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Landowners Can Seek a Cleaner Cleanup in State Court

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.

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

Federal Court Halts Wetland Permitting – Nationwide Permit 12 (Utility Activities)

Pipeline companies, utilities, engineers, builders and land developers, and other construction companies that rely on Nationwide Permit (NWP) 12 for utility line and trenching activities in and around potential wetland areas will need to carefully re-evaluate their ability to conduct work under this general permitting tool.  This is because on April 15, 2020, a federal district court vacated NWP 12 and determined that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) had not adequately considered impacts in issuing the 2017 permit under the federal Endangered Species Act.  As a result of this court ruling, pipeline and utility infrastructure projects that rely on NWP 12 may be impacted.

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.

EPA Issues Interim Guidance for Managing COVID-19 Impacts at Superfund, RCRA, and Other Remediation Projects

Following on the March 19 internal memorandum from the Office of Land and Emergency Management (available here), and the March 26 COVID-19 Enforcement Discretion Policy from the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (see here for the Policy and Spencer Fane’s earlier alert), EPA today (April 10) issued guidance on field decisions for parties managing cleanups under CERCLA, RCRA, and other remediation programs. EPA’s interim guidance is available here.

When a Phase I ESA is Not Enough to Claim the Superfund BFPP Defense

On March 30, 2020, the federal district court for the Southern District of Indiana weighed in on what it really takes for a property owner to claim the bona fide prospective purchaser (BFPP) defense to Superfund liability based on a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA). And in so doing, the court gave additional support to those of us who pay attention to not just whether a Phase I ESA report does or does not find a Recognized Environmental Condition (REC) at a property, but also when and how the environmental professional (EP) reached his or her conclusions.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Announces Regulatory Flexibility Amidst COVID-19 Impact

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (“MPCA”) has announced a process for regulated entities seeking regulatory flexibility that may have an unavoidable noncompliance situation that is directly due to an impact from the COVID-19 Peacetime Emergency, declared by Governor Walz in Emergency Executive Order 20-01.

COVID-19 Impacts on Environmental Issues in Kansas – KDHE Bureau of Environmental Remediation Issues Guidance

Consistent with Governor Kelly’s March 17, 2020, directive, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) offices are closed for the two weeks between March 23 and April 3, 2020, as part of the state’s response to COVID-19.  KDHE continues its essential functions and the Bureau of Environmental Remediation (BER) has provided several updates for the regulated community.  The agency has indicated it is uncertain that mail will be logged in daily and parties should expect some delay in communications. Electronic communications are preferred where possible.

Environmental Compliance Challenges Due to COVID-19 – EPA Announces Temporary Enforcement Policy in Response to Pandemic

Today the Environmental Protection Agency’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Program announced a temporary policy regarding EPA enforcement of environmental legal obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The policy is available here and is retroactive to March 13, 2020.  EPA makes clear that the policy is temporary and the agency will give seven days’ notice before terminating the policy.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources Announces Flexibility in Response to COVID-19 Outbreak

At a Wednesday, March 25, conference Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) division director Ed Galbraith said MDNR will take a flexible approach to enforcing environmental requirements during the COVID-19 outbreak. Galbraith also said that MDNR has discontinued environmental inspections for the time being and that he understands EPA Region 7 has done so, as well.  MDNR is conducting certain field work, however.   

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