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Paul Jacobson

Associate

Spencer Fane attorney Paul Jacobson

T 816.292.8314
F 816.474.3216
pjacobson@spencerfane.com

EPA and OSHA Continue Aggressive Enforcement of Accidental Chemical Releases

Accidental chemical releases in the workplace and offsite into the environment continue to be a high-priority enforcement area for both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Labor’s OSHA, including releases of anhydrous ammonia and other toxic and flammable substances under the agencies’ RMP and PSM programs.

Partial Vacation of Nationwide Permit 12 Stands as Ninth Circuit Denies Emergency Stay

The partial vacation of Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12) will remain in place for now as the Ninth Circuit today denied emergency motions for a partial stay pending appeal. In its May 28, 2020, Order (available here) the Ninth Circuit held that appellants “have not demonstrated a sufficient likelihood of success on the merits and probability of irreparable harm to warrant a stay pending appeal.”

OSHA Refines Stance on COVID-19 Recordkeeping and Enforcement

On May 19, OSHA issued two enforcement memos regarding COVID-19.  The first of these memos revised OSHA’s requirements for employers as they determine whether individual cases of COVID-19 are work-related.  The second enforcement memorandum OSHA issued on May 19 revised OSHA’s policy for handling COVID-19-related complaints, referrals, and severe illness reports.  These two memos are summarized below.

Nationwide Permit 12 Restored for Most Non-Pipeline Uses by Trial Court, While the Ninth Circuit Expedites Briefing on Emergency Motion for Stay

This week the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana restored use of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide Permit 12 for some utility line construction and maintenance activities (primarily for non-pipeline projects) by restricting the scope of its earlier vacation of the permit, while the Ninth Circuit ruled on an initial round of briefings in the government’s request for an emergency stay.  The District Court’s April 15 decision has been the source of significant disruption because it not only blocked application of the popular nationwide permit to the Keystone XL pipeline (the subject of the litigation), but also barred any and all other uses of the permit.  See our earlier alert here.

Scope of Clean Water Act Jurisdiction Set to Change

On April 21, 2020, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) and the Environmental Protection Agency published the finalized Navigable Waters Protection Rule in the Federal Register, ushering in significant changes to the definition of Waters of the United States (“WOTUS”), those waters federally regulated under the Clean Water Act.  The rule affects multiple Clean Water Act programs, including Section 404 (wetlands), Section 402 (end-of-the-pipe discharges), and Section 311 (oil and hazardous substance spills).  The rule is available here, and an EPA fact sheet regarding the rule is available here.  For more background information, our latest article regarding the WOTUS saga is available here

OSHA Sends Mixed Signals on Enforcement Related to COVID-19 and Employer Obligations

Over the past week, OSHA has issued three separate enforcement-related guidance memos to its regional offices and field staff regarding how and when to bring enforcement actions against employers for failing to protect worker health and safety amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The first guidance covers workplace reporting and recording of injury and illnesses associated with exposure to COVID-19, while the other two OSHA guidance documents provide a roadmap to employers on how the agency will enforce violations of the OSH Act.

Coronavirus is a Recordable Illness According to OSHA

According to recent OSHA guidance, COVID-19 (i.e., the coronavirus) is subject to the agency’s Injury and Illness Recordkeeping and Reporting Requirements at 29 CFR 1904.  This means that employers who are subject to the OSHA recordkeeping and reporting rules must include and log employee illnesses related to the coronavirus when an employee is infected on the job.  So while the common cold and Flu are exempt from work-related exposures, the coronavirus is not.

Facilities Must Comply with New Release Reporting Rule for Accidental Releases Issued by Chemical Safety Board

Companies and facilities that experience an accidental release have a new regulation to consider for releases of regulated substances or extremely hazardous substances.  On February 21, 2020, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) issued its new final rule governing reporting of accidental releases subject to the Board’s investigatory jurisdiction.  The new rule requires the owner or operator of a stationary source to report to the CSB any accidental release resulting in a fatality, serious injury (defined as resulting in death or inpatient hospitalization), or substantial property damages (defined as damage of $1,000,000 or more).  A copy of the rule in today’s Federal Register is available here.

Chemical Safety Board Proposes 4-Hour Release Reporting Rule

On December 11, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) proposed a rule requiring that companies swiftly provide the CSB notice of accidental chemical releases sufficient to trigger a CSB investigation, to help the CSB make deployment decisions and to more rapidly respond to release incidents.

Environmental Audit Privilege and Immunity Now Available to Oklahoma Facilities

The Oklahoma Environmental, Health and Safety Audit Privilege Act is now effective as of November 1, 2019, and available to manufacturers and industrial businesses  in Oklahoma that undertake voluntary environmental audits, such as those companies involved in aircraft manufacturing, chemicals, oil and gas processing, plastics, cement, food and meat processing, and paper products .  Oklahoma is the 30th state, by EPA’s count, to enact an audit program, providing privilege and enforcement benefits to parties that voluntarily undertake an environmental audit, disclose the findings and conduct corrective actions.

OSHA Issues Enforcement Directives Targeting a Variety of Industry and Manufacturers

Effective October 1, 2019, Region VII OSHA (Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa) announced a combination of Regional Emphasis Programs, along with state-led local emphasis programs.

Has Proposition 65 Gone Too Far? Warning Requirements for Food Products Challenged

Companies nationwide that sell foods containing the chemical acrylamide to California consumers may find their regulatory burden lightened in the future.  On October 7, 2019, the California Chamber of Commerce (CalChamber) filed suit against the California Attorney General in the Eastern District of California to prevent the state from enforcing Proposition 65 warning requirements for foods containing acrylamide.  CalChamber’s Complaint asks the court to declare that the Proposition 65 requirement of carcinogen warnings for foods containing acrylamide constitutes false and misleading compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment, arguing that acrylamide in food has not been shown to be a human carcinogen.  The Complaint also seeks an order prohibiting the State of California and private citizen enforcers from enforcing Proposition 65 warning requirements for foods containing acrylamide.

OSHA Announces Change to Process of Prioritizing and Evaluating Inspections

On October 1, 2019, OSHA implemented a new OSHA Weighting System to guide its prioritization and evaluation of workplace safety inspections for fiscal year 2020. Under OSHA’s outgoing enforcement weighting system, initiated in fiscal year 2015, OSHA heavily based its prioritization and evaluation of inspections on the time taken to complete an inspection.

OSHA Announces Site-Specific Targeting Program to Focus Inspection Priorities at Establishments with High Injury and Illness Rates

Beginning October 16, 2018, employers with high injury and illness rates can expect more frequent OSHA inspections in connection with the resurrection of the agency’s Site-Specific Targeting (SST) Program.  OSHA will use the SST Program to prioritize employer facilities and establishments for health and safety inspections in the coming year.

New EPA Guidance Proposed on Clean Air Act Single Source Determinations – Industrial Air Emission Sources May Benefit

On September 5, 2018, EPA issued a draft guidance document announcing a shift of the term “adjacent” in the context of the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review (NSR) and title V operating permit programs which may benefit industrial air sources. This interpretation would focus EPA’s attention on physical proximity of facilities when making source determinations, rejecting EPA’s past practice of considering “functional interrelatedness.”

Upcoming Proposition 65 Changes May Catch Companies Without Warning

All companies in supply chains for products sold in California need to be aware of the law known as California’s Proposition 65. This is especially true because significant changes to Proposition 65 requirements go into effect on August 30, 2018, increasing potential liability.

EPA and OSHA Increase Civil Penalties

In January 2018, both EPA and OSHA increased civil penalties for new enforcement cases.  These increases are required by the Federal Civil Penalty Inflation Adjustment Act of 2015 (Inflationary Adjustment Act), which directs federal agencies to annually adjust civil penalties for inflation by January 15 of each new calendar year in order to “maintain the deterrent effect of civil penalties by translating originally enacted statutory civil penalty amounts to today’s dollars.” 83 Fed. Reg. 1190, at 1191 (January 10, 2018).

It’s Not Too Late to Complete OSHA Electronic Reporting

December 15, 2017, was the deadline for employers to electronically submit information from work-related injuries and illnesses under OSHA’s Electronic Reporting Rule. Nevertheless, OSHA announced on December 18, 2017, that it will continue accepting electronic submittals until midnight on December 31, 2017.

Deadline for OSHA Electronic Reporting Rule Delayed Until December 15, 2017

OSHA has delayed the December 1, 2017, deadline for the Electronic Reporting Rule until December 15, 2017.  This rule requires a wide range of establishments to electronically submit injury and illness information from their OSHA Forms 300A.  The deadline extension was announced via a November 24, 2017, OSHA notice in the Federal Register.

Deadline for OSHA Electronic Reporting Rule Fast Approaching

Employers have until December 1, 2017, to electronically submit injury and illness information from their 2016 Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses (Form 300A) under OSHA’s 2016 Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses Rule (“Electronic Reporting Rule” or “the Rule”).

EPA Administrator Directs EPA to Cease its “Sue and Settle” Practice

On October 16, 2017, EPA Administrator Pruitt issued a directive, requiring EPA to immediately cease a practice known as “sue and settle,” in response to concerns that EPA has lately been defending against suits brought by environmental organizations with insufficient vigor.  The “sue and settle” concept is not defined in relation to a specific political party or view of environmental protection.  Rather, it is the concept that political parties in power sometimes half-heartedly defend against lawsuits, when the relief sought by such suits is actually favored by the party in power.

OSHA Issues New Guidance on Process Safety Management

OSHA recently published a guidance document to help petroleum refineries comply with OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) standard, 29 CFR 1910.119, distilling lessons learned by OSHA over the past ten years from the Petroleum Refinery PSM National Emphasis Program (NEP).  The OSHA guidance serves as a road map for process safety professionals to understand specific areas that OSHA will focus on during a PSM audit and areas most likely for OSHA to find gaps in PSM programs.

CERCLA Due Diligence Requirements Revised to Reflect Updated Phase I Standard for Forested and Rural Land

Purchasers of rural and forested land need to be aware of a recent change in EPA’s environmental due diligence rules. On June 20, 2017, EPA published a Direct Final Rule in the Federal Register, amending the All Appropriate Inquiries (AAI) Rule, 40 CFR Part 312, to reflect 2016 updates to ASTM E2247, a standard for Phase I investigations on rural and forested land.

Subsurface Intrusion now a Factor for NPL Listings According to New EPA Final Rule

On May 22, 2017, EPA finalized a new rule establishing subsurface intrusion as a new component of the Hazard Ranking System (HRS), the principal mechanism for placing contaminated sites on the National Priorities List (NPL).

EPA Administrator Consolidates Authority to Select Costly CERCLA Remedies

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt recently redelegated to the EPA Administrator the authority to select $50 million plus site cleanup remedies under CERCLA Records of Decision or RODs. Some years ago, such authority had been delegated to the Regional Administrators in each EPA Region.

EPA Issues Final Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule

On November 28, 2016, EPA published the final version of the Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule (the Rule) in the Federal Register. Promulgated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Rule updates EPA’s regulations governing generators of hazardous waste, most of which EPA promulgated in the 1980s. The Rule significantly revises the hazardous waste generator requirements.

EPA Issues Guidance Encouraging Greener Cleanup Activities

On August 2, EPA issued a guidance document encouraging parties to opt for “greener cleanup activities” when conducting CERCLA response actions, to reduce the environmental costs associated with these cleanups. The guidance document defines “greener cleanup activities” as “practices or technologies that reduce or mitigate the environmental impacts of CERCLA removal and remedial actions, while meeting regulatory and other cleanup requirements.” Examples include generating renewable energy on-site, using energy-efficient equipment, and choosing land management methods that do not require mowing. The guidance document builds on EPA’s 2009 Principles for Greener Cleanups, a general statement of intention to manage CERCLA cleanups in a more environmentally sustainable manner.