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.
Environmental Compliance & Enforcement Defense
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by January 15 of each new calendar year in order to “maintain the deterrent effect of civil penalties by translating originally enacted statutory civil penalty amounts to today’s dollars.” 83 Fed.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).
A high-ranking Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforcement official in the Trump Administration recently cited a 1994 memorandum by Earl Devaney, then Director of EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, as presenting guiding principles to select cases for criminal enforcement of environmental violations. The January 12, 1994, memorandum, “Exercise of Enforcement Discretion,” is often referred to as the “Devaney Memorandum,” and it is available at this link: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/documents/exercise.pdf. This may signal that criminal enforcement of environmental laws under the Trump Administration will be limited to situations in which there has been significant actual or threatened environmental harm and truly culpable conduct.
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 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.
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 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.