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Environmental Law

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.”

Colorado Joins the Surge of WOTUS Lawsuits and Proposes State Legislation to Institute a State-Run 404 Program

This is an updated version of a previous blog to include recent developments. 

On May 22, 2020, Colorado joined the surge of lawsuits challenging the Waters of the United States (“WOTUS”) rule issued in April by the Trump administration.  See the link below to the Colorado lawsuit filed in federal court in Colorado as well as links to other similar lawsuits in other jurisdictions.

OSHA Refines Stance on COVID-19 Recordkeeping and Enforcement

On May 19, OSHA issued two enforcement memos regarding COVID-19.  The first of these memos revised OSHA’s requirements for employers as they determine whether individual cases of COVID-19 are work-related.  The second enforcement memorandum OSHA issued on May 19 revised OSHA’s policy for handling COVID-19-related complaints, referrals, and severe illness reports.  These two memos are summarized below.

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.

Eighth Circuit Affirms Environmental Claims Against Peabody Barred By Confirmed Plan

EIGHTH CIRCUIT BANKRUPTCY MONITOR

In County of San Mateo, California v. Peabody Energy Corp. (In re Peabody Energy Corp.), the Eighth Circuit (Judges Arnold, Gruender and Shepherd) agreed that the Bankruptcy Court (Judge Schermer) did not abuse its discretion when it held that litigation against Peabody by various California municipalities was barred by the terms of Peabody’s confirmed chapter 11 plan of reorganization.  In so doing, the Court placed particular weight on the presumed intent of the plan drafters in defining exceptions from discharge – a rule of interpretation that may prove significant.

WOTUS Lawsuits Surge

On May 1, 2020 in the Northern District of California, 17 States, the District of Columbia and New York City joined the menagerie suing to prevent implementation of the “waters of the United States” (“WOTUS”) rule.  The Plaintiffs include the states of California, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin, the Commonwealths of Massachusetts and Virginia, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, the District of Columbia, and the City of New York.

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.

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, 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.

Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Revised Definition Significantly Reduces Waters Subject to Federal Jurisdiction

On January 23, 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Army (Corps) finalized anticipated revisions to the Navigable Waters Protection Rule defining the scope of waters subject to federal regulation under the Clean Water Act.  The revisions follow the dictates of President Trump’s February 28, 2017 Executive Order 13778: “Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule.”

Proposal to Repeal Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (“TABOR”) Heading to the Ballot in November 2020

The Second Trip to the Colorado Supreme Court

No other state has a provision in its constitution like the Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights (“TABOR”).  The TABOR measure amended Article X of the state’s constitution and restricts tax revenues and spending at all levels of government.  The provision prevents tax increases without voter approval and prohibits state and local government from spending revenues collected under existing tax rates without voter approval if revenues grow faster that the rate of inflation and population growth.  Tax revenues in excess of the TABOR limit must be refunded to taxpayers.  The impact of the provision has been significant.  Since 1992, tax authorities have refunded over $2 billion to the taxpayers.

Chemical Safety Board Proposes 4-Hour Release Reporting Rule

On December 11, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) proposed a rule requiring that companies swiftly provide the CSB notice of accidental chemical releases sufficient to trigger a CSB investigation, to help the CSB make deployment decisions and to more rapidly respond to release incidents.

New Ozone Classification Will Impact Permitting Along The Front Range in Colorado

New “Serious” Classification for Nonattainment For Ozone

On December 16, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a final rule to reclassify the Denver Metro/North Front Range ozone nonattainment area from Moderate to Serious nonattainment under the Clean Air Act.  The area covered embraces all of Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Denver, Douglas, and Jefferson counties as well as the southern portions of Larimer and Weld counties.

Landmark Decision Re: Climate Change and Allegations of Securities Fraud

Trial Court Absolves ExxonMobil

On December 10, 2019, following twelve days of trial and testimony, Judge Barry R. Ostrager of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County, denied the State of New York’s claims that ExxonMobil engaged in securities fraud by either violating the Martin Act or Executive Law  63(12).  New York had claimed that ExxonMobil failed to make proper public disclosures related to how ExxonMobil accounted for past, present and future climate change risks.

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.

OSHA Issues Enforcement Directives Targeting a Variety of Industry and Manufacturers

Effective October 1, 2019, Region VII OSHA (Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa) announced a combination of Regional Emphasis Programs, along with state-led local emphasis programs.

Colorado Oil and Gas Health Risk Study

Short-term risks of exposure can include headaches, dizziness, and respiratory, skin and eye irritation

Building on an earlier assessment released in February 2017, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environmental released a state-funded study on October 17, 2019 titled:  “Human Health Risk Assessment for Oil & Gas Operations in Colorado.”  A peer-reviewed article summarizing the study was published in the Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association.

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.

Citizens Sue to Prevent Colorado Oil and Gas Commission From Issuing Oil and Gas Permits

A Court Order Halting Agency Actions Would Prevent Any Oil and Gas Permitting for Months While the Commission Promulgates Revised Regulations  

 On October 8, 2019, a citizens group based in Broomfield, Colorado, filed suit in Denver District Court requesting a Court order for an immediate stay of all actions by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (“COGCC”) involving “permitting of any drilling, pooling, and spacing units until the COGCC rulemaking is completed.”

OSHA Announces Change to Process of Prioritizing and Evaluating Inspections

On October 1, 2019, OSHA implemented a new OSHA Weighting System to guide its prioritization and evaluation of workplace safety inspections for fiscal year 2020. Under OSHA’s outgoing enforcement weighting system, initiated in fiscal year 2015, OSHA heavily based its prioritization and evaluation of inspections on the time taken to complete an inspection.

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.

Colorado Mining Operations Face Temporary Cessation Roadblock

Case of First Impression Overturns Mined Land Reclamation Board Ruling

On July 25, 2019, the Colorado Court of Appeals reversed a ruling of the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board (“MLRB” or “agency”) which had authorized a second period of temporary cessation for a uranium mine.  The Court in Information Network for Responsible Mining, Earthworks, and Sheep Mountain Alliance v. Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board was asked to determine if the agency properly authorized a “second period of temporary cessation” which would allow the mining permit issued by the MLRB to remain in effect.

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.

Takings Claims in Federal Court

Affected by a local government just compensation action? Your remedies have now changed significantly. The Supreme Court on June 21, 2019 overturned 35 years of precedent. In Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania the Court held that you can now take your federal takings claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 directly to federal court without exhausting state court remedies.

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.

Fish and Wildlife Proposes Downgrading American Burying Beetle Status From “Endangered” to “Threatened”

After years of studies, Congressional pressure, and on-the-ground experience with the American Burying Beetle, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed downgrading the beetle’s status from “Endangered” to “Threatened.” In addition to this move, Fish and Wildlife has proposed a rule that would tailor protections that are necessary for the beetle to recover under section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act.

Department of the Interior amends Greater Sage-Grouse Management Plans

The Department of the Interior recently announced six new Records of Decision that amend Resource Management Plans for the Greater Sage-Grouse.

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)

A Phase I ESA Gone Awry Leads to Millions in Cleanup Liabilities — a Cautionary Tale for Property Transactions

Lenders, borrowers, purchasers, sellers, and even contractors sometimes get annoyed with environmental lawyers when we insist on reviewing Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) draft reports, looking at the underlying regulatory files, checking title reports, real property records, and contract terms, counting days to make sure that the Phase I report is not stale or expired at closing, and documenting which parties do, should, or do not have reliance rights under that report.   

Colorado lawsuit claims “forced pooling” in oil and gas development is unconstitutional. Is this the next step to try to ban the industry?

On January 23, 2019, Wildgrass Oil and Gas Committee (reportedly an anti-fracking group but also an organization that includes mineral owners in the Wildgrass subdivision in Broomfield, Colorado), filed suit in federal court in Denver challenging, on federal constitutional grounds, that portion of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Act (C.R.S. 34-60-116) (the “Act”) that allows the Commission to “force pool” the development of oil and gas resources.

Monitoring the Deregulatory Track Record of the Trump Administration

There are several online resources available to track the regulatory activities of the current federal administration, including various federal government agency websites.  The two sites which I and others often turn to for comprehensive and easy-to-use online access for tracking the current state of federal deregulatory efforts are the sites produced and maintained by the law schools at Harvard College and New York University.

Colorado Oil and Gas Development – State Supreme Court Upholds COGCC Decision in Martinez Case

In a unanimous decision which resolved more than five years of dispute, the Colorado Supreme Court on January 14, 2019 upheld the decision of the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission (COGCC) which had refused to engage in rulemaking proposed by environmental groups. Led by the so-called teenage activist Xiuhtezcatl (pronounced Shoe-Tez-Caht) Martinez, the activists proposed a rule that would have conditioned all new oil and gas development on a finding of no cumulative adverse impacts to public health and the environment.  Responding to the rulemaking petition which was originally submitted in 2013, the COGCC said the rulemaking was beyond its statutory authority; on appeal, the district court agreed with the agency; and then the Court of Appeals, in a split decision, reversed. 

OSHA Announces Site-Specific Targeting Program to Focus Inspection Priorities at Establishments with High Injury and Illness Rates

Beginning October 16, 2018, employers with high injury and illness rates can expect more frequent OSHA inspections in connection with the resurrection of the agency’s Site-Specific Targeting (SST) Program.  OSHA will use the SST Program to prioritize employer facilities and establishments for health and safety inspections in the coming year.

New EPA Guidance Proposed on Clean Air Act Single Source Determinations – Industrial Air Emission Sources May Benefit

On September 5, 2018, EPA issued a draft guidance document announcing a shift of the term “adjacent” in the context of the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review (NSR) and title V operating permit programs which may benefit industrial air sources. This interpretation would focus EPA’s attention on physical proximity of facilities when making source determinations, rejecting EPA’s past practice of considering “functional interrelatedness.”

Air Quality – Colorado to Join 13 States That Have Adopted California’s LEV Requirements

On August 16, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission set a hearing to consider establishing a new Regulation Number 20 to adopt specific provisions of the California low emission vehicle (LEV) rule for model year 2022 and newer light and medium duty vehicles. The Division’s proposed rule will not include a Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) mandate and has no impact on heavy-duty vehicles or non-road (construction and agricultural) equipment.

Phase I Environmental Site Assessments: What You Need to Know to Close Your Deal

As someone who frequently helps businesses buy and sell commercial and industrial properties, I frequently encounter misunderstandings about Phase I Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs) and their role in a property transaction. Although not an exhaustive list, these 10 items are among the most important you should know about for your next property transaction.

Oil and Gas Development Would Be Blocked on 85% of Non-Federal Land in Colorado

A recent analysis by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (“COGCC”) shows that increasing the current regulatory setback of 500 feet to the 2500-foot setback proposed in Initiative # 97 would prevent oil and gas development on 85% of the non-federal land surface in the state. 

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.

Colorado Orders Safety Fixes at Orphaned Oil and Gas Wells

On Wednesday, July 18, 2018, Governor Hickenlooper of Colorado issued an Executive Order directing the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission (COGCC) to act to “plug, remediate, and reclaim” orphaned oil and gas wells and sites.  Of the over 50,000 oil and gas wells in the state, the COGCC is currently tracking 262 orphaned wells and 373 associated well sites that require remediation and reclamation. 

U.S. Will Produce More Crude Oil Than Any Other Country in 2019, According to EIA

The U.S. is projected to produce more crude oil than any other nation, including Saudi Arabia and Russia.  The July 10, 2018 forecast from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts that, in 2019, U.S. crude oil production will grow to 11.8 million barrels a day.

Federal Court Halts EPA’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule in 11 States

On June 11, 2018, the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Georgia issued a preliminary injunction preventing implementation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule in 11 states including Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.  The court held that if the WOTUS rule became effective the states would suffer irreparable harm in both a “loss of sovereignty and unrecoverable monetary losses.” 

Air Emissions From Oil and Gas Wells Health Risks Analyzed – More Study Needed

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.

The Superfund Petroleum Exclusion – Alive and Well in the Ninth Circuit

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.

Congress Enacts Redevelopment-Friendly Changes to the Superfund Law, and Tenants and State and Local Governments Gain Clarity on How to Avoid Cleanup Liability

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. 

EPA Will Revise Emission Standards For Cars and Light Trucks for Model Years 2022-2025

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.

Hazardous Waste Generators, Transporters, and TSDFs Should Plan Now for EPA’s 2018 e-Manifest System

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.

Colorado Court of Appeals Upholds Warrantless Inspections at Oil and Gas Sites

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.

Colorado Legislation Could Halt Oil and Gas Production

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.

Tougher Oil & Gas Rules in Colorado Set to Take Effect

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. 

Colorado Supreme Court Will Address Oil and Gas Development in its Review of the Martinez Case

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.

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.

EPA and OSHA Increase Civil Penalties

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).

Is Fluoridated Drinking Water a Risk? A Federal Court Allows Citizen Suit to Proceed Against EPA Concerning TSCA Oversight

A citizens group cleared the first major hurdle to obtaining a declaratory judgment compelling the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to consider whether to regulate the fluoridation of drinking water supplies under Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)’s Section 6(a) when a federal judge denied the EPA’s motion to dismiss the citizen group’s petition for such a declaration. Consequently, the citizen suit will proceed in evaluating whether EPA must initiate proceedings to decide if it should issue a rule under Section 6 to impose regulatory controls on fluoridation of drinking water.

It’s Not Too Late to Complete OSHA Electronic Reporting

December 15, 2017, was the deadline for employers to electronically submit information from work-related injuries and illnesses under OSHA’s Electronic Reporting Rule. Nevertheless, OSHA announced on December 18, 2017, that it will continue accepting electronic submittals until midnight on December 31, 2017.

Deadline for OSHA Electronic Reporting Rule Delayed Until December 15, 2017

OSHA has delayed the December 1, 2017, deadline for the Electronic Reporting Rule until December 15, 2017.  This rule requires a wide range of establishments to electronically submit injury and illness information from their OSHA Forms 300A.  The deadline extension was announced via a November 24, 2017, OSHA notice in the Federal Register.

EPA and Corps of Engineers Take Another Step to Roll Back “Waters of the United States” Definition and Issue a New Proposed Rule

The United States Environmental Protection Agency and United States Army Corps of Engineers last week took another step toward rolling back their 2015 proposed definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS). On November 22, 2017, the agencies published in the Federal Register a new proposed regulation to delay the effective date of the 2015 WOTUS rule until two years from the date of final action on the new proposal. The agencies seek comments until December 13, 2017, on their new November 22 proposal, so stakeholders who wish to comment have limited time to do so.

Deadline for OSHA Electronic Reporting Rule Fast Approaching

Employers have until December 1, 2017, to electronically submit injury and illness information from their 2016 Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses (Form 300A) under OSHA’s 2016 Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses Rule (“Electronic Reporting Rule” or “the Rule”).

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.

Major Department Chain’s Improper Disposal of Household Goods and Consumer Products Results in Significant RCRA Penalty from EPA

On October 25, 2017, the EPA announced that it had reached a settlement with Macy’s Retail Holding, Inc. (Macy’s) in connection with alleged violations of RCRA associated with retail goods and items that were improperly disposed of at department store locations. Under the settlement with EPA, Macy’s agrees to correct the violations, develop a training program for its retailers, conduct third-party audits of eleven of its largest facilities, pay $375,000 in civil penalties, and comply with other requirements within one year.

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.

OSHA Issues New Guidance on Process Safety Management

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.

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.

CERCLA Due Diligence Requirements Revised to Reflect Updated Phase I Standard for Forested and Rural Land

Purchasers of rural and forested land need to be aware of a recent change in EPA’s environmental due diligence rules. On June 20, 2017, EPA published a Direct Final Rule in the Federal Register, amending the All Appropriate Inquiries (AAI) Rule, 40 CFR Part 312, to reflect 2016 updates to ASTM E2247, a standard for Phase I investigations on rural and forested land.

Subsurface Intrusion now a Factor for NPL Listings According to New EPA Final Rule

On May 22, 2017, EPA finalized a new rule establishing subsurface intrusion as a new component of the Hazard Ranking System (HRS), the principal mechanism for placing contaminated sites on the National Priorities List (NPL).

Denver Post Supports AG’s Appeal of Martinez Case to Colorado Supreme Court

As stated here in an earlier post, the Martinez decision, if upheld by the Supreme Court, has major implications for all fossil fuel as well as hardrock mineral development in the state of Colorado.

The Future of Oil and Gas Development in Colorado – Appeal by Attorney General of the Martinez Case Raises the Stakes

On May 18, 2017, the Colorado Attorney General filed an appeal with the Colorado Supreme Court seeking to overturn the recent 2-1 decision of the Colorado Court of Appeals which arguably conflicts with the long-standing interpretations embraced by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (“OGCC”) related to its organic statute.

EPA Administrator Consolidates Authority to Select Costly CERCLA Remedies

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt recently redelegated to the EPA Administrator the authority to select $50 million plus site cleanup remedies under CERCLA Records of Decision or RODs. Some years ago, such authority had been delegated to the Regional Administrators in each EPA Region.

Stormwater Runoff from Construction Activities Subject to New EPA 2017 General Permit

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”).

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 to Focus on RMP Chemical Accident Prevention and Safety, Issues Proposed Rule and Will Increase Enforcement

Businesses that store and use flammable and toxic chemicals that are regulated under EPA’s Risk Management Plan (RMP) Program at 40 CFR Part 68 need to be aware of recent actions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency aimed at curtailing chemical accidents and releases through new proposed regulations and also enforcement. Facilities potentially subject to EPA’s initiatives include chemical plants and refineries, POTWs that use chlorine as a disinfectant, as well as those companies that use and store bulk anhydrous ammonia as an industrial refrigerant (dairy operations, food and pharmaceutical manufacturing, cold storage warehousing) or as fertilizer (agricultural cooperatives, fertilizer distribution).

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.

New Rule Issued by EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers Expands Federal Jurisdiction over Waters and Wetlands

On May 27, 2015, EPA and the Corps of Engineers released a final rule that expands federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. The rule expands on existing law by asserting jurisdiction by rule over all tributaries to traditional navigable waters, without regard to the quantity or timing of flow.  Tributaries are defined in the rule as “waters that are characterized by the presence of physical indicators of flow – bed and banks and ordinary high water marks – and that contribute flow directly or indirectly to a traditional navigable water, an interstate water, or the territorial seas”.

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.

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.

New OSHA Reporting and Recordkeeping Rules Take Effect

On January 1, 2015, new OSHA regulations took effect that broaden the scope of work-related injuries that employers must now report to OSHA.

Colorado Supreme Court Approves Ballot Measure Language Restricting Fracking, Part Two

In another “end run” around the state’s General Assembly, proponents of greater restrictions on oil and gas exploration in Colorado are again employing the initiative process, this time to authorize local governments to enact laws within their geographic boundaries more restrictive than state law, and even go so far as to potentially ban all exploration activity.  Alongside a companion ballot language challenge allowing for more restrictive statewide setback requirements (the subject of a prior article, (Colorado Supreme Court Approves Ballot Measure Language Restricting Fracking), the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that two ballot initiatives permitting a state constitutional amendment allowing for more restrictive local control did not violate “the single subject rule.” Constitution, State of Colorado, Article V section 1(5.5) and section 1-40-106.5(1)(e), C.R.S. (2013).

Colorado Supreme Court Approves Ballot Measure Language Restricting Fracking

In an “end run” effort around the state legislature, proponents of more restrictive oil and gas well setback requirements in Colorado are employing the initiative process to achieve more restrictive minimum setbacks than present state law permits. On June 30th, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that three potential ballot initiatives permitting a state constitutional amendment requiring the more restrictive setbacks did not violate “the single subject rule.” Constitution, State of Colorado, Article V section 1(5.5) and section 1-40-106.5(1)(e), C.R.S. (2013).

New Study in the Journal Science Affirms Underground Injection from Fracking Causes Earthquakes, While Industry Cautions Reserving Judgment

According to a new study in the journal, Science, an increase in the number of earthquakes in central Oklahoma likely arises from the use of underground injection wells to dispose of treated wastewater from oil and gas fracking operations. The study, funded in part by the U.S. Geological Survey (“USGS”)and the National Science Foundation (“NSF”), focused on Oklahoma earthquakes and injection well practices. The research was led by Cornell University and included researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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.

California Modifies Proposed Fracking Regulations, Mandating Seismic Monitoring

The Ventura County Star reported on June 17th that the California Department of  Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (the “Division”), has modified its proposed hydraulic fracturing regulations mandated by last year’s Senate Bill 4, requiring well operators to conduct real-time seismic monitoring. The modified regulations specify that they apply both to offshore and on shore oil drilling operations. Most drilling off the California coast, however, occurs in federal waters that are beyond the reach of state regulations.