Jenner & Block

Corporate Environmental Lawyer Blog

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

March 12, 2019 EPA Can’t Dodge Gold King Mine Liability

Linkedin_Steven_Siros_3130

 

By Steven M. Siros

Gold King Mine Spill

U.S. EPA continues to be on the hook for damages associated with the Gold King Mine located in San Juan County, Colorado. Several years ago, a contractor working on behalf of U.S. EPA to address environmental impacts associated with a closed gold mine, destroyed a plug holding water trapped inside of the mine, causing the release of approximately three million gallons of mine waste water into Cement Creek, which was a tributary of the Animas River. Although U.S. EPA took responsibility for the incident, it has refused to pay damages incurred as a result of he release, leading to lawsuits being filed by a variety of plaintiffs, including the states of Utah and New Mexico, the Navajo Nation, and affected individuals. Plaintiffs asserted a variety of claims, including claims under CERCLA, RCRA, CWA, and the Federal Tort Claims Act (FCTA).  U.S. EPA filed a motion to dismiss, arguing among other things, that it was entitled to sovereign immunity for damages resulting from an ongoing cleanup effort. 

On February 28, 2019, the federal district court in New Mexico rejected U.S. EPA’s claim that it was protected from CERCLA liability on sovereign immunity grounds, noting that at least three circuit courts have found that U.S. EPA can face liability under CERCLA where U. S. EPA’s actions in remediating a site are alleged to have caused releases of hazardous wastes. The court also found that plaintiffs’ allegations (which included Utah and New Mexico, as well as the Navajo Nation and individuals), if proven, would demonstrate U.S. EPA’s liability as an “arranger,” “operator,” and “transporter” of hazardous substances. Specifically, Plaintiffs stated claims for arranger liability because they "allege that EPA took intentional steps to dispose of a hazardous substance.” With respect to operator liability, the court noted that Plaintiffs “allege that EPA managed, directed, or conducted operations specifically related to the pollution, that is, operations having to do with the leakage or disposal of hazardous waste.” Finally, regarding transporter liability, Plaintiffs “allege that EPA took steps to drain the mine and treat the water at the site.”

With respect to the RCRA, CWA, and FCTA claims, the court concluded that there were disputed issues of fact that precluded the court from being able to grant dismissal of those claims. We will continue to provide updates on this proceeding.

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

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund, Steven M. Siros

March 12, 2019 EPA Can’t Dodge Gold King Mine Liability

Linkedin_Steven_Siros_3130

 

By Steven M. Siros

Gold King Mine Spill

U.S. EPA continues to be on the hook for damages associated with the Gold King Mine located in San Juan County, Colorado. Several years ago, a contractor working on behalf of U.S. EPA to address environmental impacts associated with a closed gold mine, destroyed a plug holding water trapped inside of the mine, causing the release of approximately three million gallons of mine waste water into Cement Creek, which was a tributary of the Animas River. Although U.S. EPA took responsibility for the incident, it has refused to pay damages incurred as a result of he release, leading to lawsuits being filed by a variety of plaintiffs, including the states of Utah and New Mexico, the Navajo Nation, and affected individuals. Plaintiffs asserted a variety of claims, including claims under CERCLA, RCRA, CWA, and the Federal Tort Claims Act (FCTA).  U.S. EPA filed a motion to dismiss, arguing among other things, that it was entitled to sovereign immunity for damages resulting from an ongoing cleanup effort. 

On February 28, 2019, the federal district court in New Mexico rejected U.S. EPA’s claim that it was protected from CERCLA liability on sovereign immunity grounds, noting that at least three circuit courts have found that U.S. EPA can face liability under CERCLA where U. S. EPA’s actions in remediating a site are alleged to have caused releases of hazardous wastes. The court also found that plaintiffs’ allegations (which included Utah and New Mexico, as well as the Navajo Nation and individuals), if proven, would demonstrate U.S. EPA’s liability as an “arranger,” “operator,” and “transporter” of hazardous substances. Specifically, Plaintiffs stated claims for arranger liability because they "allege that EPA took intentional steps to dispose of a hazardous substance.” With respect to operator liability, the court noted that Plaintiffs “allege that EPA managed, directed, or conducted operations specifically related to the pollution, that is, operations having to do with the leakage or disposal of hazardous waste.” Finally, regarding transporter liability, Plaintiffs “allege that EPA took steps to drain the mine and treat the water at the site.”

With respect to the RCRA, CWA, and FCTA claims, the court concluded that there were disputed issues of fact that precluded the court from being able to grant dismissal of those claims. We will continue to provide updates on this proceeding.

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

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund, Steven M. Siros

March 4, 2019 OSHRC Rules No General Duty Clause Hazard Or Feasible Abatement For Heat Exposure

Sigel

 

 

By Gabrielle Sigel

In a 2-1 decision on February 28, 2019, the full Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (“OSHRC”) vacated the U.S. Secretary of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (“OSHA”) citation charging a roofing contractor with a “general duty clause” violation for exposing employees “to the hazard of excessive heat from working on a commercial roof in the direct sun” and separately vacated a citation for failure to train employees regarding heat-related risks.  Sec’y of Labor v. A.H. Sturgill Roofing, Inc., OSHRC Docket No. 13-0224.  OSHA had issued the citations following the physical collapse and subsequent death of a temporary worker on the first day of his work for the roofing company.

Different from a violation based on an OSHA regulation, a general duty clause violation alleges that the employer has violated the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act’s provision stating:  “Each employer … shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”  29 U.S.C. § 654(a)(1).

In Sturgill, OSHRC ruled that two of the requirements of a general duty clause violation—the existence of a hazard and a feasible means of abatement—had not been proven by the Secretary of Labor.  Specifically, OSHRC ruled that, “upon weighing the evidence …, the Secretary has not established the existence of a hazard likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”  (Op. at 4.)  OSHRC’s majority rejected OSHA’s reliance on a National Weather Service heat index chart; the Secretary’s expert’s testimony, by a physician who formerly had served as OSHA’s medical officer, that worksite conditions were hazardous; and testimony of the coroner that the employee’s death was due to complications from heat stroke.  With respect to whether the circumstances of an individual employee’s death can be evidence of the existence of a hazard, the majority noted that the employer here did not have actual or constructive knowledge of the employee’s pre-existing conditions that would have made the new temporary employee susceptible to illness.  OSHRC found that given “the constraints that the [Americans with Disabilities Act] and the [Age Discrimination in Employment Act] impose” on employers’ hiring inquiries, the employer here could not have asked more to inquire about the new employee’s physical condition.  (Op. at 13.)  Moreover, OSHRC’s majority found that proof of the “realistic possibility” of an injury cannot be based on whether an employer had knowledge of the “hidden characteristics of an ‘eggshell employee.’”  (Op. at 12, fn. 14.)  Thus, OSHRC ruled that the Secretary had not proven that an excessive heat hazard was present.

Although not necessary to do so after having found no hazard at the worksite, the OSHRC majority also considered whether OSHA had demonstrated the feasibility and effectiveness of an abatement measure that would have materially reduced the incidence of a hazard (Op. 15-19; 34-48), which is another legal element for a valid general duty clause claim.  The dissenting Commissioner Attwood found that the Secretary needed only to prove that the employer had not established an effective heat illness prevention program.  The OSHRC majority disagreed and found that here, based on the Secretary’s litigation position, the employer had five alternative methods to secure abatement and because the employer proved that it had adequately implemented three of those measures, the Secretary could not prove that the employer had not abated any heat illness hazard.  Thus, based on failure to prove two elements of a general duty clause violation—hazard existence and failure to abate—the OSHA citation was vacated.

Because there was no hazard present, and because the Secretary did not show that “a reasonably prudent employer” would have given training different than what Sturgill had provided, the failure to train violation, which was based on an OSHA regulation, also was vacated.  (Op. at 19-22.)  In doing so, OSHRC rejected the argument that the employer’s training must have been insufficient because the supervisor was not aware of the employee’s distress until he collapsed.  (Op. at 22, fn. 22.)

Perhaps more important than this decision based on the Sturgill evidence are the OSHRC majority’s statements in footnotes and Chairman MacDougall’s separate concurrence regarding the general duty clause and its use by OSHA.  Chairman MacDougall and Commissioner Sullivan, both Trump Administration appointees, questioned the use of the general duty clause as an enforcement mechanism.  These two Commissioners footnoted that:

While practical considerations may have lead [sic] OSHA over the years, to rely on the general duty clause in lieu of setting standards, the provisions seems to have increasingly become more of a “gotcha” and “catch all” for the agency to utilize, which as a practical matter often leaves employers confused as to what is required of them.

(Op. at 8, fn. 9.)  The majority noted with apparent approval that California, unlike federal OSHA, had adopted a heat illness prevention regulation in 2006.  In her separate concurrence, Chairman MacDougall stated that the OSHA citation in the Sturgill case “construe[d] the general duty clause to cover work situations in ways that Congress never intended and to unreasonably stretch longstanding Commission precedent by applying the provision to broadly-defined risks inherent in the work being performed.”  (Op. at 23, MacDougall concurring.)  The Chairman then cited to two other of her recent decisions questioning the use of the clause, as well as an OSHRC decision from 1986.  Other discussions in the majority’s footnotes and concurrences, including comments on their colleague’s dissent, give an indication of the OSHRC’s future rulings on general duty clause violations, especially once Commissioner Attwood’s term expires in April 2019 and likely a third Trump-appointed Commissioner will join OSHRC.

In sum, the Sturgill case is a warning that over the next several years OSHA likely will find it more difficult to use a general duty clause violation as an enforcement tool given OSHRC’s strong message of disapproval for its use for anything other than as a “stopgap measure to protect employees until standards could be adopted.”  (Op. at 8, fn. 9, citations omitted.)  Employers who are issued a citation based on a general duty clause violation may find several bases for challenging such a citation based on a close study of OSHRC’s Sturgill decision.

CATEGORIES: OSHA

PEOPLE: Gabrielle Sigel

March 4, 2019 OSHRC Rules No General Duty Clause Hazard Or Feasible Abatement For Heat Exposure

Sigel

 

 

By Gabrielle Sigel

In a 2-1 decision on February 28, 2019, the full Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (“OSHRC”) vacated the U.S. Secretary of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (“OSHA”) citation charging a roofing contractor with a “general duty clause” violation for exposing employees “to the hazard of excessive heat from working on a commercial roof in the direct sun” and separately vacated a citation for failure to train employees regarding heat-related risks.  Sec’y of Labor v. A.H. Sturgill Roofing, Inc., OSHRC Docket No. 13-0224.  OSHA had issued the citations following the physical collapse and subsequent death of a temporary worker on the first day of his work for the roofing company.

Different from a violation based on an OSHA regulation, a general duty clause violation alleges that the employer has violated the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act’s provision stating:  “Each employer … shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”  29 U.S.C. § 654(a)(1).

In Sturgill, OSHRC ruled that two of the requirements of a general duty clause violation—the existence of a hazard and a feasible means of abatement—had not been proven by the Secretary of Labor.  Specifically, OSHRC ruled that, “upon weighing the evidence …, the Secretary has not established the existence of a hazard likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”  (Op. at 4.)  OSHRC’s majority rejected OSHA’s reliance on a National Weather Service heat index chart; the Secretary’s expert’s testimony, by a physician who formerly had served as OSHA’s medical officer, that worksite conditions were hazardous; and testimony of the coroner that the employee’s death was due to complications from heat stroke.  With respect to whether the circumstances of an individual employee’s death can be evidence of the existence of a hazard, the majority noted that the employer here did not have actual or constructive knowledge of the employee’s pre-existing conditions that would have made the new temporary employee susceptible to illness.  OSHRC found that given “the constraints that the [Americans with Disabilities Act] and the [Age Discrimination in Employment Act] impose” on employers’ hiring inquiries, the employer here could not have asked more to inquire about the new employee’s physical condition.  (Op. at 13.)  Moreover, OSHRC’s majority found that proof of the “realistic possibility” of an injury cannot be based on whether an employer had knowledge of the “hidden characteristics of an ‘eggshell employee.’”  (Op. at 12, fn. 14.)  Thus, OSHRC ruled that the Secretary had not proven that an excessive heat hazard was present.

Although not necessary to do so after having found no hazard at the worksite, the OSHRC majority also considered whether OSHA had demonstrated the feasibility and effectiveness of an abatement measure that would have materially reduced the incidence of a hazard (Op. 15-19; 34-48), which is another legal element for a valid general duty clause claim.  The dissenting Commissioner Attwood found that the Secretary needed only to prove that the employer had not established an effective heat illness prevention program.  The OSHRC majority disagreed and found that here, based on the Secretary’s litigation position, the employer had five alternative methods to secure abatement and because the employer proved that it had adequately implemented three of those measures, the Secretary could not prove that the employer had not abated any heat illness hazard.  Thus, based on failure to prove two elements of a general duty clause violation—hazard existence and failure to abate—the OSHA citation was vacated.

Because there was no hazard present, and because the Secretary did not show that “a reasonably prudent employer” would have given training different than what Sturgill had provided, the failure to train violation, which was based on an OSHA regulation, also was vacated.  (Op. at 19-22.)  In doing so, OSHRC rejected the argument that the employer’s training must have been insufficient because the supervisor was not aware of the employee’s distress until he collapsed.  (Op. at 22, fn. 22.)

Perhaps more important than this decision based on the Sturgill evidence are the OSHRC majority’s statements in footnotes and Chairman MacDougall’s separate concurrence regarding the general duty clause and its use by OSHA.  Chairman MacDougall and Commissioner Sullivan, both Trump Administration appointees, questioned the use of the general duty clause as an enforcement mechanism.  These two Commissioners footnoted that:

While practical considerations may have lead [sic] OSHA over the years, to rely on the general duty clause in lieu of setting standards, the provisions seems to have increasingly become more of a “gotcha” and “catch all” for the agency to utilize, which as a practical matter often leaves employers confused as to what is required of them.

(Op. at 8, fn. 9.)  The majority noted with apparent approval that California, unlike federal OSHA, had adopted a heat illness prevention regulation in 2006.  In her separate concurrence, Chairman MacDougall stated that the OSHA citation in the Sturgill case “construe[d] the general duty clause to cover work situations in ways that Congress never intended and to unreasonably stretch longstanding Commission precedent by applying the provision to broadly-defined risks inherent in the work being performed.”  (Op. at 23, MacDougall concurring.)  The Chairman then cited to two other of her recent decisions questioning the use of the clause, as well as an OSHRC decision from 1986.  Other discussions in the majority’s footnotes and concurrences, including comments on their colleague’s dissent, give an indication of the OSHRC’s future rulings on general duty clause violations, especially once Commissioner Attwood’s term expires in April 2019 and likely a third Trump-appointed Commissioner will join OSHRC.

In sum, the Sturgill case is a warning that over the next several years OSHA likely will find it more difficult to use a general duty clause violation as an enforcement tool given OSHRC’s strong message of disapproval for its use for anything other than as a “stopgap measure to protect employees until standards could be adopted.”  (Op. at 8, fn. 9, citations omitted.)  Employers who are issued a citation based on a general duty clause violation may find several bases for challenging such a citation based on a close study of OSHRC’s Sturgill decision.

CATEGORIES: OSHA

PEOPLE: Gabrielle Sigel

February 1, 2019 OSHA Rescinds Electronic Submission of Injury/Illness Logs and Incident Reports and Raises Penalties

Sigel

By Gabrielle Sigel

OSHAOn January 25, 2019, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a Final Rule eliminating the requirement that certain employers electronically submit to OSHA information from their annual OSHA 300 log of workplace injuries and illnesses and their OSHA 301 incident reports, which are required to be created after each logged injury and illness. OSHA also announced that, pursuant to annual escalating requirements, penalties for OSHA violations in 2019 would increase to a maximum of $132,598 per willful or repeat violation and a maximum of $13,260 for all other types of violations.

Pursuant to a regulation issued in the final year of the Obama Administration, employers of establishments with 250 or more employees were to be required to submit information from their 300 logs and 301 reports annually to OSHA through an electronic portal. However, the portal was never established during the Obama or Trump Administrations, and the submission obligation was repeatedly suspended until, through the Final Rule, the electronic submission requirement was rescinded entirely.

OSHA described the Final Rule rescinding the submission requirement as primarily driven to “protect worker privacy,” because the OSHA 300 logs and 301 reports contain identifying information which “might be publicly disclosed” under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests or otherwise. In the Final Rule’s preamble, OSHA stressed that its position is that data electronically submitted to OSHA regarding injuries and illnesses are exempt from FOIA public disclosure, both to protect OSHA’s enforcement efforts and to protect employees’ privacy. OSHA stated, however, that despite its position, it is concerned that “it still could be required by a court to release the data,” if it had not rescinded the broader submission requirements. OSHA also expressed concern that, if information from the 300 logs and 301 reports had been electronically collected pursuant to the regulation as issued in 2016, there were increased risks of cyber-security issues involved in protecting sensitive information. OSHA also stated that by rescinding the electronic submission requirement, OSHA can “focus its resources on initiatives that its past experience has shown to be useful … rather than on collecting and processing information from Forms 300 and 301 with uncertain value for OSHA enforcement and compliance assistance.”

Employers of establishments with 250 or more employees, or with 20-249 employees in designated high-hazard industries, remain obligated to annually, electronically submit information from OSHA Form 300A, which summarizes information from the annual OSHA 300 log and 301 reports. The OSHA Summary Form 300A for 2018 injuries and illnesses must be physically posted at each establishment by February 1, 2019, and submitted electronically to OSHA by March 2, 2019. The Form 300A electronic submission information also has been amended to require employers to include their Employer Identification Number (EIN). The requirement to electronically submit the 300A Summary and EIN applies nationwide, including to employers in the 28 State Plan States.

The January 25, 2019 Final Rule does not change the obligation of employers in most industries (unless specifically exempted) to maintain OSHA 300 logs and 301 reports at their establishments, for inspection by OSHA, employees, and their representatives. In addition, all employers continue to be required to report to OSHA, within prescribed time periods, when an employee is killed on the job or suffers a work-related hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye.  State requirements regarding injury reporting may be more stringent than those imposed by federal OSHA.

CATEGORIES: OSHA

PEOPLE: Gabrielle Sigel

February 1, 2019 OSHA Rescinds Electronic Submission of Injury/Illness Logs and Incident Reports and Raises Penalties

Sigel

By Gabrielle Sigel

OSHAOn January 25, 2019, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a Final Rule eliminating the requirement that certain employers electronically submit to OSHA information from their annual OSHA 300 log of workplace injuries and illnesses and their OSHA 301 incident reports, which are required to be created after each logged injury and illness. OSHA also announced that, pursuant to annual escalating requirements, penalties for OSHA violations in 2019 would increase to a maximum of $132,598 per willful or repeat violation and a maximum of $13,260 for all other types of violations.

Pursuant to a regulation issued in the final year of the Obama Administration, employers of establishments with 250 or more employees were to be required to submit information from their 300 logs and 301 reports annually to OSHA through an electronic portal. However, the portal was never established during the Obama or Trump Administrations, and the submission obligation was repeatedly suspended until, through the Final Rule, the electronic submission requirement was rescinded entirely.

OSHA described the Final Rule rescinding the submission requirement as primarily driven to “protect worker privacy,” because the OSHA 300 logs and 301 reports contain identifying information which “might be publicly disclosed” under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests or otherwise. In the Final Rule’s preamble, OSHA stressed that its position is that data electronically submitted to OSHA regarding injuries and illnesses are exempt from FOIA public disclosure, both to protect OSHA’s enforcement efforts and to protect employees’ privacy. OSHA stated, however, that despite its position, it is concerned that “it still could be required by a court to release the data,” if it had not rescinded the broader submission requirements. OSHA also expressed concern that, if information from the 300 logs and 301 reports had been electronically collected pursuant to the regulation as issued in 2016, there were increased risks of cyber-security issues involved in protecting sensitive information. OSHA also stated that by rescinding the electronic submission requirement, OSHA can “focus its resources on initiatives that its past experience has shown to be useful … rather than on collecting and processing information from Forms 300 and 301 with uncertain value for OSHA enforcement and compliance assistance.”

Employers of establishments with 250 or more employees, or with 20-249 employees in designated high-hazard industries, remain obligated to annually, electronically submit information from OSHA Form 300A, which summarizes information from the annual OSHA 300 log and 301 reports. The OSHA Summary Form 300A for 2018 injuries and illnesses must be physically posted at each establishment by February 1, 2019, and submitted electronically to OSHA by March 2, 2019. The Form 300A electronic submission information also has been amended to require employers to include their Employer Identification Number (EIN). The requirement to electronically submit the 300A Summary and EIN applies nationwide, including to employers in the 28 State Plan States.

The January 25, 2019 Final Rule does not change the obligation of employers in most industries (unless specifically exempted) to maintain OSHA 300 logs and 301 reports at their establishments, for inspection by OSHA, employees, and their representatives. In addition, all employers continue to be required to report to OSHA, within prescribed time periods, when an employee is killed on the job or suffers a work-related hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye.  State requirements regarding injury reporting may be more stringent than those imposed by federal OSHA.

CATEGORIES: OSHA

PEOPLE: Gabrielle Sigel

December 17, 2018 New OSHA Enforcement Policy Under General Duty Clause for Worksite Exposure to Air Contaminants

 By Gabrielle Sigel

OSHA’s Directorate of Enforcement Programs recently issued an enforcement memorandum to all OSHA Regional Administrators providing a new “Enforcement Policy for Respiratory Hazards Not Covered by OSHA Permissible Exposure Limits” (“Enforcement Policy”). OSHA’s 2003 policy on the same topic is now superseded and archived.

The Enforcement Policy explains how and when OSHA will cite an employer for respiratory hazards from an air contaminant under the OSH Act’s General Duty Clause (“GDC”). The GDC is the statutory requirement that an employer “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”  29 U.S.C. § 654(a)(1).  By regulation, OSHA has stated that “An employer who is in compliance with any standard in this part shall be deemed to be in compliance with the requirement of section 5(a)(1) of the Act, but only to the extent of the condition, practice, means, method, operation, or process covered by the standard.” 29 CFR 1910.5(f).  There is an open question as to whether and when an employer is in violation of the law if either (a) OSHA has not set a regulatory exposure limit for a particular chemical; or (b) exposures are below OSHA’s regulatory Permissible Exposure Limit (“PEL”), but above another organization’s recommended occupational exposure limit (“OEL”) for the same chemical.  An OEL can be issued by, for example, an industry group, U.S. EPA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists.

OSHA’s new Enforcement Policy states that a GDC violation for airborne chemical exposures cannot be alleged unless OSHA can meet the 4-element standard of proof imposed by the courts for any GDC violation:

  1. The employer failed to keep the workplace free of a hazard to which employees of that employer were exposed;
  2. The hazard was recognized;
  3. The hazard was causing or was likely to cause death or serious physical harm; and,
  4. There was a feasible and useful method to correct the hazard.

The Enforcement Policy provides that exceeding an OEL is not sufficient evidence on its own to support a GDC citation; all four of the above GDC proof elements must be met. However, even if all four elements cannot be proven, OSHA still can issue a Hazard Alert Letter (“HAL”) if exposures are above an OEL.  The Enforcement Policy includes a sample HAL. 

The Enforcement Policy also provides examples of the evidence that OSHA needs to prove a GDC violation for airborne exposures above an OEL. With respect to the first element—that employees were exposed—OSHA can rely on air sampling and other workplace-based evidence, including witness statements.  However, in contrast to many OSHA requirements when there is a regulatory PEL, in GDC cases, OSHA will consider whether the exposed employee is wearing respiratory protection.  Unlike the 2003 version of the policy, the 2018 Enforcement Policy specifically states that “if the exposed employees were wearing appropriate respiratory protection with no deficiencies in the respirator program, then the likelihood that OSHA could establish a respiratory hazard covered by the general duty clause would be low.”  However, OSHA does not preclude a GDC citation if respirators are used; the Enforcement Policy provides the exception for a respirator program only if that program has “no deficiencies.”

With respect to element #2—hazard recognition—the Enforcement Policy states that this element is met if: (a) there is direct evidence of employer knowledge; or (b) if the employer should have known of the hazard. Direct evidence can include prior receipt of a HAL or information regarding the hazard in a Safety Data Sheet prepared by a chemical’s manufacturer.  Indirect evidence can include an OEL issued by an industry association, professional organization, or a non-OSHA government agency.  With respect to GDC proof elements #3 and #4, OSHA states it likely will be required to present expert testimony to prove its case.  However, that expert can rely on published studies and need not necessarily conduct a new study of the dangers of the hazard at that particular worksite. 

The Enforcement Policy does not expressly address whether OSHA will pursue GDC violations for chemicals for which OSHA has issued a PEL. As written, the new Policy does not prohibit a GDC citation in those circumstances.  The Enforcement Policy states that it applies when an air contaminant “is not covered” by an OSHA PEL, and does not include language restricting the policy to “those cases where an OSHA PEL has not been issued,” as the old version of the policy had stated.  (Emphases added.)  In addition, the new Policy refers Regional Administrators to the Field Operations Manual (“FOM”) for further guidance in preparing a GDC citation.  The current FOM expressly states that a GDC citation may be issued when there are exposures above an OEL but below an OSHA PEL.  FOM (8/02/2016) § III.D.2, Example 4‑25.

Therefore, under the Enforcement Policy, OSHA may assert that even employers with worksite air contaminant exposures below an OSHA PEL, as well as those using chemicals that do not have an issued OSHA PEL, are subject to a GDC citation, if there are unprotected worksite exposures above a recognized OEL.

CATEGORIES: Air, OSHA, Toxic Tort

PEOPLE: Gabrielle Sigel

December 17, 2018 New OSHA Enforcement Policy Under General Duty Clause for Worksite Exposure to Air Contaminants

 By Gabrielle Sigel

OSHA’s Directorate of Enforcement Programs recently issued an enforcement memorandum to all OSHA Regional Administrators providing a new “Enforcement Policy for Respiratory Hazards Not Covered by OSHA Permissible Exposure Limits” (“Enforcement Policy”). OSHA’s 2003 policy on the same topic is now superseded and archived.

The Enforcement Policy explains how and when OSHA will cite an employer for respiratory hazards from an air contaminant under the OSH Act’s General Duty Clause (“GDC”). The GDC is the statutory requirement that an employer “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”  29 U.S.C. § 654(a)(1).  By regulation, OSHA has stated that “An employer who is in compliance with any standard in this part shall be deemed to be in compliance with the requirement of section 5(a)(1) of the Act, but only to the extent of the condition, practice, means, method, operation, or process covered by the standard.” 29 CFR 1910.5(f).  There is an open question as to whether and when an employer is in violation of the law if either (a) OSHA has not set a regulatory exposure limit for a particular chemical; or (b) exposures are below OSHA’s regulatory Permissible Exposure Limit (“PEL”), but above another organization’s recommended occupational exposure limit (“OEL”) for the same chemical.  An OEL can be issued by, for example, an industry group, U.S. EPA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists.

OSHA’s new Enforcement Policy states that a GDC violation for airborne chemical exposures cannot be alleged unless OSHA can meet the 4-element standard of proof imposed by the courts for any GDC violation:

  1. The employer failed to keep the workplace free of a hazard to which employees of that employer were exposed;
  2. The hazard was recognized;
  3. The hazard was causing or was likely to cause death or serious physical harm; and,
  4. There was a feasible and useful method to correct the hazard.

The Enforcement Policy provides that exceeding an OEL is not sufficient evidence on its own to support a GDC citation; all four of the above GDC proof elements must be met. However, even if all four elements cannot be proven, OSHA still can issue a Hazard Alert Letter (“HAL”) if exposures are above an OEL.  The Enforcement Policy includes a sample HAL. 

The Enforcement Policy also provides examples of the evidence that OSHA needs to prove a GDC violation for airborne exposures above an OEL. With respect to the first element—that employees were exposed—OSHA can rely on air sampling and other workplace-based evidence, including witness statements.  However, in contrast to many OSHA requirements when there is a regulatory PEL, in GDC cases, OSHA will consider whether the exposed employee is wearing respiratory protection.  Unlike the 2003 version of the policy, the 2018 Enforcement Policy specifically states that “if the exposed employees were wearing appropriate respiratory protection with no deficiencies in the respirator program, then the likelihood that OSHA could establish a respiratory hazard covered by the general duty clause would be low.”  However, OSHA does not preclude a GDC citation if respirators are used; the Enforcement Policy provides the exception for a respirator program only if that program has “no deficiencies.”

With respect to element #2—hazard recognition—the Enforcement Policy states that this element is met if: (a) there is direct evidence of employer knowledge; or (b) if the employer should have known of the hazard. Direct evidence can include prior receipt of a HAL or information regarding the hazard in a Safety Data Sheet prepared by a chemical’s manufacturer.  Indirect evidence can include an OEL issued by an industry association, professional organization, or a non-OSHA government agency.  With respect to GDC proof elements #3 and #4, OSHA states it likely will be required to present expert testimony to prove its case.  However, that expert can rely on published studies and need not necessarily conduct a new study of the dangers of the hazard at that particular worksite. 

The Enforcement Policy does not expressly address whether OSHA will pursue GDC violations for chemicals for which OSHA has issued a PEL. As written, the new Policy does not prohibit a GDC citation in those circumstances.  The Enforcement Policy states that it applies when an air contaminant “is not covered” by an OSHA PEL, and does not include language restricting the policy to “those cases where an OSHA PEL has not been issued,” as the old version of the policy had stated.  (Emphases added.)  In addition, the new Policy refers Regional Administrators to the Field Operations Manual (“FOM”) for further guidance in preparing a GDC citation.  The current FOM expressly states that a GDC citation may be issued when there are exposures above an OEL but below an OSHA PEL.  FOM (8/02/2016) § III.D.2, Example 4‑25.

Therefore, under the Enforcement Policy, OSHA may assert that even employers with worksite air contaminant exposures below an OSHA PEL, as well as those using chemicals that do not have an issued OSHA PEL, are subject to a GDC citation, if there are unprotected worksite exposures above a recognized OEL.

CATEGORIES: Air, OSHA, Toxic Tort

PEOPLE: Gabrielle Sigel

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)

December 28, 2017 2017: The Corporate Environmental Lawyer Year in Review

Siros Torrence_jpg 

By Steven M. Siros and Allison A. Torrence

As 2017 draws to an end, we wanted to thank everyone that follows our Corporate Environmental Lawyer blog. 2017 has been an interesting year and we have enjoyed providing information on critical environmental, health and safety issues for the regulated community. As part of the year in review, we thought it might be interesting to highlight the most popular posts from each of the four quarters in 2017.

Q1 2017:

  1. Trump Administration: 2017 Insights
  2. New State 1,4-Dioxane Drinking Water Standard-New York Threatens to Take Action if U.S. EPA Doesn’t
  3. World Water Day: Wednesday, March 22, 2017--Jenner & Block Announces Special Water Series
  4. Trump Administration Issues Freeze on New and Pending Rules – Halting Dozens of Recent EPA Rules
  5. Great Lakes Compact Council Holds Hearing on Cities Initiative Challenge to Waukesha Diversion of Lake Michigan Water

Q2 2017:

  1. Federal Judge Orders Dakota Access Pipeline to Revise Environmental Analysis; Leaves Status of Pipeline Construction Undecided
  2. Litigation in D.C. Circuit Court Put on Hold While EPA Reconsiders 2015 Ozone Air Quality Standards
  3. Attorney-Client Privilege Does Not Protect Communications with Environmental Consultants
  4. News of OECA’s Demise May be Greatly Overstated
  5. EPA Announces Proposed Rule to Rescind ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule

Q3 2017:

  1. Court Decision Remanding FERC’s Evaluation of GHG Emissions May Derail $3.5B Pipeline
  2. Hurricane Harvey and Act of God Defense—Viable Defense or Futile Prayer
  3. Who is in Charge of Protecting the Environment—The Role of U.S. EPA and State Environmental Agencies During a Hurricane
  4. Shell Latest Target of CWA Climate Change Citizen Suit
  5. New Climate Change Lawsuit: Publicity Stunt or Reasonable Effort to Protect California Property Owners?

Q4 2017:

  1. Cities Risk Ratings Downgrade for Failure to Address Climate Change Risks
  2. Dumpster Diving Results in $9.5M Penalty Recovery for California
  3. Following Keystone Pipeline Oil Spill, Judge Orders Parties to Prepare Oil Spill Response Plan for Dakota Access Pipeline
  4. EPA Publishes Proposed Rule on Reporting Requirements for the TSCA Mercury Inventory
  5. Imagine a Day Without Water

We look forward to continuing to blog on breaking environmental, health and safety issues and we are sure that we will have plenty to blog about in 2018. Warmest wishes for a wonderful holiday season.

Steve Siros and Allison Torrence

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

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

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

Torrence_jpgBy Allison A. Torrence

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

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

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

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

Environmental Attorney Reception

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

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

RSVP

Reception Sponsors:

Sponsors

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

PEOPLE: Allison A. Torrence

August 21, 2017 OSHA Electronic Reporting Website Temporarily Suspended Due to Security Breach

Torrence_jpgBy Allison A. Torrence

Not long after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched its Injury Tracking Application website for Electronic Submission of Injury and Illness Records on August 1, 2017, OSHA has temporarily suspended user access to the site due to an apparent security breach. Reports indicate that last week, OSHA received an alert from the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team in the Department of Homeland Security that indicated there was a potential compromise of user information for the injury tracking application. OSHA has stated that one company appears to have been affected and that company has been notified of the issue.

The Injury Tracking Application website currently has the following message posted:

Alert: Due to technical difficulties with the website, some pages are temporarily unavailable.

OSHA has not indicated when the website will be fully available again or whether any additional changes will result from this apparent breach. The current deadline for employers to submit injury and illness logs electronically is December 1, 2017.

CATEGORIES: OSHA

PEOPLE: Allison A. Torrence

August 11, 2017 OSHA Accepting Electronic Injury and Illness Reporting Submissions

Torrence_jpgBy Allison A. Torrence

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has officially launched its Injury Tracking Application website for Electronic Submission of Injury and Illness Records to OSHA. The website launch has been much anticipated following the Trump Administration’s delay of the compliance deadline in the 2016 rule titled “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses” (the Electronic Reporting Rule). As we previously reported on this blog, the Obama-era Electronic Reporting Rule required employers to submit injury and illness logs electronically, and the original compliance deadline was July 1, 2017. In June, OSHA extend the initial submission deadline for 2016 Form 300A data to December 1, 2017, to provide the new administration an opportunity to review the new electronic reporting requirements prior to their implementation and allow affected entities sufficient time to familiarize themselves with the new electronic reporting system.

Under the Electronic Reporting Rule, establishments with 250 or more employees that are currently required to keep OSHA injury and illness records must electronically submit information from OSHA Forms 300 (Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses), 300A (Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses), and 301 (Injury and Illness Incident Report). Establishments with 20-249 employees that are classified in certain industries with historically high rates of occupational injuries and illnesses must electronically submit information from OSHA Form 300A.

Under OSHA’s proposed rule to extend the compliance deadline in the electronic reporting rule, all covered establishments must submit information from their completed 2016 Form 300A by December 1, 2017. In 2018, covered establishments with 250 or more employees must submit information from all completed 2017 forms (300A, 300, and 301) by July 1, 2018, and covered establishments with 20-249 employees must submit information from their completed 2017 Form 300A by July 1, 2018. Beginning in 2019 and every year thereafter, covered establishments must submit the information by March 2.

OSHA has now activated a secure website that offers three options for data submission. First, users can manually enter data into a web form. Second, users will be able to upload a CSV file to process single or multiple establishments at the same time. Last, users of automated recordkeeping systems will have the ability to transmit data electronically via an API (application programming interface).

OSHA’s website provides additional guidance and answers some FAQs on the new electronic reporting requirements.

CATEGORIES: OSHA

PEOPLE: Allison A. Torrence