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Environmental Litigation

Has Proposition 65 Gone Too Far? Warning Requirements for Food Products Challenged

Companies nationwide that sell foods containing the chemical acrylamide to California consumers may find their regulatory burden lightened in the future.  On October 7, 2019, the California Chamber of Commerce (CalChamber) filed suit against the California Attorney General in the Eastern District of California to prevent the state from enforcing Proposition 65 warning requirements for foods containing acrylamide.  CalChamber’s Complaint asks the court to declare that the Proposition 65 requirement of carcinogen warnings for foods containing acrylamide constitutes false and misleading compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment, arguing that acrylamide in food has not been shown to be a human carcinogen.  The Complaint also seeks an order prohibiting the State of California and private citizen enforcers from enforcing Proposition 65 warning requirements for foods containing acrylamide.

Upcoming Proposition 65 Changes May Catch Companies Without Warning

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.

EPA Asks States to the Take the Lead in Environmental Enforcement

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.

Trump Administration EPA to Focus Criminal Enforcement on Significant and Egregious Violators, Citing 1994 “Devaney Memorandum”

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.

EPA Administrator Directs EPA to Cease its “Sue and Settle” Practice

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.

Federal Court Says EPA Too Stringent on Recycling and Reclamation of Hazardous Secondary Materials

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.

EPA and OSHA Increase Civil Penalties – Days Before New Administration

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.

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.

EPA Revamps Voluntary Self-Disclosure Audit Policy

Businesses and companies seeking to qualify for penalty mitigation and relief by submitting voluntary self-disclosures under EPA’s Audit Policy need to be aware of significant changes and modifications that took effect in December 2015.

Criminal Prosecution of Worker Safety Violations – New DOJ Initiative to Increase Criminal Enforcement of OSHA Matters

On December 17, 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a major new initiative to increase the number of criminal charges in worker endangerment and worker safety cases. Although the DOJ and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have had a worker endangerment initiative for a number of years, the new changes are intended to bolster the likelihood and number of criminal prosecutions which historically have languished, according to DOJ, due to the OSH Act’s misdemeanor criminal provisions.

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.

Fracking Claims Get Their Day in Court as Lone Pine Orders Axed in Colorado

Lone Pine orders have become an increasingly common case management tool employed by trial courts to help streamline proceedings for defendants and the court while maintaining equity for the plaintiffs. Lone Pine orders are most often used in cases involving complex issues and multiple plaintiffs, but are becoming more widely employed in a greater variety of cases.

Want immediate judicial review of a Corps of Engineers’ wetlands jurisdictional determination? Pick a property within the Eighth Circuit (Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska)

On April 10, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit gave a northwestern Minnesota peat mining operation something the company wanted very much — judicial review of a wetlands jurisdictional decision issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Hawkes Co., Inc., et. al v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, slip op. No. 13-3067 (8th Cir. April 10, 2015). In so doing, the Eighth Circuit built on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Sackett v. EPA, 132 S. Ct. 1367 (2012), which had made Clean Water Act administrative orders subject to court scrutiny, and continued the Eighth Circuit’s focus on curtailing what it sees as government agency overreaching, as recently expressed in Iowa League of Cities v. EPA, 711 F.3d 844, 868 (8th Cir. 2013).

EPA Revises its Supplemental Environmental Project – SEP Policy

On March 10, 2015, EPA issued a new revised 2015 Update to its Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) Policy, thereby superseding prior SEP policies.

Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Phase I Environmental Site Assessments

In a recent Midwest Real Estate News guest column, Spencer Fane Partner Andrew Brought shared his knowledge and insight on Phase I Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs) with readers. The article outlines the role and common misconceptions of environmental site assessments in property transactions and provides 10 important facts on ESAs as well as their impact on buyers and sellers involved in real estate transactions.

Next Generation Compliance—EPA Strategy to Delegate Enforcement to Third Parties?

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.” 

A Sham, a Waste? EPA’s New Recycling and Hazardous Waste Rules Finalized

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.

Environmental Compliance Certifications: What Your Clients Need to Know Before They Sign

On September 9, 2014, Andrew Brought of Spencer Fane will be one of the panelists in the ABA’s Presentation Environmental Compliance Certifications: What Your Clients Need to Know Before They Sign.

Supreme Court Strikes Down Key Aspects of EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Regulations, But Upholds Other Provisions

Earlier today, June 23, 2014, the United States Supreme Court dealt a blow to EPA’s current approach to regulating greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) through its air permitting program for new or expanding stationary sources. Utility Air Regulatory Group v. Environmental Protection Agency. No. 12-1146, ___ U.S. ___, June 23, 1014. The Court said it left intact EPA’s ability to regulate 83 percent of such GHG emissions, compared to the 86 percent EPA championed under its approach. Nevertheless, in its ruling the Court undercut key foundations of EPA’s current GHG regulatory approach. This ruling will require EPA to re-think many aspects of its approach to GHGs and will give opponents increased leverage in the upcoming discussions.

2005 Phase I ESA Will No Longer Satisfy All Appropriate Inquiries Under EPA Proposed Rule

On June 17, 2014, EPA issued a proposed rule in the Federal Register, 79 Fed. Reg. 34480, proposing to amend the standards and practices for satisfying All Appropriate Inquiries (AAI) under CERCLA. In particular, EPA is proposing to remove references to the 2005 Phase I ESA Standard ASTM E1527-05 as satisfying AAI.

CERCLA Will Not Save a Toxic Tort Claim which is Barred by a State Statute of Repose

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.

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