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Jessica Merrigan

Partner

Spencer Fane attorney Jessica Merrigan

Biden Executive Order regarding OSHA and COVID-19 Ushers in Changes

On January 21, 2021, President Biden issued the “Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety,” available here, along with numerous other executive orders addressing COVID-19.  The order directs the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to:

  • Issue revised guidance to employers on workplace safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, by February 4, 2021;
  • Consider whether any emergency temporary standards on COVID-19, including regarding masks in the workplace, are necessary, and if necessary, issue them by March 15, 2021 (expedited approval measures apply to such emergency standards);
  • Review OSHA’s enforcement efforts related to COVID-19 and identify changes that could better protect workers and ensure equity in enforcement;
  • Launch a national program to focus OSHA enforcement efforts related to COVID-19 on violations that put the largest number of workers at serious risk or are contrary to anti-retaliation principles; and
  • Conduct a multilingual outreach campaign to inform workers and their representatives of their rights under applicable law, placing a special emphasis on communities hit hardest by the pandemic.

OSHA and EPA Penalties Set to Increase in 2021

Fines and penalties issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are set to increase in 2021 as a result of annual inflationary adjustments.

EPA and Other Government Agencies Scrutinize COVID-19 Marketing and Product Claims

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,[1] must ensure their labels and marketing claims satisfy regulatory requirements.

U.S. Supreme Court Reinstates Wetland Permitting Under Nationwide Permit 12

In a one paragraph, unsigned order issued July 6, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated most uses of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide Permit 12 for pipeline and utility trenching and construction, dredge and fill, and maintenance, inspection, and repair activities in or adjacent to wetlands and other waters of the United States. The Court’s order carves out and continues to disallow use of NWP 12 for the Keystone XL pipeline (the actual target of plaintiffs’ lawsuit). For our earlier alerts on this fast-moving litigation see here, and here, and here.

EPA and OSHA Continue Aggressive Enforcement of Accidental Chemical Releases

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.

Partial Vacation of Nationwide Permit 12 Stands as Ninth Circuit Denies Emergency Stay

The partial vacation of Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12) will remain in place for now as the Ninth Circuit today denied emergency motions for a partial stay pending appeal. In its May 28, 2020, Order (available here) the Ninth Circuit held that appellants “have not demonstrated a sufficient likelihood of success on the merits and probability of irreparable harm to warrant a stay pending appeal.”

Nationwide Permit 12 Restored for Most Non-Pipeline Uses by Trial Court, While the Ninth Circuit Expedites Briefing on Emergency Motion for Stay

This week the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana restored use of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide Permit 12 for some utility line construction and maintenance activities (primarily for non-pipeline projects) by restricting the scope of its earlier vacation of the permit, while the Ninth Circuit ruled on an initial round of briefings in the government’s request for an emergency stay.  The District Court’s April 15 decision has been the source of significant disruption because it not only blocked application of the popular nationwide permit to the Keystone XL pipeline (the subject of the litigation), but also barred any and all other uses of the permit.  See our earlier alert here.

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.

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.

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.   

Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, and Communities Issue COVID-19 Orders to Require Social Distancing and to Stay at Home (Sometimes)

Over the weekend and Monday morning, Missouri and the major local jurisdictions that comprise the St. Louis and Kansas City metropolitan areas issued emergency orders directing business and individual responses to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak by imposing social distancing requirements. Kansas had issued a statewide order on March 17, and Illinois had issued a statewide order on Friday, March 20.  Generally speaking, these orders close schools except for distance learning, ban activities inside bars and restaurants, ban social gatherings of more than 10 people, and encourage social distancing. The Illinois state order and many of the city and county orders require businesses and organizations to close their workplaces and workers to stay home unless they are deemed “essential” or qualify for another exemption.  Some businesses have been obtaining favorable determinations that they are “essential” from their local jurisdictions on a case-by-case basis.  Grounds for exemptions can include food manufacturing and processing, manufacturing and supply chain services for other essential businesses, construction, services to help businesses comply with laws, and many others.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources Struggles to Secure Hazardous Waste Program Funding

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.

Facilities Must Comply with New Release Reporting Rule for Accidental Releases Issued by Chemical Safety Board

Companies and facilities that experience an accidental release have a new regulation to consider for releases of regulated substances or extremely hazardous substances.  On February 21, 2020, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) issued its new final rule governing reporting of accidental releases subject to the Board’s investigatory jurisdiction.  The new rule requires the owner or operator of a stationary source to report to the CSB any accidental release resulting in a fatality, serious injury (defined as resulting in death or inpatient hospitalization), or substantial property damages (defined as damage of $1,000,000 or more).  A copy of the rule in today’s Federal Register is available here.

Environmental Audit Privilege and Immunity Now Available to Oklahoma Facilities

The Oklahoma Environmental, Health and Safety Audit Privilege Act is now effective as of November 1, 2019, and available to manufacturers and industrial businesses  in Oklahoma that undertake voluntary environmental audits, such as those companies involved in aircraft manufacturing, chemicals, oil and gas processing, plastics, cement, food and meat processing, and paper products .  Oklahoma is the 30th state, by EPA’s count, to enact an audit program, providing privilege and enforcement benefits to parties that voluntarily undertake an environmental audit, disclose the findings and conduct corrective actions.

EPA Proposes Restrictions to State Water Quality Certifications

A proposed rule issued August 9th appears to move in a different direction from the approach to cooperative federalism promoted by recent EPA initiatives.  EPA’s new Water Quality Certification rule seeks to restrict the authority of states and authorized tribal agencies – at least with respect to certain actions under the Clean Water Act. This is a rule to watch for utilities and businesses seeking licenses from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and for developers who need Clean Water Act Section 404 permits from the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Role of States in Environmental Enforcement – EPA Issues Final Policy Outlining State Responsibility

Continuing its focus on cooperative federalism under the current Administration, EPA issued its final policy on Enhancing Effective Partnerships Between the EPA and the States in Civil Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Work on July 11, 2019.  EPA’s guidance memorandum follows review of comments from the draft policy published in May 2019 and replaces the January 2018 interim guidance on enhancing partnerships.  EPA’s final policy expands and clarifies earlier direction on communication planning between EPA and its state counterparts with authorized or delegated programs under various federal statutes such as the federal Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and RCRA.

Missouri Proposes to Reduce Reporting Timeframe for Start-Up, Shutdown, and Malfunction Conditions

Facilities that own and operate air emissions sources in the State of Missouri, such as manufacturing plants, chemical plants, and similar industrial air sources, will want to take note of recent proposed changes to the notification obligations involving certain excess emission events.

Army Corps Seeks to Accelerate Wetlands Permitting with New Mitigation Bank Guidance

Mitigation bank credits may become more readily available to builders, developers and other permittees following new guidance issued in late February.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued Regulatory Guidance Letter 19-01, developed in collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, on February 22, 2019. (Available here)