Posted on December 1, 2014
Food is a big part of why Thanksgiving is my family’s favorite holiday. Over the years, we have tried to eat sensibly and sustainably, and to waste less food. But on the Monday after Thanksgiving, I suspect we are not alone as we contemplate the wilted salad, the wan sweet potatoes, and the last of the now not-so-attractive leftover turkey. Indeed, one recent study by NRDC estimated that Americans throw away 40% of their food.
In the last few years, declining capacities at conventional solid waste disposal facilities, combined with the realization that there are more beneficial things to do with food waste and other organics than to throw them in a landfill or burn them have led to partial food or organic waste bans in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, as well as in cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, and New York.
Of course, these ambitious waste segregation programs require that there be an alternative location to reuse or process these materials. Historically, organics have been transformed into compost or animal feed. Unfortunately, the volume of the waste stream is far in excess of what existing, generally small composting facilities can handle. Larger facilities that might be able to increase capacity are generally located far from urban and suburban centers that generate the waste. Many regulators have recognized the need to create an infrastructure to handle this material but a more comprehensive national program is needed if we are really going to stop throwing our food into landfills.
One of the most promising technologies to manage the large amount of organic waste generated near city centers is anaerobic digestion (“AD”). AD systems use anaerobic bacteria to break down organic matter into methane and carbon dioxide. The resulting methane can generate energy in place of traditional fossil fuels. A large-scale system might generate as much as 8-10 MW of electricity (enough to power 8-10,000 homes), while diverting thousands of tons of organics from landfills. And as a bonus, the residual materials can be used as compost or soil amendments. AD systems are well established at wastewater treatment plants and are emerging at certain large agricultural operations.
But there have not been many large scale AD systems designed to handle the anticipated flood of organics that will soon be separated from the general waste stream. Part of the problem may be one of raw material supply – a single large AD system may need hundreds of thousands of tons of segregated organic materials annually. The waste bans may help develop a reliable supply. Siting of these facilities presents other challenges. Some states, most notably Massachusetts have amended regulations to make it easier (though certainly not “easy”) to permit these facilities, at least on a state level. Hopefully other regulators will follow suit, allowing market forces to coalesce and expand what is now a nascent industry. Otherwise the organic material diverted from the solid waste stream by well-intentioned laws and rules will pile up in unpleasant ways.
Posted on August 27, 2014
On August 20, 2014 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Center For Community Action and Environmental Justice; East Yard Communities For Environmental Justice; Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. v. BNSF Railway Company; Union Pacific Railroad Company, No. 12-56086, D.C. No. 2:11-cv-08608-SJO-SS, determining that emissions of diesel particulate matter does not constitute "disposal" of solid waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). As a result, plaintiffs could not state a plausible claim for relief under RCRA’s Citizens’ Suit provision, 42 U.S.C. §6972(a)(1)(B).
A number of environmental organizations had sought to enjoin the emission from defendants' rail yards of particulate matter found in diesel exhaust from locomotive, truck, and other heavy-duty vehicle engines operated on or near 16 rail yards in California. Plaintiffs cited studies by both EPA and the state agency, which identified diesel particulate matter as a toxic air contaminant with the potential or likelihood "to cause cancer and other adverse health problems, including respiratory illnesses and increased risk of heart disease." Plaintiffs contended that, while the particulate emissions were initially emitted into the air, they ultimately were deposited on land and water. They argued that people inhale the exhaust while it is airborne and after deposition (because the particulates are "re-entrained" into the air by wind, air currents, and passing vehicles). Defendants moved to dismiss arguing that RCRA only applies to air emissions from burning fuel which itself consists of or contains "solid" or hazardous" waste, i.e. a "discarded material." Otherwise, emissions fall within the scope of the Clean Air Act, which, they argued, was inapplicable.
The district court concluded that (1) any gap that might exist between the two regulatory schemes as they apply (or don't apply) to mobile sources of air pollution "was created through a series of reasoned and calculated decisions by Congress and EPA," and, independently, (2) plaintiffs failed to state a claim under RCRA because, even if RCRA does apply, diesel exhaust is not a "solid or hazardous waste."
In affirming, the appeals court cited (and distinguished) prior case law, but for the most part relied on the plain language of the statutes and pertinent legislative history of Congressional actions (or intentional inaction) related to regulation of mobile sources of diesel exhausts and rail yards. Relying on the principle of expressio unius est exclusio alterius (when Congress expresses meaning through a list, a court may assume that what is not listed is excluded), the court of appeals noted that "emitting" is excluded from the definition in RCRA of "disposal." Citing §6903(3), the court of appeals added that the specific statutory text further limits the definition of "disposal" to "placement" of solid waste "into or on any land or water" and concluded that emitting the exhaust into the air does not equate to placing the exhaust into or on any land or water. The 9th Circuit concluded that to decide otherwise would be rearranging the wording of the statute which courts cannot do. Specifically, the court of appeals held, "Reading §6903(3) as Congress has drafted it, ‘disposal’ does not extend to emissions of solid waste directly into the air."
The 9th Circuit might have stopped there, but it did not The Court of Appeals further supported its decision by (1) recognizing that the term "emitting" was used elsewhere in the statute and, therefore, was intentionally excluded from the definition of "disposal," and (2) reviewing the legislative history and determining that Congress had opted not to address diesel emissions from locomotives, heavy-duty trucks, and buses at various points in the history of the Clean Air Act amendments adopted in 1970. It also noted that a railroad emissions study required during the planning of a 1977 Clean Air Act overhaul (only one year after enactment of RCRA) omitted rail yards and mobile sources and resulted in a prohibition of federal regulation of "indirect sources" that included corridors attracting mobile sources, like roads or highways, leaving regulation of those sources entirely to the states. The opinion also discussed later amendments to the Clean Air Act, finding that in the 1990 Amendments to the Clean Air Act, Congress finally required EPA to promulgate regulations setting forth standards applicable to emissions from new locomotives and new engines used in locomotives and prohibited states from doing the same, but left the regulation of indirect sources including rail yards, exclusively to the states, noting that, once again, in 1990, RCRA applied to neither.
The court of appeals was not persuaded by plaintiffs' argument that the two statutes should be "harmonized" to fill any gaps, or that there was irreconcilable conflict between the two statutes, observing that in actuality no conflict existed because neither statute applied to rail yards' diesel exhausts. But to put an exclamation point on its holding, the 9th Circuit added: “[H]owever, to the extent that its text is ambiguous, RCRA's statutory and legislative histories resolve that ambiguity.”
The 9th Circuit's straightforward analysis of the plain language of the statutes and the statutory history of Congressional action in this opinion is a refreshing contrast to recent opinions in which courts have struggled to find justification for EPA's attempts to regulate in areas where Congress has clearly failed to take action.
Posted on April 1, 2013
A group of Harvard law students has come up with a novel strategy to achieve more stringent regulation of firearms in the United States, namely environmental citizen suits.
Frustrated by the slow pace of Congressional efforts to strengthen regulation of firearms, this group of students has filed citizen suit notice letters against dozens of hunt clubs and firing ranges in the South and Midwest. The notice letters allege that the hunt clubs and their members:
• Violate the Clean Water Act by discharging pollutants from point sources over navigable waters without a permit
• Violate the Clean Air Act by emitting hazardous air pollutants without a permit
• Dispose of hazardous wastes, including lead and other heavy metals, without a RCRA disposal permit or compliance with the RCRA uniform waste manifest requirements
• Own and operate facilities where CERCLA hazardous substances are released into the environment; and
• Cause or contribute to the unpermitted disposal of solid waste.
This group of students, the Harvard Environmental Law & Litigation Society, is only recently organized, but they are clearly ambitious. One of the students, Angel Del Norte, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “We hope our efforts will blow some of those gun crazy deep South Bubbas out of the water.”
One of the targeted organizations, the Poteau Piscine Club in south Alabama, is working to organize a unified response to the citizen suit notices. The club’s President, Robert E. Lee (“Bobby”) Rhebop, stated in a press release that all of the organizations targeted in Alabama had agreed to contribute to a joint legal defense fund. Rhebop added, “If those pointy headed snot noses in Boston think they know something about guns, I can’t wait ‘til they see the business end of my .357. I’ll teach ‘em what a discharge from a real point source can do.”
Reaction has also spread rapidly in Texas. One of the targeted hunt clubs has persuaded their local legislator to introduce a bill in the state senate that would authorize Texas residents who attend Harvard to carry concealed weapons on the Harvard campus. As one proponent of the bill said “If we pass this sucker, I bet every Texan in Harvard will start getting straight A’s.”
To date no one from EPA has commented on the notice letters.
Posted on March 21, 2013
The EPA issued its long-awaited CISWI Rule in the Federal Register on February 7, 2013. 78 FR 9112. The final rule, entitled “Commercial and Industrial Solid Waste Incineration Units; Reconsideration and Final Amendments; Non-Hazardous Secondary Materials That Are Solid Waste,” contains the provisions in EPA’s 2011 rule, vacated in January 2012, that EPA agreed to reconsider. The 2011 final rule in turn superseded EPA’s 2000 CISWI rule. The new CISWI Rule amends 40 CFR part 60 subparts CCCC and DDDD and part 241. The amendments to 40 CFR part 60 subpart DDDD, along with certain incorporations by reference, were effective on the promulgation date; amendments to part 60 subpart CCCC are effective August 7, 2013, and those to 40 CFR part 241 are effective April 8, 2013.
In response to both the court’s vacatur of a Notice of Delay issued in 2011 and the numerous petitions for reconsideration and comments submitted by the regulated community and the public, the final rule includes three subcategories of ERUs (energy recovery units) and two subcategories for waste-burning kilns based on design-type differences, with separate carbon monoxide (CO) limits for the latter. Certain limits were also revised based on comments regarding the CO span methodology and on incorporation of additional data. The rule establishes stack testing and continuous monitoring requirements and allows for the use of continuous emissions monitoring systems (CEMS), setting levels based on a 3 hour block or 30-day rolling average (depending on the parameter and subcategory of CISWI).
The rule addresses and preserves a source’s choice to cease or start combusting solid waste at any time due to market conditions or other reasons, and to switch from one set of applicable emission standards to another pursuant to CAA section 112, thereby amending the original "once in always in" approach reflected in the earlier versions of this rule. This in turn will provide an incentive to the regulated community to continue operating incinerators.
The deadline for compliance with the CISWI Rule by existing sources depends primarily on when the state implementation plan incorporating the final rule is approved, with such approval required no later than five years after the February 7, 2013 Federal Register publication date. The effective date for new source compliance is August 7, 2013 or the date of startup, whichever date is later. New sources are defined as sources that began construction on or after June 4, 2010, or commenced reconstruction or modification after August 7, 2013.
Posted on March 12, 2012
Two recent South Carolina Supreme Court decisions have addressed significant environmental regulatory issues. In the Smith Land decision which dealt with state regulation of discharges into isolated wetlands (“waters of the State”), the court held that there is a private cause of action to enforce the provisions of the South Carolina Pollution Control Act (“PCA”)1. In the Sandlands decision which involved a certified question from the federal district court, the South Carolina Supreme Court held that the state’s Solid Waste Policy & Planning Act (“SWA”) did not preempt local government flow control2. Each of these issues has been addressed in prior blogs (1, 2), although the outcome of the certified question on the flow control matter had not yet been determined.
Several pieces of legislation pending in the South Carolina General Assembly respond to these decisions and the issues they address.
House Bill H.4654 and its companion Senate Bill S.1126 would amend the PCA to identify those activities which require, or do not require, a permit under the Smith Land decision. The bills also preclude a private cause of action to enforce the provisions of the PCA. The House version of the bill cleared the House Agriculture subcommittee and committee with overwhelming support and is now on the House calendar for consideration. These bills enjoy considerable support from the regulated community.
Two other bills address the question of whether state law preempts local government flow control following the Sandlands decision. Senate Bill S.514 and its companion House Bill H.4721 would amend the SWA to prohibit local ordinances that preclude solid waste disposal facilities, regardless of location. The House version has also cleared the House Agriculture subcommittee and committee with nearly unanimous support and is pending on the floor of the House for consideration.
In each instance, the General Assembly clearly appears to be reacting to the Smith Land and Sandlands decisions in an effort to give meaning to its legislative intent. Time will tell whether the proposed amendments will be enacted into law as the Legislature moves through its last year of a two-year Session.
1 Georgetown County League of Women Voters v. Smith Land Co., 393 S.C. 350, 713 S.E. 2d 287 (2011).
2 Sandlands C&D, LLC v. County of Horry, 394 S.C. 451, 716 S.E. 2d 280 (2011).
Posted on August 17, 2010
The most recent Supreme Court examination of the validity of solid waste flow control ordinances under the dormant Commerce Clause occurred in United Haulers Ass’n v. Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority, 550 U.S. 330 (2007). In United Haulers, the Court held that flow control ordinances which favor a state-created solid waste authority, but treat in-state and out-of-state private entities the same, ‘do not “discriminate against interstate commerce” for purposes of the dormant Commerce Clause.’ Id. at 345. In such case, the validity of a nondiscriminatory ordinance with an incidental effect on interstate commerce is analyzed under balancing test set forth in Pike v. Bruce Church, Inc., 397 U.S. 137, 142, 90 S.Ct. 844, 25 L.Ed.2d 174 (1970). Id. at 346. However, if the flow control ordinance favors a single private entity over other private entities, the holding in C & A Carbone, Inc. v. Clarkstown, 511 U.S. 383 (1994), controls. Id. at 341.
United Haulers has been the linchpin for local governments to launch flow control ordinances. However, although the United Haulers decision upheld the validity of a flow control ordinance against a commerce clause challenge, the decision was based on an ordinance that was expressly authorized by the New York legislature and which required the disposal of solid waste at a landfill operated by a solid waste authority created by the New York legislature. In United Haulers, the New York legislature enacted specific legislation which allowed Oneida and Herkimer Counties to “impose ‘appropriate and reasonable limitations on competition’ by, for instance, adopting ‘local laws requiring that all solid waste . . . be delivered to a specified solid waste management-resource recovery facility.’” Id. at 335. Additionally, the flow control ordinance in United Haulers directed that all waste in Oneida and Herkimer Counties be disposed of at the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority (“Oneida-Herkimer Authority”), which was created by the New York legislature and was therefore a political subdivision of the state. Id. at 335. As such, under United Haulers, it is clear that a local flow control ordinance authorized by state legislation and directing solid waste to a public waste authority created by state legislation does not violate the commerce clause if it satisfies the Pike balancing test. It is likewise clear that a flow control ordinance which directs all solid waste generated within the boundaries of a local government to be directed to a privately-owned facility is still controlled by the holding in C & A Carbone, Inc. v. Clarkstown and invalid. 511 U.S. at 391. However, the United Haulers decision does not specifically address the significance of the authorization for the flow control ordinance by the New York legislature.
According to a 1995 EPA report to Congress, state legislatures in 35 states have expressly authorized the enactment of flow control ordinances by local governments. For those states in which flow control is not expressly authorized by the state legislature, it is unclear whether a flow control ordinance enacted by a subdivision of the state would withstand a commerce clause challenge. At the very least, the absence of state authorization for flow control measures may affect the analysis of certain elements under the Pike balancing test. Additionally, in states in which the state legislature has not expressly authorized the enactment of flow control ordinances by local governments, a local flow control ordinance could be preempted by state solid waste laws and therefore invalid even if it does not violate the commerce clause; thus, leaving open the question of whether or not United Haulers has opened the door forever on local flow control.
At least one frontal challenge to local flow control is pending in S.C. In Sandlands, LLC, et al. vs. Horry County, et al., Case No. 4:09-cv-01363-TLW-TER (currently pending in United States District Court in the District of South Carolina), a landfill and affiliated hauling company are challenging a county’s ability to restrict the exportation of waste to out-of-county landfills on commerce clause and preemption claims. The plaintiffs are attempting to distinguish United Haulers as well as arguing that the ordinance is preempted by State law. The impacts of the ordinance are being felt on disposal facilities in the region as the State has implemented a regional planning approach for siting disposal facilities. While the defendants removed the commerce clause question to federal court, the federal court has certified and the State Supreme Court has accepted the preemption question.
Posted on May 26, 2010
Last week, EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response announced release of its Community Engagement Implementation Plan. Who could be against community engagement? It’s as American as apple pie. It’s environmental justice. It’s community input into decisions that affect the community. It’s transparency and open decision-making.
Call me a curmudgeon, but I’m against it. Study after study shows that, in terms of the actual risks posed by Superfund sites, we devote too many of our environmental protection dollars to Superfund sites, when we should be focusing on air and water. Why do we keep doing this? Because the community demands it. As Peter Sandman has noted, perceptions of risk are driven only partly by the actual hazard posed. To a significant degree, those perceptions are more driven by outrage over the situation. In some circumstances, what Sandman calls outrage management makes sense, but I’m skeptical that EPA’s community engagement initiative is really about outrage management.
In any case, here’s the public policy question of the day. Does it really make sense to spend scarce environmental protection resources, not to reduce risk, but to reduce outrage?