Climate Change, Sustainability, Water

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund, Steven M. Siros

March 30, 2018 U.S. EPA Removes Portion of Former Refinery Site from NPL: Precursor to More Expedited CERCLA Cleanups?

Siros

 

By Steven M. Siros Pacific Coast Pipeline

After almost 30 years having been listed on the NPL, U.S. EPA has removed the surface portion of the 55-acre Pacific Coast Pipeline site from that distinctive list.  Since being added to the NPL in 1989, more than 42,000 cubic yards of contaminated soils have been removed from the site and a multi-layer cap has been installed. The groundwater portion of the site will still remain on the NPL in order to address benzene and protect drinking water and agricultural wells.

One goal of EPA Administrator Pruitt’s Superfund Task Force was to improve and expedite site cleanups and accelerate full and partial deletions for sites that meet all applicable requirements. “The partial de-listing of the Pacific Coast Pipeline site is an example of EPA’s commitment to accelerate the remediation of contaminated sites and transform them into productive assets for the community,” said Pruitt.

Whether this partial NPL deletion is a precursor of U.S. EPA taking a more streamlined approach to CERCLA cleanups remains to be seen, but it would appear to be a step in the right direction.

CATEGORIES: Climate Change, Hazmat, Sustainability, Water

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund, Steven M. Siros

March 27, 2018 Townships Look to Take the Air Out of Wind Farm

 By Matthew G. Lawson  Wind

NextEra Energy Resources LLC (“NextEra”), the largest generator of wind energy in North America, is currently locked in legal disputes with local townships over its new wind energy project, the “Tuscola Wind III Energy Center.”  NextEra’s subsidiary, Tuscola Wind III LLC (“Tuscola”), plans to construct the 55 turbine wind farm across the Fairgrove, Almer, and Ellington Townships of Tuscola Country, Michigan.  The project, if completed, will be the third wind farm constructed by NextEra in Tuscola County.  The proposed $200 million dollar wind farm is projected to supply wind energy for up to 50,000 homes.

After reaching agreements with nearly 100 landowners to secure land for the project, Tuscola submitted a Special Land Use Permit (“SLUP”) to the local townships for construction and operation of the wind farm.  However, two of the townships, Almer and Ellington, denied the permits and enacted one year moratoriums on the construction of wind farms.  According to Tuscola, its permits were blocked by newly elected members of the Townships’ Boards who were affiliated with a regional anti-wind citizens advocacy group.  The company alleged that the organization was engaged in a systematic effort to block the Tuscola project and that the group had used “tactics of intimidation, threats of lawsuits, referenda, and recalls . . . in an effort to prevent the development of wind projects.”

The company is now fighting back.  In lawsuits filed in the Eastern District of Michigan, NextEra is seeking to have the Board of Trustees’ denial of the SLUP overturned.  On November 3, 2017, the district court issued its first decision on the matter, affirming the denial of the SLUP by the Almer Township.  The court found that the Township’s Board had properly denied the application after it determined that the purposed wind farm would violate Almer’s noise zoning ordinance. The court noted that although Almer’s noise ordinance was admittedly ambiguous, the Board should be provided deference to interpret the meaning of its own ordinance.  Finding that the board’s interpretation of the ordinance was reasonable, the court elected not to overturn the decision.

On March 13, 2018, the district court reached a markedly different result in Tuscola’s parallel suit against the Ellington Township.  Here, the District Court overturned the Ellington Township’s denial of the SLUP.  Unlike the Almer Township Board, it appears Ellington’s Board refused to even consider the merits of Tuscola’s SLUP, and relied entirely on its newly enacted moratorium to block consideration of the application.  The Court concluded that the township’s moratorium was an inappropriate suspension of its zoning ordinance, and was thus void.  Therefore, the Board could no longer rely on the moratorium as a reason to refuse to consider the SLUP application.  Left open by the decision was whether Ellington could successfully deny the SLUP on other grounds or what timeframe the township had to approve/deny the permit.  Interestingly, the Ellington decision arrived exactly one day after the district court reaffirmed its earlier holding in the Almer case (Both decisions were authored by the same Judge). 

Finally, in the newest twist, landowners of property proposed for the Tuscola Wind III site have now filed suit in Tuscola County Circuit Court seeking a court order to ouster the newly elected board members alleged to be part of the anti-wind organization. The ultimate resolution of Tuscola’s dispute may end up relying in part on the success of this new suit.

CATEGORIES: Air, Climate Change, Sustainability

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund, Matthew G. Lawson

March 23, 2018 Congressional Spending Bill Provides Boost to EPA, DOE in Rebuke to Trump Administration Budget

As we previously reported on here, the Trump Administration earlier this month proposed a $2.7 billion budget reduction for U.S. EPA. However, Congress has passed a spending bill that rejects reductions to both U.S. EPA and the Department of Energy.  Trump signed the bill today.

As reported here, as to the U.S. EPA, Congress proposed holding the agency’s funding at $8.1 billion, even with the 2017 level.

And, at the DOE

  • $6.2 billion for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, an $868-million jump from the 2017 level. Trump had sought to cut its budget to just under $4.5 billion.
  • The omnibus includes an increase of nearly $1.5 billion in DOE clean energy funding, including a 14% increase to the renewable energy and efficiency office, and a 16% increase at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Trump had sought to cut the renewables office by 65% and eliminate ARPA-E.
  •  The Office of Fossil Energy would increase by 10%, the nuclear office by 19%, science office by 16%, and the energy office by 8%. The loan programs office would be preserved, as would funding for carbon capture and storage. 

These avoided spending cuts and/or spending increases are an encouraging sign for environmentalists and other clean tech advocates.

CATEGORIES: Climate Change, Sustainability

March 15, 2018 In the Absence of Any Federal Movement, States Continue to Attempt to Legislate Carbon Rules or Taxes

By Alexander J. Bandza CO2

As reported in Salon and Law360 (sub. req.), states, the “laboratories of democracy,” continue to attempt to experiment with legislation carbon rules or taxes. Washington and Oregon are the latest examples, although such efforts have so far failed. Washington’s proposal would have taxed carbon emissions, whereas Oregon’s proposal would have established a cap-and-trade program.

After the Washington tax bill failed, a coalition of environmental, community and labor groups filed a proposed citizens’ initiative that would put a price on carbon emissions. The proposal would charge $15 per metric ton of carbon content of fossil fuels and electricity sold or used in the state starting in 2020. It would increase by $2 a year in 2021 until the state meets its carbon emissions reduction goal for 2035.

As of February of this year, as reported in Law360 (sub. req.), 10 states have released bills to combat climate change and raise revenue by using the tax system, with some 30 different bills in play. According to this report, the range of carbon taxes are from $5-35/ton (bills in Vermont set the base rate at $5 per ton of carbon while bills in New York set it at $35 per ton).

These state-level efforts underscore the challenge of convincing the public and a broad base of stakeholders to act on a problem that Congress first tried to address over a decade ago, most famously through the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act of 2003 and the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. Interestingly, it may be this patchwork of state-level action that induces Congress to act sometime in the future.

CATEGORIES: Air, Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Sustainability

March 8, 2018 Who Wants to Buy a Superfund Site?

 By Matthew G. LawsonSuperfund Sign

On July 25, 2017, Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) administrator Scott Pruitt’s “Superfund Task Force” issued a final report revealing the Task Force’s recommendations for streamlining the remediation process of over 1,300 Superfund sites currently overseen by the EPA.  The Task Force’s recommendations included a strong emphasis on facilitating the redevelopment of Superfund sites by encouraging private sector investment into future use of contaminated sites.  The recommendations were subsequently adopted by Mr. Pruitt, who has repeatedly affirmed that a top priority of the administration is revamping the Superfund program.  In the recent months, it appears EPA and the Trump administration have taken new steps to further the objective of pushing private redevelopment for Superfund Sites. 

On January 17, 2018, EPA posted a “Superfund Redevelopment Focus List” consisting of thirty-one Superfund sites that the agency believes “pose the greatest expected redevelopment and commercial potential.”  EPA claims that the identified sites have significant redevelopment potential based on previous outside interest, access to transportation corridors, high land values, and other development drivers.  “EPA is more than a collaborative partner to remediate the nation’s most contaminated sites, we’re also working to successfully integrate Superfund sites back into communities across the country,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.  “[The] redevelopment list incorporates Superfund sites ready to become catalysts for economic growth and revitalization.”

Along the same lines, President Donald Trump’s sweeping infrastructure proposal, released February 12, 2018, proposed an amendment to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) that would allow Superfund sites to access funding from the EPA’s Brownfield Program, which the administration believes could help stimulate redevelopment of the sites.  The proposal further requests Congress pass an amendment to CERCLA that would allow EPA to enter into settlement agreements with potentially responsible parties to clean up and reuse Superfund sites without filing a consent decree or receiving approval from the Attorney General.  The proposal claims that CERCLA’s limitations “hinder the cleanup and reuse of Superfund sites and contribute to delays in cleanups due to negotiations.”

Time will tell whether the administration’s strategy will be enough to entice new development into the Superfund sites.  To follow the progress of EPA’s Superfund redevelopment efforts, visit EPA’s Superfund Redevelopment Initiative website here

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

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund

March 5, 2018 EPA “Year in Review”

Torrence_jpgBy Allison A. Torrence

Year in ReviewOn Monday, March 5, 2018, EPA issued a report titled EPA Year in Review 2017-2018. The report contains an introductory letter from Administrator Pruitt, who states that he has been “hard at work enacting President Donald Trump’s agenda during [his] first year as EPA Administrator.” The report highlights accomplishments at EPA over the past year, with a focus on the roll back of regulations from the Obama Administration, such as the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States Rule. Administrator Pruitt stated that “[i]n year one, EPA finalized 22 deregulatory actions, saving Americans more than $1 billion in regulatory costs.”

According to the report, Administrator Scott Pruitt set forth a “back-to-basics agenda” with three objectives:

  1. Refocusing the Agency back to its core mission
  2. Restoring power to the states through cooperative federalism
  3. Adhering to the rule of law and improving Agency processes

The report also identifies EPA’s “core mission” as “clean air, land, and water,” and argues that in recent years, “central responsibilities of the Agency took a backseat to ideological crusades, allowing some environmental threats – like cleaning up toxic land – to go unaddressed.” In light of these alleged lapses, EPA states that:

Administrator Pruitt returned the Agency to its core mission and prioritized issues at the heart of EPA’s purpose: ensuring access to clean air and water, cleaning up contaminated lands and returning them to communities for reuse, improving water infrastructure, and ensuring chemicals entering the marketplace are reviewed for safety. In just one year, EPA made immense progress on these fronts, and the American people have seen real, tangible results.

Topics covered in the report include:

  • Air: Improving Air Quality
  • Water: Provide for Clean and Safe Water
  • Land: Revitalize Land for Reuse
  • Chemicals: Ensure Safety of Chemicals
  • Enforcement
  • Cooperative Federalism and Public Participation
  • Rule of Law

The report concludes with several pages of quotes from elected officials, state environmental agencies, and industry representatives, offering praise for the work done by EPA and Administrator Pruitt:

Leslie Rutledge, Attorney General, Ark.: “Administrator Pruitt’s decision last month to completely re-evaluate the WOTUS rule, minimizing the regulatory burden on countless landowners, demonstrates his commitment to building stronger relationships with state partners.” (07/20/17)

The Year in Review report was tweeted out by Administrator Pruitt and can be found on EPA’s website.

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

PEOPLE: Allison A. Torrence

February 23, 2018 FERC Rule Seeks to Expand Role of Electric Storage Resources in Wholesale Electricity Markets

Matthew G. Lawson By Matthew G. Lawson Department of Energy | Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

On February 15, 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) unanimously voted to remove barriers for electric storage resources to participate in the capacity, energy, and ancillary services markets operated by regional transmission organizations (“RTOs”) and independent system operators (“ISOs”).  FERC’s Final Rule requires each of these RTOs and ISOs to develop a plan for revising its tariff structure that establishes a participation model for various electric storage resources.

Currently, electric storage resources, such as large-scale batteries, pumped hydro systems, and thermal energy storage, play a more limited role in RTO and ISO markets, often participating only in fast-responding frequency regulations markets.  FERC’s new rule seeks to expand energy storage’s participation beyond these roles by requiring RTOs and ISOs to develop a participation model that specifically accounts for the unique physical and operational characteristics of electric storage resources.

The Final Rule provides the following criteria for the participation models:

  • First, electric storage resources must be “eligible to provide all capacity, energy and ancillary services that it is technically capable of providing.”  This criteria will eliminate some wholesale market rules that limit the services electric storage resources may provide.
  • Second, the models must ensure that participating systems “can be dispatched and can set the wholesale market clearing price as both a wholesale seller and wholesale buyer consistent with rules that govern the conditions under which a resource can set the wholesale price.”  In other words, ISOs and RTOs must develop a participation model that accounts for the unique ability of electric storage resources to both purchase/store energy off the grid and to sell energy back to the grid.
  • Third, the models must “account for the physical and operational characteristics of electric storage resources through bidding parameters or other means.”  In other words, the markets must take into account electric storage resources’ duration and operating parameters.
  • Finally, the models must “establish a minimum size requirement for participation in the RTO and ISO markets that does not exceed 100kw.”

FERC’s Final Rule will go into effect 90 days after publication.  After this, each RTO and ISO is required to file its tariff modifications to comply with the Final Rule within 270 days of the publication date, and to implement the modifications within one year of the filing date.  This timeframe will allow various stakeholders and interested parties an opportunity to review and comment on the proposed tariff changes submitted by each RTO and ISO.

While pumped-storage hydro is currently the dominate form of electric energy storage in the United States' RTO and ISO markets, other technologies like batteries and flywheels are becoming more commercially viable, and will likely benefit from FERC’s order.  In issuing its Final Rule, FERC noted that the United States’ energy storage resource capacity is expected to grow more than sevenfold over the next five years, and FERC hopes to support this growth to enhance competition and promote greater efficiency in the national’s electric wholesale markets.

CATEGORIES: Climate Change, Sustainability

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund

February 22, 2018 OSHA Makes a Statement on Hex Chrome Enforcement

Andi Kenny

By Andi Kenney  Hex chrome

On January 19, 2018, OSHA issued a citation to Spirit Aerosystems, Inc., alleging one willful and five serious violations of the OSHA hexavalent chromium standard (29 CFR 1910.1026) and assessing $194,006 in penalties.

In the citation, OSHA alleges that the manufacturer of aerostructures (including portions of fuselages) willfully failed to prevent employee exposures to levels above the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 5.0 ug/m3 8 hour time weighted average (TWA) and to implement feasible engineering and work practice controls “to reduce employee exposure to the lowest achievable level.” The citation notes an employee who was sanding and grinding was exposed to hexavalent chromium at 9.0 ug/m3 on a time weighted average, 1.8 times the PEL.

The citation further alleges that Spirit Aerosystems did not perform periodic monitoring every three months, did not perform monitoring when process changed, did not demarcate a regulated area for hex chrome, allowed employees to leave the hex chrome work area without removing contaminated clothing and equipment, and did not adequately train employees regarding the OSHA hex chrome standard. 

The citation is notable for several reasons. First, it is an indication that OSHA is still actively enforcing the hex chrome standard. Second, it underscores OSHA’s position that an increased scheduled work load is a process change that would require additional exposure monitoring. Third, it affirms that the aircraft painting exception, which establishes a 25 ug/m3 exposure limit, does not apply to grinding and sanding operations. Finally, it raises questions about how far an employer has to go to reduce exposures—does the employer’s obligation to implement controls require it to reduce exposure “to the lowest achievable level” as alleged in the citation or does the employer meet its obligation if it reduces exposure to the PEL?

CATEGORIES: Air, Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Hazmat, OSHA, Sustainability

PEOPLE: Anne Samuels Kenney (Andi)

February 19, 2018 Proposed 2019 White House Budget “Trims” U.S. EPA Budget

Steven M. Siros By Steven M. Siros White House

The White House rolled out its 2019 budget, which includes deep cuts to a number of federal agencies, including U.S. EPA. The proposed 2019 budget seeks to cut approximately $2.5 billion, or 23%, from U.S. EPA’s budget, including the elimination of approximately 20% of U.S. EPA’s workforce. The proposed budget also seeks to eliminate a number of programs, including programs that provide money to the Energy Star program and to international organizations and countries to fight climate change. Other programs on the cutting block include assistance to fund water system improvements, with significant reductions to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Chesapeake Bay Program.

The proposed budget places emphasis on the continued elimination of redundant programs and continues to focus on implementing the President’s Executive Order on a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch. The Executive Order seeks to streamline U.S. EPA’s permit review process and reducing unnecessary burden on the regulated community. 

The budget plan faces a likely uphill battle in Congress with many of the same proposals that were rejected by Congress last year being recycled in the proposed 2019 budget. Please click here to go to U.S. EPA’s budget website. 

CATEGORIES: Climate Change, Sustainability

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund, Steven M. Siros

February 9, 2018 Will Last-Minute Petition for Review Keep Natural Gas Flowing?

FERCMatthew G. Lawson By Matthew G. Lawson  

On February 7, 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) moved for a last-minute review to save the Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline just hours before it was scheduled to be shut down.  In a motion filed on Tuesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, FERC asked the court for a 45-day stay of issuance of the court’s mandate to allow the agency to issue an order on remand reauthorizing certificates for the pipeline project.

The request stems from an August 22, 2017 D.C. Circuit opinion concluding that FERC did not adequately analyze the impacts of greenhouse gas (“GHGs”) emissions that would result from the construction and operation of the $3.5 billion pipeline.  The court concluded that FERC had failed to comply with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) because the agency’s Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) did not consider the indirect environmental effects of authorizing the transportation of natural gas to be burned, which in turn generates GHG emissions.  The court remanded the matter back to FERC to give a quantitative estimate of the downstream GHG emissions that will stem from the pipeline or explain specifically why it was not able to do so.

On January 31, 2018, the D.C. Circuit court denied FERC’s petition to rehear the issue, setting the stage for a one week countdown to the shutdown of the major gas network, which has been operating since June 2017.  On Monday, FERC took a major step to keeping the pipeline in service by issuing a revised supplemental environmental impact statement (“SEIS”), but neglected to state whether it would issue an emergency order to prevent shutdown of the Sabal Trail pipeline.  However, it is unclear if FERC has the authority to immediately reissue certificates to the pipeline prior to a thirty day wait period following the issuance of the SEIS.  This may explain why the agency elected to request a short stay from the court for it to reauthorize the pipeline.

In its February 7th motion, FERC asserted that “[i]f pipeline service is halted, Florida Power & Light may not be able to meet its customers’ electricity needs efficiently or reliably.”  The utility services an estimated 4.9 million households in Florida.  FERC’s motion automatically stays the court’s mandate until February 16, which is when responses to the motion are due.

It is also unclear whether the D.C. Circuit will ultimately approve FERC’s SEIS.  The document provides an estimate that the pipeline could increase Florida’s GHG emissions by 3.6 to 9.9% over 2015 levels.  However, the agency declined to comment on the potential environmental effects from that increase, noting there was no “suitable” scientific method for doing so. We will continue to follow this issue and will provide updates as events warrant.

 

 

 

CATEGORIES: Air, Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Hazmat, Sustainability

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund

February 2, 2018 FAA Proposes Record $1.1M Fine for Shipment of Lithium Batteries

Siros By Steven M. Siros  FAA

In what should be a wake-up call for companies that ship lithium batteries, the U.S. Transportation Department’s Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) recently levied a $1.1 million civil penalty for alleged violations of DOT shipping regulations. According to the FAA, on June 1, 2016, a Florida-based battery distribution company offered four shipments of 24-volt lithium batteries to FedEx for air transport. One of the batteries is alleged to have caught fire while being transported on a FedEx truck after having been shipped on an aircraft, destroying the truck. FAA contends that the shipped batteries failed both UN and U.S. testing standards, were not equipped to prevent reverse current flow, and were improperly packaged. FAA also alleges that the company did not provide proper training to its employees.

Although the $1.1M penalty has not been finalized, companies that ship lithium should ensure that their shipments are in full compliance with all applicable DOT shipping regulations. The transportation of lithium batteries in aircraft is the subject of ongoing evaluation and scrutiny by the FAA and companies that are deemed to be in violation of these requirements are likely to face significant penalties as evidenced by the $1.1M fine referenced above.

CATEGORIES: Air, Climate Change, Sustainability

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund, Steven M. Siros