About the only thing that stakeholders agree on is that the risk assessment saga in Colorado means one thing – more study is needed. On March 27, 2018, the latest in a series of health risk studies was published by the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Medical Campus. Using air emissions data taken from within the 500 foot regulatory setback requirement for homes near wells, the study concludes that people living in close proximity to oil and gas wells are subject to an increased risk of developing cancer.
In an unpublished opinion on March 21, 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of a lawsuit citing the application of CERCLA’s petroleum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 March 23, 2018, the President signed into law the BUILD Act of 2018, which significantly clarifies the potential scope of cleanup liability for tenants and state and local governments under the federal Superfund law. Now, a tenant at an industrial or manufacturing site can, under appropriate circumstances, claim the “bona fide prospective purchaser” (BFPP) defense to Superfund liability and escape what would otherwise be strict, joint, and several owner/operator liability when leasing previously-contaminated property.
On April 2, 2018, the EPA announced the results of its updated Midterm Evaluation (MTE) determination related to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for cars and light trucks for model years 2022-2025. The agency stated that the current standards are not appropriate, and that it will work with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to set a notice and comment rulemaking to set new standards.
Authorized by Congress in 2012, the EPA’s Electronic Manifest System (e-Manifest) will become effective on June 30, 2018. When they register, generators, transporters, and receivers of hazardous wastes will be able to use this system to facilitate the electronic transmission of the uniform hazardous waste manifest form. States must adopt the provisions of the final rule in order to enforce them under state law and to maintain manifest program consistency.
On March 22, 2018, the Colorado Court of Appeals held that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s authority to undertake unannounced, warrantless inspections (i.e., administrative searches) at oil and gas sites does NOT violate the U.S. or Colorado constitutions.
House Bill 1071, if enacted as written, will obviate the need for the Colorado Supreme Court to resolve the dilemma caused by the Colorado Court of Appeals opinion in the Martinez case. As described in earlier Spencer Fane posts, that appellate decision effectively elevated the protection of public health and the environment over the interests of mineral rights owners and developers. The issue before the Colorado Supreme Court is whether the current statute dictates that the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) implement a statutorily directed balancing act without giving priority to any particular interest.
On February 13, 2018, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved new rules to require the industry to track the location of oil and gas pipelines. The new rules stem from an explosion in Firestone, Colorado caused by a leaking pipeline that destroyed a house and killed two people on April 17, 2017. That disaster triggered a massive public outcry, directives from the Governor, and now significant revisions to state regulations.
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.