Jenner & Block

Corporate Environmental Lawyer Blog

September 5, 2019 Available Company Defenses to Climate Change Shareholder Activism: Trends in Climate Change Litigation, Part 5

Headshot

  GHG

By Matthew G. Lawson

As noted in Jenner & Block’s prior blog post, Shareholder Activism: Trends in Climate Change Litigation, Part 4, an emerging issue for public companies in high greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emitting industries is increased pressure from environmentally focused “activist shareholders.” These shareholders often seek to leverage their ownership shares to influence companies into taking action to decrease GHG emissions and/or increase public disclosure of such emissions. These efforts may be undertaken through negotiations with company management or through the introduction of specific shareholder proposals and proxy materials to be presented and voted on at annual shareholder meetings.

Several recent actions taken by the SEC may now help shield public companies from certain attempts by shareholders to introduce climate change related proposals for consideration at shareholder meetings. Under SEC rule 14a-8(i)(7), public companies may exclude from shareholders’ voting ballots any proposals which seek to “micromanage” the company’s ordinary business operations. In recent months, the SEC has asserted that rule 14a-8(i)(7) may be utilized by companies to block certain types of climate change related proposals. The agency has articulated this position by issuing “no-action” letters to public companies seeking to block climate-change proposals from their shareholders. In effect, these letters act as an assurance that the SEC will not recommend enforcement action against the companies for blocking the respective proposals because the agency agrees that the proposal falls under the purview of rule 14a-8(i)(7). However, the SEC has, in a few instances, refused to issue “no-action” letters to companies seeking to block shareholder climate change proposals.

Whether a shareholder’s climate change proposal is excludable under rule 14a-8(i)(7) therefore appears to be a case-by-case determination which depends on the specific demands of a proposal. As a general rule, the SEC has found that proposals which only seek greater disclosure of a company’s GHG emissions cannot be excluded under rule 14a-8(i)(7), but proposals which impose GHG emission reduction targets on the company or require specific methods for reporting or calculating GHGs may be excluded under rule 14a-8(i)(7). A few instructive examples of these general conclusions are provided below:

  • On February 14, 2019, the SEC issued a no-action letter to J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc. approving the company’s request to block a shareholder proposal that, if implemented, would require the company to adopt quantitative targets for reducing GHG emissions and issue a report demonstrating its progress towards achieving these targets. The SEC found that the proposal sought to micromanage the business by probing into complex matters that were better left to the informed judgment of management.
  • On March 4, 2019, the SEC refused to issue a no-action letter to Anadarko Petroleum Corporation after the company sought to block a proposal requesting that the company describe if, and how, it planned to reduce its total contribution to climate change to fall in line with the global temperature objectives of Paris Agreement.
  • On April 2, 2019, the SEC issued a no-action letter to ExxonMobil which affirmed that the company could exclude a shareholder proposal which would require the company to adopt and disclose certain GHG emission reduction targets. The SEC noted that the proposal sought to replace the ongoing judgments of the company’s management with “specific methods” for implementing complex policies.

Of course, the threat of potential governmental enforcement actions is only one reason why a company may hesitate to block shareholder proposals. Beyond the business considerations of such a decision, public companies may also need to consider whether adopting certain types of shareholder proposals—particularly those calling for increased disclosure and transparency of GHG emissions—may be beneficial to protect the company from the risk of future lawsuits by the company’s shareholders.

CATEGORIES: Air, Climate Change, Consumer Law and Environment, Greenhouse Gas, Hazmat, Sustainability

PEOPLE: Matthew G. Lawson

August 29, 2019 EPA Proposes Rule to Rescind Methane Regulations for the Oil and Gas Industry

Torrence_jpgBy Allison A. Torrence

Fernwärmeleitung_Dü_StPö_mit_Kraftwerk_DürnrohrOn August 28, 2019, EPA issued a proposed rule titled Oil and Natural Gas Sector: Emission Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources Review (the “Proposed Rule”). The Proposed Rule, if adopted, would rescind certain parts of the New Source Performance Standards (“NSPS”) related to methane and volatile organic compounds (“VOCs”) in the oil and gas industry.

First, EPA is proposing to redefine the operations included in the NSPS source category for the oil and gas industry. The original source category listing for the oil and gas industry, issued in 1979, included the production and processing segments of the industry. In 2012 and 2016, EPA expanded the oil and gas industry source category to include the transmission and storage segment of that industry. The Proposed Rule would remove sources in the transmission and storage segment from the oil and natural gas source category and would rescind the methane and VOC emission limits, adopted in 2012 and 2016, which currently apply to those sources.

Second, EPA is proposing to rescind emissions limits for methane (but keep limits for VOCs) in the production and processing segments of the oil and gas industry.  

Third, EPA is seeking comment on its legal authority to regulate methane under section 111 of the Clean Air Act (“CAA”). In 2016, EPA determined that it could regulate methane and other greenhouse gases (“GHGs”) under section 111 of the CAA without making a pollutant-specific determination that GHG emissions from the oil and gas industry cause or contribute to air pollution that endangers public health. In the alternative, in case such a determination was required, EPA found that methane and other GHG emissions from the oil and gas industry do cause or contribute to air pollution that endangers public health.

Specifically, EPA is requesting comment on the following three questions:

  • Whether section 111 of the CAA requires EPA to make a pollutant-specific significant contribution finding for GHG emissions (primarily methane) from the oil and natural gas industry.
  • If the law does require a pollutant-specific finding, whether the finding in the alternative in the 2016 rule properly satisfied that requirement.
  • The appropriate criteria to use when determining, under section 111, whether a pollutant emitted from a particular source category significantly contributes to air pollution that may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health and the environment.

According to EPA’s analysis, the Proposed Rules would result in an increase in emissions of methane, VOCs, and hazardous air pollutants (“HAPs”). The estimated increases would be 370,000 short tons of methane (8.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent), 10,000 short tons of VOCs, and 300 short tons of HAPs. The Proposed Rule would save the oil and gas industry a total of $97-$123 million from 2019 through 2025, which is $17-$19 million a year.

More information about the Proposed Rule is available at EPA’s website. EPA will be accepting comments on the Proposed Rule for 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

CATEGORIES: Air, Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Sustainability

PEOPLE: Allison A. Torrence

June 6, 2019 Exploring the E-Suite with Jonah Greenberger, Co-founder and President, Bright, Inc. (San Francisco, CA, and Mexico City, Mexico)

6a01310fa9d1ee970c022ad3ad363e200d-800wi

Jonah Greenberger large

 

Exploring the E-Suite with Jonah Greenberger, Co-founder and President, Bright, Inc. (San Francisco, CA, and Mexico City, Mexico) 

  1. Tell us about Bright, including what the organization does and your role.

Bright is the leading rooftop solar company in Mexico. We provide the financing and software that enable thousands of ambassadors to offer cheaper electricity to millions of homes, at no upfront cost, and we work with our network of hundreds of local installers and distributors to satisfy the resulting demand. Our first market is Mexico, which has more sun, higher electricity rates, and lower labor costs than the US. Bright's investors include First Round Capital, Y Combinator, and other top Silicon Valley firms.

  1. What is your professional background that led you to become involved in the clean energy and international fields?

I studied thermodynamics at Stanford and found energy fascinating - it felt like magic that a fuel could be converted into the motion of a car. I wanted to learn more and see how I could advance such a fascinating (and important) field.

  1. What do you think are the emerging issues in the energy field, especially clean energy and/or in the international context?

The largest topic is around how projects are allowed to use the existing grid, or the utility wires that move electricity from one place to another. It makes sense to only have one set of grids (vs telecom where you have many), but this means innovation is stifled unless there’s an easy way to access and use this grid.

  1. What aspects of working in the energy field have you enjoyed most?

I love how international energy is - everyone needs energy and it’s a national priority in almost every country to become more sustainable. Energy is an amazing way to see how the world works across borders.

  1. What do you find are some of the most challenging aspects of your work in the energy field?

Similar to what I mentioned earlier about connecting to the grid, innovation is largely at the whim of what the utilities will or have to allow in terms of connecting to the grid. Figuring out how to navigate these nuances is tricky but incredibly important.

  1. How did you make the transition from working for one of the world’s largest energy firms (Chevron) to becoming a clean energy startup founder?

Chevron taught me how the world consumes and produces energy and how to run a large international business. However, given how slow decisions were and career advancement as well, starting a company allowed me to release all of this pent up energy that I had to move fast and build.

  1. As a startup founder that operates in the clean energy and international spaces, what can policymakers learn from your challenges and successes?

One of the largest learnings we’ve had is that the platform has to be opened to create real innovation and impact. The internet, for instance, is a place anyone can build a webpage, create a company etc. But the grid in many countries is still the equivalent of if the internet required a DMV in person visit if you wanted to connect. Policy to free up the ability to connect to this platform could enable incredible value.

  1. What and/or who have helped you succeed as a clean energy startup founder?

YCombinator’s network has been incredibly helpful as has First Rounds to connect me to any expert I could need on any topic.

  1. What advice would you give a young person today who is considering starting out in the energy field?

I would advise to think about scalability from the start. Many energy projects are highly customized and so take forever and a vast amount of capital to have an impact. Solutions that will transform the way we use energy will be those that are far more standardized and can be repeated over and over again.

Mr. Greenberger was interviewed by Alexander J. Bandza, Associate, Energy and Environmental and Workplace Health and Safety Law Practices, Jenner & Block LLP

CATEGORIES: Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Sustainability

PEOPLE: Alexander J. Bandza

June 6, 2019 Exploring the E-Suite with Jonah Greenberger, Co-founder and President, Bright, Inc. (San Francisco, CA, and Mexico City, Mexico)

6a01310fa9d1ee970c022ad3ad363e200d-800wi

Jonah Greenberger large

 

Exploring the E-Suite with Jonah Greenberger, Co-founder and President, Bright, Inc. (San Francisco, CA, and Mexico City, Mexico) 

  1. Tell us about Bright, including what the organization does and your role.

Bright is the leading rooftop solar company in Mexico. We provide the financing and software that enable thousands of ambassadors to offer cheaper electricity to millions of homes, at no upfront cost, and we work with our network of hundreds of local installers and distributors to satisfy the resulting demand. Our first market is Mexico, which has more sun, higher electricity rates, and lower labor costs than the US. Bright's investors include First Round Capital, Y Combinator, and other top Silicon Valley firms.

  1. What is your professional background that led you to become involved in the clean energy and international fields?

I studied thermodynamics at Stanford and found energy fascinating - it felt like magic that a fuel could be converted into the motion of a car. I wanted to learn more and see how I could advance such a fascinating (and important) field.

  1. What do you think are the emerging issues in the energy field, especially clean energy and/or in the international context?

The largest topic is around how projects are allowed to use the existing grid, or the utility wires that move electricity from one place to another. It makes sense to only have one set of grids (vs telecom where you have many), but this means innovation is stifled unless there’s an easy way to access and use this grid.

  1. What aspects of working in the energy field have you enjoyed most?

I love how international energy is - everyone needs energy and it’s a national priority in almost every country to become more sustainable. Energy is an amazing way to see how the world works across borders.

  1. What do you find are some of the most challenging aspects of your work in the energy field?

Similar to what I mentioned earlier about connecting to the grid, innovation is largely at the whim of what the utilities will or have to allow in terms of connecting to the grid. Figuring out how to navigate these nuances is tricky but incredibly important.

  1. How did you make the transition from working for one of the world’s largest energy firms (Chevron) to becoming a clean energy startup founder?

Chevron taught me how the world consumes and produces energy and how to run a large international business. However, given how slow decisions were and career advancement as well, starting a company allowed me to release all of this pent up energy that I had to move fast and build.

  1. As a startup founder that operates in the clean energy and international spaces, what can policymakers learn from your challenges and successes?

One of the largest learnings we’ve had is that the platform has to be opened to create real innovation and impact. The internet, for instance, is a place anyone can build a webpage, create a company etc. But the grid in many countries is still the equivalent of if the internet required a DMV in person visit if you wanted to connect. Policy to free up the ability to connect to this platform could enable incredible value.

  1. What and/or who have helped you succeed as a clean energy startup founder?

YCombinator’s network has been incredibly helpful as has First Rounds to connect me to any expert I could need on any topic.

  1. What advice would you give a young person today who is considering starting out in the energy field?

I would advise to think about scalability from the start. Many energy projects are highly customized and so take forever and a vast amount of capital to have an impact. Solutions that will transform the way we use energy will be those that are far more standardized and can be repeated over and over again.

Mr. Greenberger was interviewed by Alexander J. Bandza, Associate, Energy and Environmental and Workplace Health and Safety Law Practices, Jenner & Block LLP

CATEGORIES: Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Sustainability

PEOPLE: Alexander J. Bandza

April 24, 2019 Climate Change Lawsuits Brought by Coastal Municipalities and States Against the Fossil Fuel Industry: Trends in Climate Change Litigation, Part 3

Matthew G. Lawson

 

By Matthew G. Lawson Air pollution

 

In the third installment of Jenner & Block’s Corporate Environmental Lawyer's discussion of emerging trends in Climate Change Litigation, we are discussing a quickly proliferating form of litigation—lawsuits filed by U.S. states and municipalities against companies that operate in industry sectors which have historically had high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

At present, the most common target for this litigation in the United States has been the oil and gas industry. In these cases, plaintiff cities or states will often bring suit against a large number of oil and gas companies as members of the collective industry. These claims are usually brought in state court, where the plaintiffs can take advantage of potentially favorable state common law. Using this strategy, plaintiffs have asserted claims against the fossil-fuel industry under state law theories such as nuisance, failure to warn of the known impacts of climate change, and unjust enrichment. Of course, as a counter to this strategy and in hopes of demonstrating preemption under the Clean Air Act, defendants will often look to remove climate change cases to federal court.

In order to satisfy Article III Standing requirements, Plaintiffs in these cases have generally been coastal communities which allege that they have suffered harm or are uniquely at risk of suffering harm from rising sea levels as a result of climate change.

Several examples of this ongoing litigation includes:

  • County of San Mateo v. Chevron Corp. et al. (2018): claims brought by six California municipalities and counties against 37 fossil-fuel companies in California state court. The plaintiffs, alleging they will be damaged by the effects of climate change, brought a variety of claims under state common law including nuisance, negligence, failure to warn, and trespass. Following defendants’ removal of the case to federal court, plaintiffs successfully remanded back to state court on the grounds that their claims did not implicate a federal question or raise preemption issues. Defendants have filed an interlocutory appeal in the Ninth Circuit which is currently being briefed by the parties.
  • City of Oakland v. BP p.l.c. et al. (2018): claims brought by the City of Oakland and San Francisco against fossil-fuel companies under California common and statutory law. Plaintiffs asserted that the industry’s GHG emissions amounted to a “public nuisance” under California law. However, unlike San Mateo, the defendants in City of Oakland were able to successfully remove and ultimately retain the matter in federal court. The Northern District of California court denied plaintiff’s motion to remand the case back to state court based on its finding that federal common law necessarily governed the nuisance claims. The district court subsequently dismissed the suits on the grounds that the plaintiffs’ claims raised a “Political Question” best addressed by the legislature as opposed to judicial branch. This dismissal has also been appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
  • Rhode Island v. Chevron Corp. et al. (2018): The first such case to be brought by a U.S. State, Rhode Island asserted claims for nuisance, strict liability, failure to warn, design defect, trespass, impairment of public trust resources, and violations of the Environmental Rights Act against 21 fossil-fuel companies. Rhode Island’s lawsuit asserts that the state’s extensive coastline will be damaged through rising sea levels, increased frequency and severity of flooding, extreme precipitation events, and ocean warming and acidification. Defendants have removed the case to federal court, and the parties are currently briefing Rhode Island’s attempt to remand the case back to state court.

CATEGORIES: Air, Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Sustainability

PEOPLE: Matthew G. Lawson

April 24, 2019 Climate Change Lawsuits Brought by Coastal Municipalities and States Against the Fossil Fuel Industry: Trends in Climate Change Litigation, Part 3

Headshot

 

By Matthew G. Lawson Air pollution

 

In the third installment of Jenner & Block’s Corporate Environmental Lawyer's discussion of emerging trends in Climate Change Litigation, we are discussing a quickly proliferating form of litigation—lawsuits filed by U.S. states and municipalities against companies that operate in industry sectors which have historically had high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

At present, the most common target for this litigation in the United States has been the oil and gas industry. In these cases, plaintiff cities or states will often bring suit against a large number of oil and gas companies as members of the collective industry. These claims are usually brought in state court, where the plaintiffs can take advantage of potentially favorable state common law. Using this strategy, plaintiffs have asserted claims against the fossil-fuel industry under state law theories such as nuisance, failure to warn of the known impacts of climate change, and unjust enrichment. Of course, as a counter to this strategy and in hopes of demonstrating preemption under the Clean Air Act, defendants will often look to remove climate change cases to federal court.

In order to satisfy Article III Standing requirements, Plaintiffs in these cases have generally been coastal communities which allege that they have suffered harm or are uniquely at risk of suffering harm from rising sea levels as a result of climate change.

Several examples of this ongoing litigation includes:

  • County of San Mateo v. Chevron Corp. et al. (2018): claims brought by six California municipalities and counties against 37 fossil-fuel companies in California state court. The plaintiffs, alleging they will be damaged by the effects of climate change, brought a variety of claims under state common law including nuisance, negligence, failure to warn, and trespass. Following defendants’ removal of the case to federal court, plaintiffs successfully remanded back to state court on the grounds that their claims did not implicate a federal question or raise preemption issues. Defendants have filed an interlocutory appeal in the Ninth Circuit which is currently being briefed by the parties.
  • City of Oakland v. BP p.l.c. et al. (2018): claims brought by the City of Oakland and San Francisco against fossil-fuel companies under California common and statutory law. Plaintiffs asserted that the industry’s GHG emissions amounted to a “public nuisance” under California law. However, unlike San Mateo, the defendants in City of Oakland were able to successfully remove and ultimately retain the matter in federal court. The Northern District of California court denied plaintiff’s motion to remand the case back to state court based on its finding that federal common law necessarily governed the nuisance claims. The district court subsequently dismissed the suits on the grounds that the plaintiffs’ claims raised a “Political Question” best addressed by the legislature as opposed to judicial branch. This dismissal has also been appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
  • Rhode Island v. Chevron Corp. et al. (2018): The first such case to be brought by a U.S. State, Rhode Island asserted claims for nuisance, strict liability, failure to warn, design defect, trespass, impairment of public trust resources, and violations of the Environmental Rights Act against 21 fossil-fuel companies. Rhode Island’s lawsuit asserts that the state’s extensive coastline will be damaged through rising sea levels, increased frequency and severity of flooding, extreme precipitation events, and ocean warming and acidification. Defendants have removed the case to federal court, and the parties are currently briefing Rhode Island’s attempt to remand the case back to state court.

CATEGORIES: Air, Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Sustainability

PEOPLE: Matthew G. Lawson

April 12, 2019 Trends in Climate Change Litigation: Part 2—Investigations & Litigation by State Attorneys General

Matthew G. Lawson

Del

By Matthew G. Lawson

 

In the second installation of Jenner & Block’s Corporate Environmental Lawyer's discussion of emerging trends in Climate Change Litigation, we are highlighting recent investigations brought by US state attorneys general against private companies for allegedly misleading the public and/or company shareholders regarding the potential climate impacts of their operations. 

In recent years, several major state investigations were launched following investigative journalism reports of private companies’ failures to disclose the causes and effects of climate change. One such example is the Los Angeles Times 2015 exposé into Exxon Mobil Corp.’s historic in-house research on climate change.

Approximately one month after the publication of the Los Angeles Times’ article, the New York Attorney General subpoenaed Exxon, seeking documents related to the company’s research on the causes and effects of climate change; the integration of its research findings into business decisions; and the company's disclosures of this information to shareholders and the Securities and Exchange Commission. The attorney general’s investigation was grounded in New York's shareholder-protection statute, the Martin Act, as well as New York’s consumer protection and general business laws.

In 2016, New York’s investigation was publically supported by a coalition of top state enforcement officials from Vermont, Virginia, Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, and the Virgin Islands, all of which agreed to share information and strategies in similar climate change investigations and future litigation. Exxon responded by filing its own lawsuit seeking to block New York and Massachusetts’ investigations.

After a three-year contentious investigation, the New York Attorney General's office sued Exxon on October 24, 2018, alleging that Exxon engaged in “a longstanding fraudulent scheme” to deceive investors by providing false and misleading information about the financial risks the company faced from its contributions to climate change. 

Jenner & Block’s Corporate Environmental Lawyer will continue to update on this matter, as well as other important climate change litigation cases, as they unfold.

CATEGORIES: Air, Climate Change, Consumer Law and Environment, Greenhouse Gas, Hazmat, Sustainability

PEOPLE: Matthew G. Lawson

April 12, 2019 Trends in Climate Change Litigation: Part 2—Investigations & Litigation by State Attorneys General

Headshot

Del

By Matthew G. Lawson

 

In the second installation of Jenner & Block’s Corporate Environmental Lawyer's discussion of emerging trends in Climate Change Litigation, we are highlighting recent investigations brought by US state attorneys general against private companies for allegedly misleading the public and/or company shareholders regarding the potential climate impacts of their operations. 

In recent years, several major state investigations were launched following investigative journalism reports of private companies’ failures to disclose the causes and effects of climate change. One such example is the Los Angeles Times 2015 exposé into Exxon Mobil Corp.’s historic in-house research on climate change.

Approximately one month after the publication of the Los Angeles Times’ article, the New York Attorney General subpoenaed Exxon, seeking documents related to the company’s research on the causes and effects of climate change; the integration of its research findings into business decisions; and the company's disclosures of this information to shareholders and the Securities and Exchange Commission. The attorney general’s investigation was grounded in New York's shareholder-protection statute, the Martin Act, as well as New York’s consumer protection and general business laws.

In 2016, New York’s investigation was publically supported by a coalition of top state enforcement officials from Vermont, Virginia, Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, and the Virgin Islands, all of which agreed to share information and strategies in similar climate change investigations and future litigation. Exxon responded by filing its own lawsuit seeking to block New York and Massachusetts’ investigations.

After a three-year contentious investigation, the New York Attorney General's office sued Exxon on October 24, 2018, alleging that Exxon engaged in “a longstanding fraudulent scheme” to deceive investors by providing false and misleading information about the financial risks the company faced from its contributions to climate change. 

Jenner & Block’s Corporate Environmental Lawyer will continue to update on this matter, as well as other important climate change litigation cases, as they unfold.

CATEGORIES: Air, Climate Change, Consumer Law and Environment, Greenhouse Gas, Hazmat, Sustainability

PEOPLE: Matthew G. Lawson

April 2, 2019 Trends in Climate Change Litigation: Part 1

Matthew G. Lawson

Climate Change

By Matthew G. Lawson

The term “climate change litigation” has become a shorthand for a wide range of different legal proceedings associated with addressing the environmental impacts of climate change. Plaintiffs in climate change lawsuits may include individuals, non-governmental organizations, private companies, state or local level governments, and even company shareholders who, through various legal theories, allege that they have been harmed or will suffer future harm as a direct result of the world’s changing climate. The targets of climate change litigation have included individual public and private companies, government bodies, and even entire industry groups. While there appears to be no shortage of plaintiffs, defendants, or legal theories emerging in climate change litigation, one clear trend is that the number of these lawsuits has grown dramatically in recent years. By one count, more than fifty climate change suits have been filed in the United States every year since 2009, with over one hundred suits being filed in both 2016 and 2017.

In light of the growing trend of climate change litigation, Jenner & Block’s Corporate Environmental Lawyer blog is starting a periodic blog update which will discuss the emerging trends and key cases in this litigation arena.  In each update, our blog will focus on a sub-set of climate change cases and discuss recent decisions  on the topic. In Part 1 of this series, we will be discussing Citizen-Initiated Litigation Against National Governments.

Citizen-Initiated Litigation Against National Governments.

Perhaps the most high-profile and well-publicized cases in the climate change litigation arena have been lawsuits brought by private citizens against their own national government. A common objective of these cases is to push governments to implement policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions through legal hooks such as international agreements, international treaties, or constitutional provisions. While the early focal point for these cases has been European countries, citizen-initiated litigation continues to spread across the globe, including the United States.

Several examples of this emerging type of litigation have included:

  • Urgenda Foundation v. The State of the Netherlands (2015): In the first internationally recognized climate change lawsuit asserted against a national government, a Dutch environmental group, the Urgenda Foundation, represented over 900 citizens in a lawsuit alleging that the Dutch government had failed to address the risks of climate change. Ruling in support of the citizen group, the Hague court determined that the Dutch government was required to protect the living environment from the dangers of climate change by reducing CO2 emissions a minimum of 25%—relative to 1990 levels—by the year 2020. This decision was later upheld by the Dutch court of appeals which recognized the plaintiffs’ claims under the European Convention on Human Rights, an international convention to protect human rights in Europe.
  • Friends of the Irish Environment v. Ireland (2018): Following the success of the Urgenda litigation, an Irish advocacy group, Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), filed suit in the Irish High Court in an attempt to compel the government to increase its GHG emissions reduction goals. Following the path laid out in Urgenda, the FIE plaintiffs asserted their claims under the theory that the Irish government was not fulfilling its objectives under the Paris Climate Agreement. This case was argued before the High Court on January 22, 2019, and is currently awaiting a decision.
  • Juliana v. United States, 217 F. Supp. 3d 1224 (2016): Launched by the U.S. advocacy group, Our Children’s Trust, Juliana is a lawsuit filed by 21 young people (ages eight to nineteen) who assert that the United States is denying its youngest citizens their constitutional right to a safe and livable climate. Unlike the cases brought in Ireland or the Netherlands, the plaintiffs in Juliana have not taken the position that the United States is bound to reduce GHG emissions through any form of internal law or agreement. Instead, the plaintiffs’ complaint asserts the legal theory that the United States Constitution provides its citizens a substantive due process right “to a climate system capable of sustaining human life.” In conjunction with this argument, the plaintiffs have asserted a unique application of the centuries-old “Public Trust Doctrine,” arguing that the climate itself is a natural resource that must be held in trust for the people. Juliana has gone through a complex legal history, including multiple attempts at dismissal from both the Obama and now Trump administrations. Currently, the case is being briefed in front of the 9th Circuit on interlocutory appeal.

 

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: Matthew G. Lawson

April 2, 2019 Trends in Climate Change Litigation: Part 1

Headshot

Climate Change

By Matthew G. Lawson

The term “climate change litigation” has become a shorthand for a wide range of different legal proceedings associated with addressing the environmental impacts of climate change. Plaintiffs in climate change lawsuits may include individuals, non-governmental organizations, private companies, state or local level governments, and even company shareholders who, through various legal theories, allege that they have been harmed or will suffer future harm as a direct result of the world’s changing climate. The targets of climate change litigation have included individual public and private companies, government bodies, and even entire industry groups. While there appears to be no shortage of plaintiffs, defendants, or legal theories emerging in climate change litigation, one clear trend is that the number of these lawsuits has grown dramatically in recent years. By one count, more than fifty climate change suits have been filed in the United States every year since 2009, with over one hundred suits being filed in both 2016 and 2017.

In light of the growing trend of climate change litigation, Jenner & Block’s Corporate Environmental Lawyer blog is starting a periodic blog update which will discuss the emerging trends and key cases in this litigation arena.  In each update, our blog will focus on a sub-set of climate change cases and discuss recent decisions  on the topic. In Part 1 of this series, we will be discussing Citizen-Initiated Litigation Against National Governments.

Citizen-Initiated Litigation Against National Governments.

Perhaps the most high-profile and well-publicized cases in the climate change litigation arena have been lawsuits brought by private citizens against their own national government. A common objective of these cases is to push governments to implement policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions through legal hooks such as international agreements, international treaties, or constitutional provisions. While the early focal point for these cases has been European countries, citizen-initiated litigation continues to spread across the globe, including the United States.

Several examples of this emerging type of litigation have included:

  • Urgenda Foundation v. The State of the Netherlands (2015): In the first internationally recognized climate change lawsuit asserted against a national government, a Dutch environmental group, the Urgenda Foundation, represented over 900 citizens in a lawsuit alleging that the Dutch government had failed to address the risks of climate change. Ruling in support of the citizen group, the Hague court determined that the Dutch government was required to protect the living environment from the dangers of climate change by reducing CO2 emissions a minimum of 25%—relative to 1990 levels—by the year 2020. This decision was later upheld by the Dutch court of appeals which recognized the plaintiffs’ claims under the European Convention on Human Rights, an international convention to protect human rights in Europe.
  • Friends of the Irish Environment v. Ireland (2018): Following the success of the Urgenda litigation, an Irish advocacy group, Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), filed suit in the Irish High Court in an attempt to compel the government to increase its GHG emissions reduction goals. Following the path laid out in Urgenda, the FIE plaintiffs asserted their claims under the theory that the Irish government was not fulfilling its objectives under the Paris Climate Agreement. This case was argued before the High Court on January 22, 2019, and is currently awaiting a decision.
  • Juliana v. United States, 217 F. Supp. 3d 1224 (2016): Launched by the U.S. advocacy group, Our Children’s Trust, Juliana is a lawsuit filed by 21 young people (ages eight to nineteen) who assert that the United States is denying its youngest citizens their constitutional right to a safe and livable climate. Unlike the cases brought in Ireland or the Netherlands, the plaintiffs in Juliana have not taken the position that the United States is bound to reduce GHG emissions through any form of internal law or agreement. Instead, the plaintiffs’ complaint asserts the legal theory that the United States Constitution provides its citizens a substantive due process right “to a climate system capable of sustaining human life.” In conjunction with this argument, the plaintiffs have asserted a unique application of the centuries-old “Public Trust Doctrine,” arguing that the climate itself is a natural resource that must be held in trust for the people. Juliana has gone through a complex legal history, including multiple attempts at dismissal from both the Obama and now Trump administrations. Currently, the case is being briefed in front of the 9th Circuit on interlocutory appeal.

 

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: Matthew G. Lawson

November 27, 2018 Matthew Lawson to Present at the Chicago Bar Association on the Environmental Impacts of Blockchain

Allison TorrenceBy Allison A. Torrence

Chicago Bar Association CrestOn Thursday, November 29th, Jenner & Block Associate Matthew Lawson will be giving a CLE presentation on the “Environmental Impact of Blockchain” at the Chicago Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Environmental Law Committee Meeting.  Matthew Lawson’s presentation will discuss both the negative environmental impacts caused by the growth in popularity of cryptocurrency mining, and the potential positive impacts on the environment from emerging and future applications of the Blockchain technology.

The presentation is on November 29, 2018, from 12:15 PM - 1:30 PM at the Chicago Bar Association, 321 S. Plymouth Ct. Chicago, IL 60604.

For more information on the event click here.

CATEGORIES: Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Sustainability

PEOPLE: Allison A. Torrence, Matthew G. Lawson

November 27, 2018 Matthew Lawson to Present at the Chicago Bar Association on the Environmental Impacts of Blockchain

Torrence_jpgBy Allison A. Torrence

200px-CBA_CrestOn Thursday, November 29th, Jenner & Block Associate Matthew Lawson will be giving a CLE presentation on the “Environmental Impact of Blockchain” at the Chicago Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Environmental Law Committee Meeting.  Matthew Lawson’s presentation will discuss both the negative environmental impacts caused by the growth in popularity of cryptocurrency mining, and the potential positive impacts on the environment from emerging and future applications of the Blockchain technology.

The presentation is on November 29, 2018, from 12:15 PM - 1:30 PM at the Chicago Bar Association, 321 S. Plymouth Ct. Chicago, IL 60604.

For more information on the event click here.

CATEGORIES: Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Sustainability

PEOPLE: Allison A. Torrence, Matthew G. Lawson

October 17, 2018 Trump Administration Releases Fall 2018 Regulatory Agenda

Torrence_jpgBy Allison A. Torrence

The Trump Administration has released its Fall 2018 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions. This regulatory agenda “reports on the actions administrative agencies plan to issue in the near and long term [and] demonstrates this Administration’s ongoing commitment to fundamental regulatory reform and a reorientation toward reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens on the American people.”

According to the Trump Administration, the regulatory agenda reflects the following broad regulatory reform priorities:

  • Advancing Regulatory Reform
  • Public Notice of Regulatory Development
  • Transparency
  • Consistent Practice across the Federal Government

The EPA-specific regulatory agenda lists 148 regulatory actions in either the proposed rule stage or final rule stage, and provides information about the planned regulatory actions and the timing of those actions. Notable regulatory actions under consideration by EPA include:

More information, and EPA's Statement of Priorities, can be found here.

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

PEOPLE: Allison A. Torrence

September 17, 2018 EPA Finalizes Unprecedented NPL Listing

By Matthew G. Lawson

Rockwell GrenadaOn September 13, 2018, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) took the final, unprecedented step of adding a contaminated site to the Superfund National Priorities List (“NPL”) based solely on the risk to human health posed by indoor air vapor intrusion at the site. The newly designated site, which consists of the former Rockwell International Wheel & Trim facility and its surrounding 76 acres (the “Site”), is located in Grenada, Mississippi. The Site has an extensive history. Beginning in 1966, the Rockwell facility operated as a wheel cover manufacturing and chrome plating plant. After chrome plating operations ceased in 2001, the facility was used for metal stamping until approximately 2007. According to EPA, the Site’s historic operations resulted in multiple releases of trichloroethene, toluene, and hexavalent chromium into the surrounding soil and adjacent wetland. However, EPA’s primary concern—and reason for listing the site—is the potential for airborne volatile organic compounds (“VOCs”) to enter the facility through cracks, joints, and other openings, resulting in contaminated indoor air. The potential for indoor air contamination appears to be of particular concern to EPA, given that nearly 400 individuals currently work within the facility.

The Site will now join a list of approximately 160 contaminated sites that have been federally designated as NPL sites. The NPL includes the nation’s most contaminated and/or dangerous hazardous waste sites. A contaminated site must be added to the NPL to become eligible for federal funding for permanent cleanup under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. While EPA’s decision to list the Site based on risks from indoor air contamination is unprecedented, the move is not all together surprising, given EPA’s recent rulemaking actions. In May 2017, EPA passed a final rule expanding the list of factors the agency is allowed to consider when designating NPL sites to specifically include risks to human health from impacted indoor air. In the preamble to the rule, EPA noted that it needed the authority to list sites on the basis of significant risk to human health from vapor intrusion contamination. 

In contrast to EPA’s position, environmental consultants operating at the Site have strongly opposed the NPL designation. Several of the firms submitted comments on the final listing, asserting that EPA’s risk evaluation failed to take into account the Sub Slab Depressurization System (“SSDS”) installed at the facility in 2017, which subsequently reduced levels of VOCs in the indoor air to safe levels. However, EPA rejected these arguments, noting that even though the SSDS may protect workers from immediate threats, “it is not intended to address possible long-term remedial goals such as addressing the sources of the contamination below the building.”

EPA’s designation of the Site should alert potentially responsible parties that vapor intrusion issues may result in an increased chance of a site becoming listed on the NPL. In addition, parties relying on engineering controls to maintain compliant indoor air vapor levels should note the potential for EPA to deem such actions insufficient as long-term site remedies.

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

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund, Matthew G. Lawson

September 14, 2018 United Airlines Steps Up to Cut Greenhouse Gases

Siros By Steven M. Siros United-airlines-logo-01

United Airlines became the first U.S. airline to publicly commit to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 50% by 2050. In a press release issued on September 13, 2018, United Airlines explained that it would achieve that reduction by expanding its use of more sustainable biofuels and by relying on more fuel-efficient aircraft and implementing other operational changes to better conserve fuel. United Airlines' commitment to reduce GHG emissions by 50% by 2020 is consistent with reduction targets established by the International Air Transport Association in May 2018. 

U.S. EPA has yet to regulate GHG emissions from aircraft in the United States, notwithstanding U.S. EPA’s July 25, 2016 endangerment finding for GHG emissions from aircraft and U.S. EPA’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking contemplating adoption of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) aviation carbon emission design standards. 

The decision by United Airlines is likely to be followed by other U.S. carriers that have international routes because those carriers will be subject to the ICAO standards when flying internationally.

CATEGORIES: Air, Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Sustainability

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund, Steven M. Siros