Manufacturers, suppliers, retailers, and other entities in supply chains for consumer products sold in California might soon need to provide warnings regarding certain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in their products. California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) recently announced its intent to further regulate and study certain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances under California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, commonly known as Proposition 65. Proposition 65 prohibits companies from knowingly exposing California consumers to chemicals “known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity” (i.e., “listed chemicals”) in consumer products without first providing a “clear and reasonable warning.” (Although not the focus of this article, Proposition 65 also addresses occupational and environmental exposure to listed chemicals.)
Environmental Statutes & Regulations
EPA on February 22, 2021, announced new steps to address PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in drinking water. These actions will collect new data on the presence of PFAS in drinking water and could lead EPA to establish maximum contaminant levels, commonly known as MCLs, for these substances under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).
On December 16, 2020, a cold storage warehouse and ice manufacturing facility in East Providence, Rhode Island, entered into a guilty plea with the Justice Department for a “knowing” criminal violation of Clean Air Act section 112(r)(7), 42 USC 7412(r)(7), in connection with EPA’s Chemical Accident Prevention Program and requirement to submit a risk management plan (RMP) under 40 CFR Part 68. The facility used a refrigeration system to manufacture and store ice and other frozen products, with 19,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia in the refrigeration process.
Chevron, Auer, and Now Voight Deference?
On November 20, 2020, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals jumped headlong into the Chevron, and Auer deference realm. The issue: can a Clean Air Act permittee rely on a state agency’s prevention of significant deterioration (PSD) determination? And should a Court “defer” to the state agency’s determination to assist in the interpretation of an “ambiguous” environmental program requirement? Voight v. Coyote Creek Mining Company (No. 18-2705, 8th Circuit Court of Appeals).
Chemical plant owners and operators need to carefully review a recent federal appellate court decision that could substantially expand process safety management (PSM) considerations and related chemical safety and accidental release regulatory requirements under EPA’s Risk Management Plan (RMP) program.
If your business sells or distributes products or devices by claiming that the products work against or kill COVID-19, beware that such claims are subject to regulatory oversight by a variety of governmental agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Trade Commission, and the Food & Drug Administration. Unsuspecting companies in the sale and distribution of these products, such as disinfectants, sanitizers, or cleaners, must ensure their labels and marketing claims satisfy regulatory requirements.
Facility owners and operators with air permits will want to pay close attention to a recent Fifth Circuit ruling on a private citizen’s ability to seek penalties for/and defenses against alleged violations of the Clean Air Act. Following a bench trial, an appeal, and another bench re-trial, this decade-old case has again gone up to the appeals court and had the trial court’s judgment vacated and remanded, this time to decide the Plaintiffs’ standing to bring the case in the first place and to judge the viability of two key affirmative defenses. Environment Texas Citizen Lobby, Inc. v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 66 F.Supp.3d 875 (S.D. Tex. 2014), vacated and remanded, 824 F.3d 507 (5th Cir. 2016), on remand, No. H-10-4969, 2017 WL 2331679 (S.D. Tex. Apr. 26, 2017), vacated and remanded, slip op. No. 17-20545, 2020 WL 4345337 (5th Cir. Jul. 29, 2020), as revised (Aug. 3, 2020). According to the majority opinion, the panel gave both the lower court and the regulated community guidelines for when each CAA violation is “fairly traceable” to a plaintiff’s alleged injury to support standing under Article III of the U.S. Constitution. According to the concurrence, the Fifth Circuit’s standing precedents are “a mess” that are trending toward the unconstitutional elimination of “but-for” causation; a paradox that should be clarified by the full court en banc to stop a continuing loop of confusion.
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.
On May 1, 2020 in the Northern District of California, 17 States, the District of Columbia and New York City joined the menagerie suing to prevent implementation of the “waters of the United States” (“WOTUS”) rule. The Plaintiffs include the states of California, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin, the Commonwealths of Massachusetts and Virginia, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, the District of Columbia, and the City of New York.
US Supreme Court Says Superfund Statute Allows Landowners to Seek Additional Remediation in State Court, but Delays Additional Work
On April 20, 2020, the United States Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision allowing 98 private landowners in Montana to pursue a restoration damages claim against Atlantic Richfield Co. (as successor to the Anaconda Copper Mining Co.) based on Montana common law nuisance, trespass, and strict liability claims. Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Christian, et al, slip op., 590 U.S. ___ (April 20, 2020). After giving with one hand however, Chief Justice Roberts (writing for the Court) took with the other, and held that on remand, if the landowners persuade a Montana jury of their entitlement to restoration damages, absent EPA’s consent, they still may not use that right until after EPA’s approved cleanup is completed and the site is delisted from the NPL.