Climate Legislation Is Dead (For Now): Long Live Conventional Pollutants

Posted on July 28, 2010 by Seth Jaffe

Climate change legislation is dead for now. I won’t pretend it’s not depressing, even though I avoid the political channels and ignore the rhetoric. For those of us who haven’t refudiated climate change science, it’s a victory for the pessimists and evidence that Congress has a hard time addressing long-range problems, even if consequential.

With respect to regulation of GHG, it’s the worst of both worlds and no one should be happy (which is why I held out hope until the end that cooler heads would prevail). We’re still going to have regulation of GHG, the mechanism being EPA’s recently promulgated Tailoring Rule for GHG. One word. Ugh. Does this really make climate skeptics happy? Do they really think that they will somehow succeed in rolling back the Tailoring Rule? I don’t think so. On the other hand, we don’t have an economy-wide cap-and-trade or carbon tax regime. Are environmentalists happy? I still don’t think so. 

I’m left feeling a little like Rodney King. Certainly, the issue isn’t going to go away before the next Congress is sworn in.

As I have noted before, however, problems with climate change legislation don’t mean that Congress can’t enact legislation further regulating traditional pollutants. The three-pollutant bill now before the Senate already has a Republic co-sponsor, Lamar Alexander. Now, according to a report in E&E Daily, even Senator Inhofe is stating that he’s interested in working with Democrats to move three-pollutant legislation. Given the failure to move GHG legislation, hell is likely to get hotter before freezing over, but if Inhofe can really be brought on board, there’s no reason why legislation couldn’t pass.

Three-pollutant legislation shares one significant feature with the GHG issue. Like GHG regulation, efficient regulation is hampered by limitations in existing law, as we saw with the D.C. Circuit’s rejection of the trading regime in the CAIR regulations, and EPA’s much more limited trading program in the Transport Rule. Senator Voinovich, another Republican that three-pollutant legislation supporters would like to have with them, noted as much, saying that the transport rule would be a "stringent and inflexible regime." New legislation could provide for a more robust trading regime. We’ll see if that’s enough to bring Republicans on board.

I sure hope so. Right now, all we’ve got is a GHG regulatory program that won’t do much for climate change, but will cause my clients endless headaches, and a Transport Rule that’s probably the best EPA can do on traditional interstate pollution, but not nearly as cost-effective as it might be with new legislative authority. I remain an optimist, but sometimes it’s difficult.

China Points To Population Control As Climate Change Strategy

Posted on July 26, 2010 by Stephen E. Herrmann

The population issue has not received much comment when countries discuss ways to mitigate climate change and slow down global warming, according to Zhao Baige, Vice Minister of National Population and Family Planning Commission of China (NPFPC).

 

 

“Dealing with climate change is not simply an issue of CO2 emission reduction but a comprehensive challenge involving political, economic, social, cultural and ecological issues, and the population concern fits right into the picture,” said Zhao.

 

 

Zhao cites studies that link population growth with emissions and the effect of climate change, saying:

 

“Calculations of the contribution of population growth to emissions growth globally produce a consistent finding that most of past population growth has been responsible for between 40 percent and 60 percent of emissions growth,” citing the 2009 State of World Population report, released earlier by the UN Population Fund.

 

 

Although China’s family planning policy has received criticism over the past three decades, Zhao said that China’s population program has made a great historic contribution to the well-being of China’s society.

 

 

As a result of the family planning policy, China has seen 400 million fewer births, which has resulted in 18 million fewer tons of CO2 emissions a year, Zhao said. The UN report projected that if the global population would remain 8 billion by the year 2050 instead of a little more than 9 billion according to medium-growth scenario, “it might result in 1 billion to 2 billion fewer tons of carbon emissions.”

 

 

Meanwhile, she said studies have also shown that family planning programs are more efficient in helping cut emissions, citing research by Thomas Wire of London School of Economics that states: “Each $7 spent on basic family planning would reduce CO2 emissions by more than one ton” whereas it would cost $13 for reduced deforestation, $24 to use wind technology, $51 for solar power, $93 for introducing hybrid cars and $131 for electric vehicles."

 

 

Zhao admitted that China’s population program is not without consequences, as the country is entering the aging society fast and facing the problem of gender imbalance.

 

 

Whether, and, if so, how, population control should be an active part of a country’s climate control is certainly a difficult political and cultural issue – but one that fast-growing economies such as China, India, and Brazil may have to face in the coming years.

China Points To Population Control As Climate Change Strategy

Posted on July 26, 2010 by Stephen E. Herrmann

The population issue has not received much comment when countries discuss ways to mitigate climate change and slow down global warming, according to Zhao Baige, Vice Minister of National Population and Family Planning Commission of China (NPFPC).

 

 

“Dealing with climate change is not simply an issue of CO2 emission reduction but a comprehensive challenge involving political, economic, social, cultural and ecological issues, and the population concern fits right into the picture,” said Zhao.

 

 

Zhao cites studies that link population growth with emissions and the effect of climate change, saying:

 

“Calculations of the contribution of population growth to emissions growth globally produce a consistent finding that most of past population growth has been responsible for between 40 percent and 60 percent of emissions growth,” citing the 2009 State of World Population report, released earlier by the UN Population Fund.

 

 

Although China’s family planning policy has received criticism over the past three decades, Zhao said that China’s population program has made a great historic contribution to the well-being of China’s society.

 

 

As a result of the family planning policy, China has seen 400 million fewer births, which has resulted in 18 million fewer tons of CO2 emissions a year, Zhao said. The UN report projected that if the global population would remain 8 billion by the year 2050 instead of a little more than 9 billion according to medium-growth scenario, “it might result in 1 billion to 2 billion fewer tons of carbon emissions.”

 

 

Meanwhile, she said studies have also shown that family planning programs are more efficient in helping cut emissions, citing research by Thomas Wire of London School of Economics that states: “Each $7 spent on basic family planning would reduce CO2 emissions by more than one ton” whereas it would cost $13 for reduced deforestation, $24 to use wind technology, $51 for solar power, $93 for introducing hybrid cars and $131 for electric vehicles."

 

 

Zhao admitted that China’s population program is not without consequences, as the country is entering the aging society fast and facing the problem of gender imbalance.

 

 

Whether, and, if so, how, population control should be an active part of a country’s climate control is certainly a difficult political and cultural issue – but one that fast-growing economies such as China, India, and Brazil may have to face in the coming years.

The Deck is Still Stacked in the Government's Favor -- Is This A Good Thing?

Posted on July 22, 2010 by Seth Jaffe

Last week, in City of Pittsfield v. EPA, the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed denial of a petition by the City of Pittsfield seeking review of an NPDES permit issued by EPA. The case makes no new law and, by itself, is not particularly remarkable.  Cases on NPDES permit appeals have held for some time that a permittee appealing an NPDES permit must set forth in detail in its petition basically every conceivable claim or argument that they might want to assert. Pretty much no detail is too small. The City of Pittsfield failed to do this, instead relying on their prior comments on the draft permit. Not good enough, said the Court. 

For some reason, reading the decision brought to mind another recent appellate decision, General Electric v. Jackson, in which the D.C. Circuit laid to rest arguments that EPA’s unilateral order authority under § 106 of CERCLA is unconstitutional. As I noted in commenting on that decision, it too was unremarkable by itself and fully consistent with prior case law on the subject.

What do these two cases have in common? To me, they are evidence that, while the government can over-reach and does lose some cases, the deck remains stacked overwhelmingly in the government’s favor. The power of the government as regulator is awesome to behold. Looking at the GE case first, does anyone really deny that EPA’s § 106 order authority is extremely coercive? Looking at the Pittsfield case, doesn’t it seem odd that a party appealing a permit has to identify with particularity every single nit that they might want to pick with the permit? Even after the Supreme Court’s recent decisions tightening pleading standards, the pleading burden on a permit appellant remains much more substantial than on any other type of litigant.

Why should this be so? Why is it that the government doesn’t lose when it’s wrong, but only when it’s crazy wrong? 

Just askin’.

Alabama Court Dismisses CERCLA Section 107 Claims for Compelled Cleanup Costs

Posted on July 8, 2010 by Fournier J. Gale, III

On July 2, 2010, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama published a must read opinion regarding cost recovery claims under CERCLA.  See Solutia, Inc., et al. v. McWane, Inc., et al., Case No. 03-1345, Document No. 622 (N.D. Ala. July 2, 2010).The case was originally filed by plaintiffs in 2003 as a CERCLA cost recovery and contribution action against several industrial defendants located in Anniston, Alabama related to plaintiffs' cleanup of historic PCB contamination throughout the Anniston area. In June 2008, the Court had previously granted defendants' motion for summary judgment regarding plaintiffs' CERCLA Section 113 claims for contribution but had allowed plaintiffs to proceed with their CERCLA Section 107 cost recovery claims. However upon motion for reconsideration, the Court on July 2 issued a detailed opinion also dismissing with prejudice plaintiffs’ cost recovery claims under Section 107.

 

 

Of interest to CERCLA practitioners, the dismissal opinion provides a lengthy analysis, based on recent Circuit Court decisions, as to whether a plaintiff who seeks to recover costs of a cleanup performed pursuant to obligations under a consent decree or administrative settlement (aka “compelled” cleanup costs) can bring a claim under Section 107(a)(4)(B).  Notably, the U.S. Supreme Court did not decide the appropriate route for recovering “compelled” costs (under Section 107(a), 113(f), or both) in its most recent opinion addressing CERCLA Sections 107 and 113. United States v. Atlantic Research Corp., 551 U.S. 128 (2007). Nevertheless, the Northern District of Alabama agreed to reconsider defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' Section 107 claims in light of Circuit Court decisions issued subsequent to Atlantic Research as well as new evidence.  Indeed, the Court agreed with the defendants' assessment that the majority of Circuit Court decisions decided after the Northern District’s previous denial of defendants’ motions for summary judgment have held that a party who incurred “compelled” cleanup has a viable Section 113 claim for contribution and not a Section 107 claim for cost recovery.

 

 

Ultimately the Court concluded that the recent Circuit Court decisions were correct in their assessment that Congress had intended for Section 113(f) to be the exclusive remedy to recover costs incurred pursuant to a judgment, consent decree, or settlement.  Because the Court agreed withdefendants' argument that plaintiffs’ costs related to its PCB cleanup were incurred by virtue of a prior consent decree, the plaintiffs only had a potential right to a Section 113 claim for contribution (which was previously dismissed) – not a Section 107 claim for recovery.

 

 

Again, the opinion is a helpful summary of evolving jurisprudence under CERCLA regarding Section 107 and Section 113 claims.  

A Combined Superfund and Stormwater Rant

Posted on July 7, 2010 by Seth Jaffe

Sometimes, the practice of environmental law just takes my breath away. A decision issued earlier last month in United States v. Washington DOT was about as stunning as it gets. Ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment, Judge Robert Bryan held that the Washington State Department of Transportation had “arranged” for the disposal of hazardous substances within the meaning of CERCLA by designing state highways with stormwater collection and drainage structures, where those drainage structures ultimately deposited stormwater containing hazardous substances into Commencement Bay -- now, a Superfund site -- in Tacoma, Washington.  

I’m sorry, but if that doesn’t make you sit up and take notice, then you’re just too jaded. Under this logic, isn’t everyone who constructs a parking lot potentially liable for the hazardous substances that run off in stormwater sheet flow? 

For those who aren’t aware, phosphorus, the stormwater contaminant du jour, is a listed hazardous substance under Superfund. Maybe EPA doesn’t need to bother with new stormwater regulatory programs. Instead, it can just issue notices of responsibility to everyone whose discharge of phosphorus has contributed to contamination of a river or lake.

The Court denied both parties’ motions for summary judgment regarding whether the discharges of contaminated stormwater were federally permitted releases. Since the Washington DOT had an NPDES permit, it argued that it was not liable under § 107(j) of CERCLA. However, as the Court noted, even if the DOT might otherwise have a defense, if any of the releases occurred before the permit issued – almost certain, except in the case of newer roads – or if any discharges violated the permit, then the Washington DOT would still be liable and would have the burden of establishing a divisibility defense. 

If one were a conspiracy theorist, one might wonder if EPA were using this case to gently encourage the regulated community to support its recent efforts to expand its stormwater regulatory program. Certainly, few members of the regulated community would rather defend Superfund litigation than comply with a stormwater permit.

You can’t make this stuff up.

COUNTING DUST

Posted on July 6, 2010 by Roger Ferland

Concern is growing in western states about EPA's recent refusal to adequately  consider elevated PM-10 levels resulting from natural events as a factor in determining nonattainment.In 2005, Congress amended Clean Air Act Section 319 to require EPA to adopt rules for states to petition to exclude certain measured or modeled ambient air quality data from the determination whether a state was attaining National Ambient Air Quality Standards (“NAAQS”), because the data was affected by “exceptional events.” In general, exceptional events are those caused by natural, rather than anthropogenic sources. On March 22, 2007, EPA adopted a rule establishing the procedures and criteria to “exclude, discount, weigh, or make adjustments” to data based on the exceptional event finding. 72 Fed. Reg. 13561, 13562. 

 

From its adoption, the rule was criticized either for going too far to find exceptional events or not far enough. Particularly unhappy with the rule was the Western States Air Resources Council or WESTAR, an association of air quality managers from the western states. Criticisms include the charge that the rule did not contain clear criteria for making an exceptional event demonstration and generally ignored the real world natural conditions in the western deserts. In addition, WESTAR and others maintained that EPA acted much too slowly and inconsistently on state petitions for exceptional event determinations. In response, EPA has promised to issue guidance that would address these concerns.

 

On May 25, 2010, EPA rejected a petition for exceptional event status covering four high wind-related PM-10 NAAQS exceedances at a single monitor in Phoenix, Arizona. As a result, EPA will be compelled to disapprove the CAA Section 189(d) PM-10 nonattainment area plan for the Phoenix area. State officials expressed shock at the rejection because they believed that they had worked closely with EPA technical staff to develop a data package that would satisfy the rule criteria. They complained that their data had either been ignored or summarily dismissed. 

 

Officials from other western states attacked the EPA decision immediately and demanded new rules rather than the less legally-binding guidance promised by EPA. Although the controversy over EPA’s exceptional events rule and its implementation has been generally confined to PM-10 issues in the arid west, the adoption of a significantly more stringent 8-hour ozone NAAQS in August, and the huge increase in the size and number of nonattainment areas that will result from the new standard is likely to make the dysfunctional rule a national concern.