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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 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 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

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

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

June 12, 2018 Environmental Groups Set Stage for Likely Legal Challenge to FERC GHG NEPA Review Policy

Siros By Steven M. Siros Image result for "natural gas pipeline"

On May 18, 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued an order denying a rehearing request on FERC’s prior issuance of a certificate of public convenience and necessity for a natural gas pipeline project for Dominion Transmission. An environmental group had challenged that certificate, arguing in part that FERC failed to adequately consider the upstream and downstream impacts of the project. These upstream and downstream impacts, according to the environmental group, included greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. FERC, on a party-line vote, concluded that the upstream and downstream GHG impacts of this particular project were not sufficiently causally connected to and/or the reasonable foreseeable effect of the project and therefore fell outside of the scope of the required NEPA analysis.  FERC distinguished its holding with the decision in Sierra Club v. FERC, 867 F.3d 1357 (D.C. Cir. 2017) by noting that in that case, the pipeline project was delivering natural gas to identifiable gas-fired electric generating plants and therefore the downstream use of the gas was foreseeable. 

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network sent a letter to FERC asking it to formally rescind its May 18 order, claiming that FERC’s decision was contrary to the requirements of NEPA. This letter, along with similar letters from other environmental groups, are likely precursors to legal challenges to FERC’s interpretation of its obligations under NEPA. Notwithstanding the positions being advanced by these environmental groups, FERC continues to review and approve pipeline projects without requiring a detailed analysis of GHG emissions as evidenced by FERC’s May 31 approval of the Okeechobee Lateral Project.

CATEGORIES: Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Sustainability, Water

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund, Steven M. Siros

June 12, 2018 Environmental Groups Set Stage for Likely Legal Challenge to FERC GHG NEPA Review Policy

Siros By Steven M. Siros Image result for "natural gas pipeline"

On May 18, 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued an order denying a rehearing request on FERC’s prior issuance of a certificate of public convenience and necessity for a natural gas pipeline project for Dominion Transmission. An environmental group had challenged that certificate, arguing in part that FERC failed to adequately consider the upstream and downstream impacts of the project. These upstream and downstream impacts, according to the environmental group, included greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. FERC, on a party-line vote, concluded that the upstream and downstream GHG impacts of this particular project were not sufficiently causally connected to and/or the reasonable foreseeable effect of the project and therefore fell outside of the scope of the required NEPA analysis.  FERC distinguished its holding with the decision in Sierra Club v. FERC, 867 F.3d 1357 (D.C. Cir. 2017) by noting that in that case, the pipeline project was delivering natural gas to identifiable gas-fired electric generating plants and therefore the downstream use of the gas was foreseeable. 

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network sent a letter to FERC asking it to formally rescind its May 18 order, claiming that FERC’s decision was contrary to the requirements of NEPA. This letter, along with similar letters from other environmental groups, are likely precursors to legal challenges to FERC’s interpretation of its obligations under NEPA. Notwithstanding the positions being advanced by these environmental groups, FERC continues to review and approve pipeline projects without requiring a detailed analysis of GHG emissions as evidenced by FERC’s May 31 approval of the Okeechobee Lateral Project.

CATEGORIES: Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas, Sustainability, Water

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund, Steven M. Siros

June 7, 2018 White House Cites National Security Concerns as Administration Moves to Save Coal and Nuclear Power Plants

A combination of stagnant power consumption growth and the rise of natural gas and renewable power sources has resulted in the displacement and potential closure of many older coal and nuclear power plants in the United States. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, since 2008, coal and nuclear energy have seen a continuous decline in their percentage of the nation’s total energy generation market. And in 2015, the closure of coal fueled power plants accounted for more than 80% of the nation’s retired energy generating capacity.

In an attempt to reverse these trends, President Donald Trump has ordered Energy Secretary Rick Perry to take “immediate action” to stem the closure of nuclear and coal power plants. In an official White House statement issued on June 1, 2018, the Trump Administration stated that “keeping America's energy grid and infrastructure strong and secure protects our national security… Unfortunately, impending retirements of fuel-secure power facilities are leading to a rapid depletion of a critical part of our nation's energy mix, and impacting the resilience of our power grid.” 

The statement is not the first time the Administration has asserted that coal and nuclear plants are critical to national security. In January of this year, Mr. Perry presented a sweeping proposal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”), which requested subsidies for struggling coal and nuclear plants that were no longer able to operate profitably in the current energy markets. In presenting the proposal, Mr. Perry argued that coal and nuclear plants’ unique ability to store at least 90 days of fuel on-site made the energy sources critical to the reliability and stability of the United States’ energy markets. In a 5-0 decision, FERC rejected the Energy Secretary’s proposal, and casted doubt on Mr. Perry’s claims that energy markets would become vulnerable and unreliable without contributions from coal and nuclear power.

It appears the Trump Administration may now be seeking a more direct route to provide assistance to coal and nuclear power plants. According to Bloomberg, a draft memo from the Department of Energy (“DOE”) reveals that the agency is considering using its authority under Section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act and the Defense Production Act of 1950 to force regional grid operators to buy electricity from a list of coal and nuclear plants the department deems crucial to national security. The plan would require suppliers to purchase power from the plants for 24 months in order to starve off closures as the Administration works to provide a long-term solution. If the DOE plan is implemented, it is likely to face legal challenges from both utilities and environmental groups. Regardless of whether the DOE elects to pursue this strategy, it appears that the Trump Administration is focused on working to protect aging coal and nuclear plants.

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

PEOPLE: Matthew G. Lawson

June 7, 2018 White House Cites National Security Concerns as Administration Moves to Save Coal and Nuclear Power Plants

A combination of stagnant power consumption growth and the rise of natural gas and renewable power sources has resulted in the displacement and potential closure of many older coal and nuclear power plants in the United States. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, since 2008, coal and nuclear energy have seen a continuous decline in their percentage of the nation’s total energy generation market. And in 2015, the closure of coal fueled power plants accounted for more than 80% of the nation’s retired energy generating capacity.

In an attempt to reverse these trends, President Donald Trump has ordered Energy Secretary Rick Perry to take “immediate action” to stem the closure of nuclear and coal power plants. In an official White House statement issued on June 1, 2018, the Trump Administration stated that “keeping America's energy grid and infrastructure strong and secure protects our national security… Unfortunately, impending retirements of fuel-secure power facilities are leading to a rapid depletion of a critical part of our nation's energy mix, and impacting the resilience of our power grid.” 

The statement is not the first time the Administration has asserted that coal and nuclear plants are critical to national security. In January of this year, Mr. Perry presented a sweeping proposal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”), which requested subsidies for struggling coal and nuclear plants that were no longer able to operate profitably in the current energy markets. In presenting the proposal, Mr. Perry argued that coal and nuclear plants’ unique ability to store at least 90 days of fuel on-site made the energy sources critical to the reliability and stability of the United States’ energy markets. In a 5-0 decision, FERC rejected the Energy Secretary’s proposal, and casted doubt on Mr. Perry’s claims that energy markets would become vulnerable and unreliable without contributions from coal and nuclear power.

It appears the Trump Administration may now be seeking a more direct route to provide assistance to coal and nuclear power plants. According to Bloomberg, a draft memo from the Department of Energy (“DOE”) reveals that the agency is considering using its authority under Section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act and the Defense Production Act of 1950 to force regional grid operators to buy electricity from a list of coal and nuclear plants the department deems crucial to national security. The plan would require suppliers to purchase power from the plants for 24 months in order to starve off closures as the Administration works to provide a long-term solution. If the DOE plan is implemented, it is likely to face legal challenges from both utilities and environmental groups. Regardless of whether the DOE elects to pursue this strategy, it appears that the Trump Administration is focused on working to protect aging coal and nuclear plants.

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

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 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

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

PEOPLE: Alexander J. Bandza

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