On March 15, 2023, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its final Good Neighbor Plan addressing reductions in ozone-forming emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOX) from power plants and industrial facilities. The new rule will restrict smokestack emissions in 23 states that impact other states downwind from the source. The objective is to assist downwind states to attain and maintain the 2015 ground-level ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).
Interstate Air Pollution Transport From Power Plants and Industrial Facilities. EPA’s Good Neighbor Rule Addresses Ground-Level Ozone
The EPA is proposing to strengthen the wastewater discharge standards that apply to coal-fired power plants. The agency’s proposal addresses discharges of toxic metals and other pollutants into water bodies.
Companies that store hazardous waste liquids with organics or other volatile and light vapors should ensure that the tanks, containers, and equipment used at those facilities satisfy the RCRA Organic Air Emission Standards in Subparts AA, BB, and CC under 40 CFR Parts 264 and 265. Over the past month, EPA has announced at least five separate penalty enforcement actions for air emission violations under the Subpart BB and Subpart CC standards. EPA promulgated the RCRA hazardous waste air emission standards to reduce the release of air emissions and organic vapors into the atmosphere from hazardous waste tanks, containers, equipment, and process vents, to prevent ozone precursors and other air toxics.
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.
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.
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.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources faces a potential funding shortfall for Missouri’s Hazardous Waste Program following the General Assembly’s March 4 disapproval of a stopgap funding measure. On that date, the Missouri House of Representatives adopted Senate Concurrent Resolution 38 disapproving an increase in Hazardous Waste Program fees previously passed by the Missouri Hazardous Waste Management Commission. The Missouri Senate had passed SCR 38 on February 24. Accordingly, the fee increases will not take effect.
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.
In an unpublished opinion on March 21, 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of a lawsuit citing the application of CERCLA’s petroleum exclusion. The Court held that the site investigation at a former gas station did NOT identify anything other than petroleum or fractions thereof. Consequently, the Plaintiff did not plausibly allege any CERCLA “hazardous substances” were present at the site. The case was dismissed.
On January 29, 2018 the Colorado Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal of the Martinez case. The state’s high court will decide whether, in the agency’s review of oil and gas permit applications, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (“COGCC”) must elevate “public health and the environment” over other factors identified in the agency’s organic statute.
Recently, EPA issued an Interim OECA Guidance on EPA and state roles on managing enforcement and compliance assistance. See, Interim OECA Guidance on Enhancing Regional—State Planning and Communication on Compliance Assurance Work in Authorized States. While EPA is seeking to emphasize cooperative federalism in modifying the emphasis of the 1986 revised policy on state/EPA enforcement agreements, as provided in the first footnote of the Guidance, the policy issued on January 22, 2018, appears to make the states the primary enforcer of environmental laws and provides a secondary role for EPA in that regard.
Companies that beneficially reuse hazardous secondary materials by recycling or reclaiming those materials rather than discarding them as hazardous waste need to be aware of a new federal court ruling that may provide additional flexibility in the reuse and recycling of those materials. In its July 7, 2017, opinion in Am. Petroleum Inst. v. EPA, No. 09-1038, slip op. (D.C. July 7, 2017), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down two key elements of the EPA’s 2015 Final Rule aimed at revising EPA’s “Definition of Solid Waste”: Factor 4 of the legitimacy test (i.e., “toxics along for the ride”) and, in pertinent part, the Verified Recycler Exclusion pertaining to reclamation under RCRA.
Construction companies, general contractors, developers, and property owners involved in land clearance and disturbance activities will want to take note of the new Stormwater Construction General Permit (“Construction General Permit”) issued by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) on February 17, 2017. As with earlier Construction General Permits, the 2017 permit applies to land clearance and disturbance activities greater that one acre and requires site operators to comply with best management practices (“BMPs”), effluent limits, and other permit requirements, including developing a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (“SWPPP”).
In January 2017, both EPA and OSHA increased civil penalties for new enforcement cases. While the increases became effective just days before the new Administration took office, the increases are a result of Congressional action in 2015 to annually adjust civil penalties for inflation by January 15 of each new calendar year.
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.
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.
Retail and Consumer Product Hazardous Waste – Update on Reverse Distribution and Aerosol Cans by EPA
On September 12, 2016, EPA issued its “Strategy for Addressing the Retail Sector under RCRA’s Regulatory Framework.” The strategy document sets forth three actions the agency is expected to finalize in the short-term to help ease the RCRA burden on managing retail and consumer products that may trigger RCRA hazardous waste characteristics or RCRA listings once a decision to discard is made.
Effective July 1, 2016, buyers of industrial and commercial properties in Kansas may qualify for a Certificate of Environmental Liability Release (CELR) under the state’s new Contaminated Property Redevelopment Act. This liability release for pre-existing contamination is important for prospective purchasers of industrial and commercial properties by helping to facilitate those transactions and allow the buyer to avoid state cleanup responsibility. But not only buyers benefit, as sellers can also demonstrate a framework that allows the transaction to proceed and maximize the property value without the buyer or seller taking on unnecessary risk if the proper steps to obtain the CELR are followed.
New OSHA Silica Dust Rule to Impact Over 675,000 Workplaces, Biggest Impact on Construction Industry
On March 25, 2016, 81 Fed. Reg. 16286, OSHA issued a new final rulemaking to reduce silica dust exposure that will directly affect more than 2 million construction workers who drill, cut, crush, or grind silica-containing materials such as concrete and stone, and 300,000 workers in general industry operations such as brick manufacturing, foundries, and hydraulic fracturing. OSHA explains that silica dust exposure occurs in common workplace operations involving cutting, sawing, drilling, and crushing of concrete, brick, block, rock, and stone products (such as construction tasks), and operations using sand products (such as in glass manufacturing, foundries, sand blasting, and hydraulic fracturing).
Beginning October 1, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will target its enforcement efforts in seven different focused areas, including three areas designed to protect water quality, two initiatives aimed at reducing toxic air pollutants and reducing air pollution, an initiative to reduce accidental chemical releases from industrial facilities, and an enforcement initiative geared at energy extraction activities.
EPA Issues Final Vapor Intrusion Guidance and Declares EPA, not OSHA, in Charge of Indoor Air Quality at the Workplace
At long last, after operating under the draft Vapor Intrusion Guidance of 2002 for almost 13 years, EPA finally issued final vapor intrusion guidances on June 11, 2015, a specific guidance for petroleum vapor intrusion at leaking underground storage tank sites, and a more general technical guide for assessing and mitigating the vapor intrusion pathway at chlorinated solvent sites. (Technical Guide). In response to criticism that EPA did not subject the guidances to the public scrutiny of the administrative rule-making process, EPA allowed for a longer public comment period than is customary for guidances. Additionally, both vapor intrusion guidances were the subject of extensive discussions between EPA, various sister agencies, private industry, environmentalists, and the White House.
Home Builder’s Stormwater Violations at Construction Sites Result in $1 Million Enforcement Settlement
A residential home builder, Garden Homes, has agreed to resolve alleged stormwater violations with the EPA and U.S. Department of Justice, according to a June 8, 2015, Federal Register Notice. The settlement involves a civil penalty of $225,000 and a Supplemental Environmental Project valued at $780,000 involving the acquisition of 108 acres of land for preservation.
Warehouse and Distribution Center Fined $3 Million for Anhydrous Ammonia Releases from its Industrial Refrigeration System
On June 2, 2015, the U.S. EPA and DOJ announced a $3 million dollar settlement with Millard Refrigerated Services, a company specializing in refrigeration and distribution services to retail, food service, and food distribution companies. The settlement resolves alleged violations of the EPA’s Risk Management Program, the Clean Air Act’s General Duty Clause, and CERCLA and EPCRA release reporting requirements stemming from three releases of the industrial refrigerant anhydrous ammonia from the facility’s Mobile Marine Terminal in Alabama. Among the release incidents was an August 2010 release involving hospitalization and medical treatment of individuals who were offsite working on decontaminating ships in response to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
On March 10, 2015, EPA issued a new revised 2015 Update to its Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) Policy, thereby superseding prior SEP policies.
In a recent January 2015 Memorandum to EPA’s Regional Enforcement Managers from Cynthia Giles, EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement, EPA is touting its Next Generation Compliance strategy as “an integrated strategy” intended to “bring together the best thinking from inside and outside EPA.”
Last week, on January 13, 2015, EPA issued its new “Definition of Solid Waste” Final Rule in the Federal Register at 80 Fed. Reg. 1694. This new rulemaking will have significant impacts regarding how secondary hazardous materials are recycled and exempted from the hazardous waste regulations. Unless challenged (and by all accounts it appears at least certain aspects may be litigated based on initial comments by various industrial sectors) the rule becomes effective on July 13, 2015, where EPA is the authorized implementing agency (Iowa, Alaska, American Samoa, and Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands). Because RCRA is a federally delegated program, other states will have to adopt the more stringent aspects of the rule discussed below.
Earlier today, June 9, 2014, the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in CTS Corp. v. Waldburger, et al., slip op. No. 13–339 (U.S., 6-9-2014). Reversing the Fourth Circuit, the Supreme Court held that the Superfund law’s preemption of state statutes of limitation for personal injury or property damage claims does not apply to state statutes of repose. Not every state has such a statute on the books, but for those that do, this may provide an additional shield for defendants, and an additional hurdle for plaintiffs.
On November 12, 2013, the First Circuit Court of Appeals handed down its decision in VFC Partners 26, LLC v. Cadlerocks Centennial Drive, LLC, slip op. (1st Cir., 2013). This decision serves as a reminder that courts will look carefully at the words used in a loan agreement’s environmental indemnity provisions to decide whether or how they apply. If the actual wording chosen (likely many years earlier) does not fit the environmental costs sought to be indemnified, the party pursuing indemnity may be greatly disappointed.
On April 4, 2013, the Fourth Circuit handed down its much-awaited decision about what a bona fide prospective purchaser (BFPP) of contaminated property must do to retain the Brownfields defense to Superfund liability. In PCS Nitrogen Inc. v. Ashley II of Charleston LLC, No. 11-2087, slip op. at 31 (4th Cir. April 4, 2013), the Court held that a property redeveloper, Ashley II, was liable as a current owner potentially responsible party (PRP) for soil contamination at the former phosphate fertilizer plant despite its “all appropriate inquiry” pre-purchase investigation of past environmental conditions at the facility. Ashley II knew that old sumps at the property contained contaminated water, yet for years did nothing to clean out or close the sumps. This failure to stop a continuing release violated the post-purchase “due care” or “reasonable steps” requirements of the BFPP defense, and negated its applicability to Ashley II.
In an effort to encourage brownfield site redevelopment and renewable energy development on contaminated sites, on December 5, 2012, EPA issued a guidance document designed to clarify the scope of enforcement discretion the agency will provide to tenants who undertake steps to avoid liability under CERCLA’s Bona Fide Prospective Purchaser (“BFPP”) provisions. In conjunction with the guidance memorandum, EPA also issued three new model comfort/status letters for lessees involved in renewable energy development on contaminated property.
Missouri Revises its Model Environmental Covenant for Activity and Use Limitations on Contaminated Sites
Businesses that own contaminated property in Missouri, such as brownfield sites and former industrial locations, can avail themselves of Missouri’s Environmental Covenant Act (MoECA), RSMo Section 260.1000 et seq., 10 CSR 25-18.010(18), to expedite cleanup and, if site conditions allow, beneficial reuse of those properties. In particular, property owners can record an environmental covenant on their property that restricts certain land uses and site activities to minimize exposure to impacted soils and groundwater.
When coupled with a risk-based cleanup approach, an environmental covenant can present significant advantages to a property owner. Most notably, a company can clean up a site based on human health and environmental risks associated with appropriately tailored uses of the property, such as cleaning up an industrial property to satisfy industrial standards as opposed to residential standards.
The most common types of activity and use limitations found in environmental covenants include:
Environmental covenants like other property interests are recorded in a property’s chain of title to provide notice to prospective buyers of the specific activity and use limitations imposed by the restrictions.
Missouri, along with more than 20 other states, has adopted a version of the Uniform Environmental Covenants Act. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) has a “model” environmental covenant used by the agency in situations where MDNR is the sole overseeing Department and a second model covenant in which both EPA and MDNR are the overseeing agencies.
The provisions in the new model Environmental Covenant differ only somewhat from the provisions in the prior model Environmental Covenant, but the new model serves as a reminder that Missouri has a robust risk-based cleanup program when it is neither pragmatic nor cost-effective to clean up sites to residential levels. The use of Missouri’s risk-based program should be carefully evaluated considering site-specific circumstances.