Posted on January 16, 2013
The concept of a “Waiver Rule” to be promulgated by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“NJDEP” or “Department”) created both excitement within the New Jersey regulated community and consternation among environmental groups. Business and development interests saw a Waiver Rule as a long overdue attempt by NJDEP to bring some flexibility into the State’s environmental regulatory experience. Environmentalists were convinced the Waiver Rule concept would open the door for polluters and greedy developers to complete an end run around New Jersey’s complex environmental statutory and regulatory scheme. A coalition of environmental and conservation groups initiated litigation challenging the adoption of the Waiver Rule. The environmentalists argued their case against the validity of the Waiver Rule before a three-judge appellate panel on January 14. In response to this argument, representatives of the business community told the court that a common sense approach to environmental regulation in New Jersey, as embodied in the Waiver Rule, is needed to spur economic development. It is likely this issue will end up before the New Jersey Supreme Court.
The Waiver Rule, N.J.A.C. 7:1B, became reality in response to Governor Chris Christie’s Executive Order No. 2, which attempted to instill “common sense principles” into the governing of New Jersey. Executive Order No. 2 and the Waiver Rule promised a better environmental regulatory climate to improve the State’s economy.
Will the Waiver Rule, effective as of August 1, 2012, actually make a difference? In its first five months, the Waiver Rule does not yet seem worthy of the regulated community’s early enthusiasm or the trepidation of the environmental groups. To date, NJDEP has still not approved a waiver under the Waiver Rule and, according to NJDEP’s Office of Permit Coordination & Environmental Review, only fourteen waiver applications have been accepted for review by NJDEP since August 1st.
NJDEP’s philosophy on the implementation of the Waiver Rule may well be embodied in N.J.A.C. 7:1B-1.1(b) which states: “[i]t is not the purpose of this chapter to allow for the routine circumvention of any Department rule.” The NJDEP guidance makes clear that application of the Waiver Rule will be limited. Only NJDEP (and not any Licensed Site Remediation Professional) is allowed to grant a waiver under the Waiver Rule. Will NJDEP ever get to “yes” on a waiver application? Time will tell.
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Posted on January 11, 2013
On January 3, 2013, an EPA-set TMDL for Accotink Creek (a Fairfax County, Virginia tributary of the Potomac River) was invalidated on the grounds EPA exceeded its statutory authority when it attempted to regulate, via the TMDL, a Clean Water Act pollutant – sediment – by instead regulating a surrogate non-pollutant – stormwater flow. The opinion granted plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the pleadings; in a separate order Judge O’Grady vacated the Accotink Creek TMDL and remanded the matter to EPA for further consideration.
Utilizing the two-step Chevron statutory interpretation analysis, the court found the first of the two criteria had been met: Congress had addressed in unambiguous language the precise question at issue “… and its answer is that EPA’s authority does not extend to establishing TMDLs for nonpollutants as surrogates for pollutants.” While directly acknowledging he did not need to reach the second Chevron criterion (whether the agency’s reading of an ambiguous statute is “permissible”), Judge O’Grady nonetheless noted in some detail that “there is substantial reason to believe EPA’s motives go beyond ‘permissible gap-filling.’”
Based upon EPA’s own pleadings, the opinion notes it appears the Agency could have set a TMDL based upon the underlying problem – sediment in the creek – rather than pursuing a surrogate approach.
In recent years, EPA has been pursuing so-called “innovative” TMDLs in an attempt to address stormwater’s contribution to impaired watersheds. In particular, those TMDLs purport to set load limits based upon various surrogate approaches, including such things as the percentage of impervious cover (“IC”) allowed in the impacted watershed, or (as with Accotink Creek) stormwater flow rates. While the Accotink Creek TMDL was in EPA Region 3, New England’s Region 1 seems to be in the forefront of this approach and currently has at least three stormwater-source TMDLs in place (including two so-called IC-TMDLs), as well as others in development.
Given the extensive resources EPA has invested in trying to manage stormwater impacts to impaired streams (see e.g., TMDLs to Stormwater Permits Handbook (Draft Nov 2008)), the Virginia Dept. of Transportation case is clearly a significant setback for the surrogate approach propounded by the Agency. Whether the United States appeals the decision or retreats and re-evaluates its initiatives in this area is yet to be determined. Whichever way EPA decides to go, communities dealing with impaired watersheds certainly will need to pay close attention.
Posted on January 7, 2013
Environmental practitioners and their clients have benefitted greatly from the EPA’s historic implementation of the EPA Audit Policy. Thus, the level of concern that has been expressed by environmental practitioners in response to EPA’s statements that the Audit Policy may not live through 2013 is not surprising. For background, see Linda Bochert’s posting, “Dear EPA: please don’t abandon your Audit Policy!”, and FY2013 OECA National Program Manager Guidance.
EPA has discussed the basis for its proposal to abandon the Audit Policy in terms of perceived decreasing utility, which creates difficulty in justifying the expense of implementation. The explanation goes something like this: with the maturity of the environmental programs, regulated industry knows that it needs to comply by now, thus the incentives provided by the Audit Policy are no longer necessary. Also, along with industry outgrowing the original purpose of the Policy, the cost of implementing the policy does not justify its continued implementation in this era of shrinking budgets, particularly given the relatively minor noncompliance events reported pursuant to the Audit Policy.
Has EPA really considered the entire calculus? And, assuming one buys into the external benefits provided by the continued implementation of the Audit Policy, given what’s at stake, isn’t it worth developing options for implementation that don’t impose the same level of staff investment?
Many believe that the Audit Policy has served a purpose far greater than the mere forgiveness of the gravity component of the reported noncompliance events. For many years, the EPA Audit Policy has provided regulated entities with a mechanism to conduct compliance audits with confidence that noncompliance issues can be corrected without fear of punitive enforcement action. The Audit Policy continues to serve this purpose, despite the maturity of the environmental programs, because the nature of regulated entities and industry sectors is so dynamic. Regulated entities are in a constant state of change, as are many EPA programs at any one time. EPA’s assertion that the EPA’s Audit Policy is no longer needed contemplates regulated entities and applicable regulations as static and monolithic bodies and does not recognize the constant state of change across industry sectors and within individual entities, particularly in response to new and modified regulations. Industry sectors also vary in their inherent levels of sophistication and adaptability to changing regulatory requirements, depending in large part upon the degree to which the industry has been pervasively regulated in the past. New regulations across an industry sector upset the equilibrium and demand new management models and compliance approaches, requiring a period of education, acquisition of staff, operational and cultural adaptation to the new requirements. Adaptation within industry sectors can be slowed when immediate demands are placed on sector resources for all entities in that sector simultaneously such as occurs with new industry sector-wide regulation, prioritizing rapid reaction to new regulation over comprehensive proactive compliance. In this regulatory environment, the Audit Policy continues to serve the same purpose as it always has, to encourage a culture of compliance in the dynamic landscape in which regulated entities operate.
To read more and provide your own input on how you believe EPA should approach the future of the EPA Audit Policy, click here.
Posted on January 2, 2013
An earlier post noted that adaptation to climate change is inevitable and is finally emerging as a priority for public policy. Long overshadowed by campaigns to prevent or slow global warming, federal and state initiatives and efforts by many professionals have resulted in efforts to start to collect data and promote serious planning for ocean rise and other effects of climate change.
Storm Sandy has more than reinforced that trend: it has established a much wider recognition that planning, design, engineering and regulatory decisions must incorporate the expected impacts of climate change and can no longer rely on historic weather and temperature conditions. That shift will have broad implications throughout the legal system, amounting to an emerging law of adaptation to climate change that is distinguishable from the emerging law of greenhouse gas controls.
As often is true, the legal academy is in the vanguard – there is a surge of law review articles and also a recent compilation published by the ABA.
For example, utility regulators have broad authority to require public service companies to prudently operate and maintain their systems. It is common for regulators to require emergency response plans, and, in some states, to impose significant penalties for overly delayed restoration of service after storm events.
Now, regulators are likely to require utilities also take account of changes because of global warming effects, not just based on historic conditions. Environmental groups recently petitioned NY regulators to so require.
But how exactly can this step be done? Modeling of the timing and extent of climate change effects can only produce broad ranges and generalities and are indefinite about effects at particular locations. What retrofitting is needed to assure reliable service to far future ratepayers and at what expense to current ratepayers? Ratepayers, regulators and utility stockholders will not reach agreement without significant dispute.
Existing zoning for flood plains should be modified to account for climate change. Making those changes will trigger large disputes as previously settled expectations are overturned. Until the rules are changed, are zoning bodies tied to outdated flood control maps incorporated into their regulations, or can they consider supplemental, updated information?
Environmental impact reviews for proposed projects typically address the effects of a project on the environment. Now must they consider the effects of the environment on the project? How? It will be litigated.
Also, as noted in an earlier post, the public trust doctrine might not serve to require regulatory agencies to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. But will it successfully undergird a state’s assertion of authority to regulate activities on or affecting lands subject to the public trust in order to account for changes and threats to shorelines? As beaches recede, will public trust lands start to incorporate currently private property?
The common law of property, too, will be affected. A landowner can lose title to land if it slowly disappears by reliction due to changes in a water body’s natural behavior, whereas a sudden loss by avulsion allows the landowner to keep title and restore the land. But what if the sudden loss is due to a storm event that is part of a slow rise in ocean levels?
Finally, at what point will it become clear that professionals must take account of global warming in designing structures or else experience risk of liability for unanticipated effects?
Posted on December 19, 2012
The attached article will be published in the upcoming issue of the Lewis & Clark Law School Environmental Law Review. The article is among the first to integrate current climate change science, particularly ongoing impacts and predicted impacts, with a detailed roadmap for substantial reform of our environmental processes for reviewing proposed renewable energy projects.
Most existing articles either focus only on climate science or on minor modifications to the regulatory system. Using offshore wind power as a case study, this article demonstrates how, in an increasingly carbon-constrained world, our existing environmental laws and regulatory process no longer achieve their underlying goals of long-term ecosystem conservation. To the contrary, these laws and regulations are supporting a system with increasing greenhouse gas emissions that is annually costing trillions of dollars.
We have little time left to create a practical path to achieving an 80% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050—with failure resulting in average global temperatures rising more than the internationally-agreed targeted ceiling of 2°C. After examining the obstacles confronting a potential developer of offshore wind, this article clearly lays out why and how the existing regulatory process should be quickly reformed so that offshore wind and other clean renewable energy sources can help us escape the escalating consequences of our carbon-intensive economic system.
Posted on December 14, 2012
Although the still-divided Congress is unlikely to pass significant new environmental legislation over the next four years, the second-term Obama administration has an opportunity to pursue its environmental agenda through the EPA with diminished fear of impacts on the next election.
The current term saw a period of strong leadership at EPA, but there is a feeling that the agency has not allowed the other regulatory shoe to drop. EPA stalled on several important regulations, as if anticipating the Romney complaint that excessive regulation was a cause of the recession. Having escaped the prospect of a president hostile to its mission, EPA is now prepared to roll out a queue of pending air pollution regulations in the coming weeks. The regulations will include final national ambient air quality standards, revised power plant emission standards, and expanded boiler emission rules.
Since the election, articles and opinion pieces have abounded that speculate on the Obama administration’s second-term approach to climate change. On November 12, 2012, the New York Times published an op-ed article suggesting that the administration could tackle both climate change and the recession by imposing a carbon tax. A similar suggestion was made in the New Yorker on December 12, 2012. This is undoubtedly a worthwhile concept, but it is probably a regulation too far.
The second Obama term could be an opportune time to revisit old chestnuts and resolve issues that have bedeviled both the regulated community and environmental advocates. For example, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers have been muddling through a proposed guidance document that aims to clarify the Supreme Court’s murky definition of “waters of the United States” subject to EPA jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. But why should EPA and the Corps issue mere guidance rather than promptly promulgate binding regulations, which are subject to judicial review? As a result of adopting binding standards the agencies could gain, in addition to regulatory certainty, a strong basis to resist efforts to make the federal government the national waterfront rezoning authority.
Another stalled national environmental initiative that would benefit from robust leadership in the Obama II administration is EPA’s effort to update its regulations for industrial cooling water intake structures. EPA proposed regulations, designed to protect aquatic organisms, have remained in draft form since March 2011; additional data has been collected and is being analyzed in the interim. Pending final federal regulations, states have been left to adopt varying approaches to this important issue.
Finally, this period of relative freedom from election concerns might allow the administration to address a significant example of environmental unfairness, CERCLA’s scheme of sticking certain liable parties with the “orphan share” of environmental remediation costs that arise from contamination, generated over the last two centuries of industrial development, for which no financially solvent responsible party can be identified. The orphan share is often laid at the doorstep of a financially solvent polluter that caused some, but not all, of the pollution at a Superfund site. Fairness dictates that the public fund the orphan share, as opposed to the party that is prepared to step forward and clean up its own portion of the mess. Perhaps such a policy might have a sobering effect on the members of the public who clamor for a return to pristine conditions, so long as they don’t have to pay for it.
Posted on December 14, 2012
All of us know that enforcement of the Clean Air Act’s (CAA) proscriptions against pollutant air emissions is premised on the concept of Acooperative federalism. We know that the CAA’s policy development and enforcement regime is based upon a division of state and federal regulatory responsibility. Stated simply, the concept is that the federal government, through the EPA, sets standards for permissible emissions of substances affecting ambient air quality while individual states retain responsibility for implementing programs to enforce these standards.
The States’ implementation mechanisms are aptly titled State Implementation Plans or SIPs. SIPs are employed to demonstrate that federal and state air pollution regulations will allow counties in a particular state to meet federally mandated ambient air quality standards (NAAQS). The SIP process approval results in pollution control requirements which govern and often times unduly complicate compliance efforts of state regulators. They can also increase compliance costs borne by the regulated community. One aspect of that conundrum is the fact that when States fail to meet deadlines for attaining these standards, the regulators themselves can face sanctions from EPA and even suits by the public. Litigation and its costs complicate matters further.
As some regulators in Pennsylvania recently observed . . . [T]he current aggressive schedules for NAAQS reviews, State Implementation Plan (SIP) development and promulgation of Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standards are significant problems. Taken together, these inefficiencies are a resource drain on EPA, the states, the regulated community and the economy as a whole. The messy situation described in this quote is the subject of this blog.
The turbulence inherent in this divided relationship has escalated in recent times fraying the long-standing statutory regulatory compact between the federal government and the States.
An instructive example of the conflict of enforcement concept and reality engendered by the CAA’s cooperative federalism scheme was clearly highlighted in the recent case WildEarth Guardians v. Jackson. This case dealt with EPA’s delays in approving SIPs or pollution control plans affecting discharges of fine particulate matter or PM2.5. The plaintiffs in Wild Earth alleged that EPA failed to take final action under section 110(k)(2) and (3) of the CAA to approve SIP submittals in twenty (20) states meeting applicable requirements respecting the 2006 PM2.5NAAQS.
In 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia had found that EPA’s PM2.5 NAAQS had to change because it failed to adequately protect human health. A change in this NAAQS required a change in States SIPs. SIPs were proposed but languished at EPA. Five years later, the plaintiffs in Wild Earth alleged that . . . [W]ithout infrastructure plans, citizens are not afforded full protection against the harmful effects of PM2.5 while seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.
Shortly after the suit was filed the plaintiffs and the EPA entered into a settlement. A consent decree called for the EPA to approve or disapprove SIP submittals for the 2006 PM2.5 standard as early as September 12, 2012 for some of the states involved and as late as February 13, 2013 for others. The Consent Decree was entered and the case dismissed in May of 2012. Case closed and compliance efforts back on track?
Unfortunately, many of the underlying issues raised in Wild Earth, specifically, the lack of cooperation between the States and the federal government on implementation of the PM2.5 NAAQS have raged on unabated. For example, eleven (11) states sued the EPA over the agency’s alleged failure to promulgate final NAAQS for PM2.5. In New York v. Jackson the plaintiffs are seeking a declaration that EPA is in violation of Section 109(d)(1) requesting that EPA review, propose and promulgate a new PM2.5 NAAQS. On June 14, 2012, EPA announced a proposal to strengthen the NAAQS PM2.5. Almost simultaneously, the D.C. Circuit issued an order refusing to set a schedule for EPA to issue a new PM2.5 NAAQS. Am.Farm Bureau v. EPA.
These developments will inevitably spawn additional delays in PM2.5 related SIP modifications and EPA approvals. That is the point of these comments on this small corner of CAA regulation and enforcement. Is the cooperative federalism underpinning of the CAA still workable? Can court’s recognize and respect the concept when regulatory policy, administrative lethargy and real human health concerns collide? These comments and observations have focused on the PM2.5 issue mainly because it has come up in some recent work in our office.
Without doubt other and more far-reaching examples of regulatory and judicial “turbulence abound, i.e., the raging fight over the EPA’s Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR). In a dissenting opinion on the CSAPR case, on the concept of cooperative federalism, Judge Rogers had this to say. . . [T] he result is an unsettling of the consistent precedent of this court strictly enforcing jurisdictional limits, a redesign of Congress’s vision of cooperative federalism between the states and the federal government in implementing the Clean Air Act based on the court’s own notions of absurdity and logic that are unsupported by a factual record, and a trampling on this court’s precedent on which the Environmental Protection Agency was entitled to rely . . . . Whew!
So what are CAA practitioners to make of the mess Judge Rogers eloquently describes? This blog entry offers no practical guidance for those laboring for an aggrieved client nor laments a bad result impairing enforcement prerogatives of the regulators. Instead, I only point out that it may be time for a concerted effort to step back and reconsider whether the CAA’s cooperative federalism’s bifurcation of rule promulgation and enforcement continues to make scientific, policy or common sense in today’s world.
Posted on December 12, 2012
The regulation of vapor intrusion is becoming more prevalent on both the federal and state level. In addition, although not strictly required as part of a Phase I ESA under ASTM 05 and AAI, many consultants take the position that this issue must be addressed at this first level of environmental due diligence.
One of the troubling issues at the state level is whether background concentrations should be taken into account in the establishment of indoor air quality standards. Many household products and building materials contain or release VOCs. However, not all states take background concentrations into account in the regulation of vapor intrusion.
EPA is expected to release its own vapor intrusion guidelines shortly. EPA appears to acknowledge the importance of background data in the process of formulating its guidelines. It remains to be seen whether such guidelines will impose stricter standards than those on the state level.
Posted on December 11, 2012
The song “Cool Water” was written and recorded in 1936 by Bob Nolan, an original member of the Sons of the Pioneers along with Len Slye, better known by his film name, Roy Rogers. “Cool Water” could be the theme song for Texas and other water-short western states. The Texas Water Development Board recently compiled “Water for Texas 2012 State Water Plan”. Quite simply, Texas does not have enough water to meet its current needs, much less its future needs, during periods of serious drought conditions. Texas is searching for cool, clear water.
Texas continues to grow. According to the Plan, the population of Texas is expected to increase 82 percent between 2010 and 2060, from 25.4 million to 46.3 million. Water needs are projected to increase by 22 percent, from 18 million acre-feet per year to 22 million acre feet per year in 2060. At the same time as water demand is rising, existing water supplies are diminishing by almost 2 million acre feet per year. Where will the additional water supplies be found to meet the identified needs?
The State Water Plan includes recommended water management strategies developed by regional planning groups, which include: conservation, drought management, conjunctive use of surface and groundwater, surface water reservoirs, aquifer storage, groundwater development, water reuse, desalination plants. In addition to addressing surface and groundwater water rights, water planners and users will need to confront the environmental implications of these strategies. What are the environmental regulatory constraints and impediments?
The implications and potential conflicts are far-reaching. We can all anticipate the obvious regulatory hurdles, contested procedures and property rights obstacles that projects to develop new surface reservoirs will confront. But what of other strategies like water conservation and reuse? Proposing water conservation (e.g. increased cooling water cycles) and reuse (e.g. use of treated municipal wastewater effluent) at a natural-gas fired power plant may threaten surface water quality as the total dissolved solids to be discharged are concentrated through these strategies. Also, what kinds of measures and alternatives under other environmental regulatory programs (e.g. Endangered Species Act) will need to be considered as these strategies are proposed?
The history of Texas is growth. To do nothing to meet its increasing water needs would result in staggering economic losses. Texas met the challenge after the drought of record in the 1950s. Texas will do it again! The question is: “how happy will the trails be?”
Posted on November 30, 2012
The following post is essentially a sequel to this morning’s post, which was originally intended to be posted in September.
Last week, EPA announced that it had reached yet one more – its 24th – settlement under as a result of its NSR enforcement initiative. This time, it was Louisiana Generating’s Big Cajun II plant, in New Roads, Louisiana. By now, the contours are familiar, including a penalty of $14 million and injunctive relief estimated to cost approximately $250 million. Changes will include:
- Installation of SNCR (not SCR) on all units to control NOx.
- Installation of dry sorbent injection as a short term SO2 reduction measure
- Retirement, refueling, repowering, or retrofitting of Unit 1 in the long-term
- Refueling of Unit 2 to natural gas
- Limitations on sulfur content
- Plant-wide limits on SO2 emissions
- Installation of electrostatic precipitators to control PM on units 1 and 3
It sure sounds great. EPA estimates reductions of 20,000 tpy in SO2 emissions and 3,000 tpy in NOx emissions. Still, I question the value of this settlement in the big picture. I sense some double-counting here. EPA is predicting significant reductions in emissions as a result of its industry-wide rules, including the transport rule (last known as CSAPR, but presumably awaiting a new acronym for its replacement) and the air toxics rule.
Add to that the cost pressures on coal resulting from the lower natural gas prices caused by the fracking boom, and it is quite possible that Louisiana Generating would have ended up in the same place even absent a settlement. Throw in concerns about whether individual units were in fact violating the rather ambiguous NSR provisions or were engaging in what they truly considered routine maintenance, and the obvious economic issues raised by trying to implement command and control regulations on a plant-by-plant basis pursuant to litigation, rather than through nationwide market-based caps, and I say again that, to me, the NSR program is still spinach, and I say, to heck with it.
Posted on November 30, 2012
This past September, in United States v. Louisiana Generating, EPA won a ruling regarding what type of projects fall within the routine maintenance, repair or replacement exception from the rule that facility modifications are subject to PSD/NSR requirements. The decision is thorough in that it carefully reviews the so-called “WEPCO Factors” – the nature, extent, purpose, frequency, and cost of the work, and applied them to the work at issue in this case, i.e., reheater replacements.
Notwithstanding the thoroughness of the court’s analysis, I don’t find it completely convincing. As the court acknowledged, while all of the WEPCO factors are relevant, the crux of the issue is whether, in order to qualify for the exception, maintenance work must be routine for the units at issue, or only routine in the industry. In other words, should the question be whether all similar generating units at some point in their life undergo reheater replacement, or whether each individual unit in question must undergo reheater replacement multiple times in order for such work to be considered routine.
Personally, I think that the former is probably the better interpretation. Of course, as the decision discussed, since the regulations are not crystal-clear, EPA has significant discretion in interpreting its own regulations, and EPA takes the position that maintenance work must be routine with respect to individual units to qualify for the exception. End of story, no? No. The problem is that EPA does not have discretion to change its interpretation whenever it feels like doing so. In 1992, EPA stated, in a preamble to NSR regulation revisions, that
EPA is today clarifying that the determination of whether the repair or replacement of a particular item of equipment is “routine” under the NSR regulations, while made on a case-by-case basis, must be based on the evaluation of whether that type of equipment has been repaired or replaced by sources within the relevant industrial category.
The court in Louisiana Generating acknowledged that this language favored Louisiana Generating’s position that one must look to whether a maintenance activity is routine in the industry, rather than routine with respect to the individual units in question. However, the court then did not discuss this issue in evaluating the WEPCO factors, and separately found that no reasonable jury could conclude that the project was routine.
I don’t think that this issue is going to be finally resolved at least until a number of appellate courts have had an opportunity to review it and I could imagine it ultimately making its way to the Supreme Court.
As I have previously noted, while I tend to side with the defendants in these cases, I think that the larger point is that these types of arguments are borderline silly. More than anything else, they illustrate that the entire NSR/PSD program is fundamentally flawed. Instead of such outdated technology-based regulation, power plant emissions should be regulated pursuant to trading programs that allow needed emissions reductions to be attained in the most cost-effective way possible. I still dream of a grand bargain which would lower emissions limits, utilize trading to attain them, and completely eliminate the NSR/PSD program. Where is the radical center in Congress when one needs it?
Posted on November 16, 2012
Massachusetts’ ambitious plan to address greenhouse gas emissions on a state-wide basis attracted private money last month to measure its success and costs. Boston-based Barr Foundation’s grant of $230,000 will establish a “performance management tool” to track and measure the success of initiatives undertaken under Massachusetts’ Global Warming Solutions Act (“GWSA”). Supporters expect it to “serve as a national and regional model that other states can adopt to analyze” their own greenhouse gas reduction efforts. The GWSA, enacted in 2008, requires extremely ambitious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions within Massachusetts in the coming decades: an 80% emissions reduction goal by 2050 and 10-25% by 2020 from a 1990 emissions baseline The act directed the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs to set the 2020 reductions and adopt a plan for achieving them.
The planning and regulatory documents issued since enactment recognize that the success of a single state’s effort to address the causes of climate change cannot be measured by the impact of its own reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in effecting changes in the global climate. The effect will simply be too small to measure. Instead, the state’s plan touts the beneficial effects of spurring economic development through the encouragement of green energy and other high tech businesses, the reduction of localized pollution, and the stabilization of energy prices. The success of the program in “bending the curve” of rising greenhouse gas emissions, however, rests entirely on its ability to serve as an example to other political entities – states mainly but, ultimately, geopolitical entities through broader global participation.
In December 2010, the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs released the Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2020 setting the reduction target at 25% below 1990 baseline. The Executive Summary summarizes reductions anticipated from existing and expected programs (table at page 6). Policies relating to Buildings (9.8% or more than one third of the 25% reduction), Electricity (7.7%) and Transportation (7.6%) account for the vast majority of the reductions. Within each sector, reductions are characterized as either “Existing Policy” (e.g., Federal and California vehicle efficiency and GHC standards – 2.6% reduction), “Expanded Policy” (e.g., advanced building energy codes – 1.6% reduction), or “New Policy” (e.g., Green DOT, the Massachusetts’ transportation agencies fulfillment of their sustainability commitment – 1.2% reduction). The Barr Foundation’s grant will help create the “dashboard” that presumably will take into account the likelihood of adoption of new programs or the expansion of existing ones and the ultimate efficacy of any of the programs, as it tracks the progress of the Massachusetts program.
Efforts to track the success of the Massachusetts program will build on the work done by MassINC, a Boston-based “independent think tank” that earlier this year released a book-length report titled “Rising to the Challenge/Assessing the Massachusetts Response to Climate Change.” This very thoughtful work looks specifically at Massachusetts’ progress to date and likely future success in emission reductions in various sectors; it provides useful capsule descriptions of other state’s programs and of regional and foreign initiatives. And it discusses the crucial issue of the economic costs and benefits of the program, as that will be a prime determinant of the program’s ability to be a role model for other jurisdictions.
The MassINC report recognizes that data on the subject of economic costs and benefits are subject to extremely complex and differing interpretations. The report notes there is general agreement in Massachusetts that “it is desirable to reduce greenhouse gases and develop clean energy [,] it is more difficult to reach consensus when the subject turns to the cost of addressing climate change ….” Id. at 75. Nonetheless, a convincing explanation of the specific costs and benefits of various courses of action is a necessary component of any successful program because the ultimate effectiveness of a state’s program rests on its attractiveness as a model for other jurisdictions – including those with different views of the appropriate tradeoffs between environmental protection and economic development.
Posted on November 16, 2012
Sunday’s New York Times had an op-ed piece by Cass Sunstein, recently departed head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, advocating for sensible measures to address global climate change. Sunstein’s argument is that
"Economists of diverse viewpoints concur that if the international community entered into a sensible agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the economic benefits would greatly outweigh the costs."
I don’t disagree with anything he says; I only wonder whether anyone is paying attention. On one hand, while Sunstein notes that President Obama supports cost-benefit analysis, Democrats in Congress – and many environmentalists – have long been skeptical, treating environmental questions as moral issues that should not be subject to something as crass as cost-benefit analysis.
Republicans used to support cost-benefit analysis. Indeed, Sunstein opens the op-ed with a discussion of the Reagan administration’s support of the Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting chemicals. However, for the past ten years or so, Republicans have abandoned cost-benefit analysis for something much simpler – cost analysis. Today, if regulations cost too much – whatever that means – then they are “job-killers” and thus bad, even if the benefits exceed costs, sometimes by several multiples.
Maybe four years at MIT brainwashed me into blind acceptance of quantitative analysis, but this stuff doesn’t seem that hard to me. It is profoundly depressing that a significant number of environmentalists look only to the benefits of environmental regulation, while a similar percentage of conservatives now only look at its costs.
Somehow, we’ve got to get the twain to meet.
Posted on October 29, 2012
The aim of this post is to encourage environmental lawyers to pay more attention to issues and developments in human health risk assessment.
Remedial clean ups under Superfund and RCRA are very largely driven by human health risk assessments carried out under EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) as applied to chemicals on the site. The health-protective regulations under the Clean Air Act also are typically the product of statutorily mandated human health risk assessments. Mass tort cases seeking medical monitoring and personal injury are often based on such assessments. Just as the cost of clean up and CAA compliance are driven by these assessments, so too are numerous corporate decisions on what chemicals to use in manufacturing and commercial activity.
Despite its centrality to so many important activities, IRIS is cordoned off from most of the legal system. It is not rooted in or governed by any statute. Its results are not reviewable except in the context of their application to a particular site – and if that site is governed by Superfund, review, as a practical matter, is available only at the end of the remedial process. Perhaps because of this structure and because human health risk assessments are an intensely scientific undertaking, the presence of lawyers is very little felt.
Nonetheless, environmental lawyers should be aware of some on-going efforts aimed at examining and reforming IRIS and similar systems.
First, the Administrative Conference of the United States commissioned Prof. Wendy Wagner of the University of Texas School of Law to undertake a study entitled “Science in the Administrative Process: A Study of Agency Decisionmaking Approaches.” Prof. Wagner details in 80 pages how the processes of EPA (including IRIS), the Fish and Wildlife Service (endangered and threatened species listing) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission use science in regulatory decision-making. These useful guides are followed by almost 40 pages of recommendations and suggestions of best practices on issues such as the role of OMB in reviewing proposed agency actions with a major scientific component and the right of staff scientists to dissent from agency actions. Not surprisingly, given Prof. Wagner’s professional background, most of the topics on which she focuses are readily accessible to lawyers.
On September 10, 2012, the Administrative Conference held a workshop open to the public on many of Prof. Wagner’s ideas and proposals. It did not appear to me that very many environmental lawyers were on the stage or in the audience, despite the fact that issues and reforms discussed were central to their professional lives.
Second, in 2009, the National Academies published “Science and Decisions: Advancing Risk Assessment.” The volume focuses on EPA and IRIS. It is a thorough review of the issues and challenges of risk assessment from scientists who are, from time to time, called on to review EPA’s handiwork. Although some of the advice is merely editorial – be succinct and to the point, one chart or figure can be worth a thousand words – the authors address many of the major scientific issues in risk assessment, e.g. the selection of default values given the known sensitivity of a lab animal to a chemical, the probable sensitivity of humans has to be “calculated” or how to treat cumulative risks where there is exposure to two or more chemicals.
EPA is now working on implementing many of the suggestions set out in “Science and Decisions.” In September, 2012, the comment period closed on the draft of EPA’s “Framework for Human Health Risk Assessment to Inform Decision Making.” This document responds in large part to “Science and Decisions,” addressing “the recommendation that EPA formalize and implement planning, scoping, and problem formulation in the risk assessment process and that the agency adopt a framework for risk-based decision making.” EPA is not done absorbing “Science and Decisions” and the National Research Council is not done with EPA. The Council will continue to review how EPA implements IRIS. There will be an emphasis on EPA’s weight-of-evidence analyses and recommended approaches for weighing scientific evidence for chemical hazard and dose-response assessments. See Review of the IRIS Process, National Academies Current Projects.
The ongoing initiatives will provide the structure and the process for human health risk assessments in the future. The work of environmental lawyers will be shaped by what the scientists decide. Environmental lawyers should be engaged in these debates and arguments now.
Posted on October 4, 2012
For four centuries Pennsylvania has been at the epicenter of America’s search for growth-sustaining fuel, but not without paying an environmental price. In the 18th century, Pennsylvania’s (literally “Penn’s Woods”) abundant forests supplied wood to fuel America’s expansive westward development. In denuding its forests, however, Pennsylvania experienced enhanced erosion and sedimentation and other environmental detriments.
In the 19th century, 1859 specifically, oil was discovered in Oil City. Pennsylvania (and America) turned its attention from wood to oil. Although primary oil production shifted eventually to the Gulf states, nevertheless, Pennsylvania, as an oil producer, enjoyed the benefits and suffered the environmental detriments created by laissez faire, unregulated drilling and transportation of petroleum.
By the 20th century, coal was king in Pennsylvania. The residual impacts from coal mining, especially strip mining, remain to this day in the form of scarred landscapes, acid mine drainage and air emissions, albeit the impacts are now monitored amid a focus on environmental enforcement efforts.
In the 21st century coal remains a force in energy production in Pennsylvania, but again nature has put the state in the national discussion over domestic fuel protection as it has become a national leader in developing the natural gas entrapped in the Marcellus Shale underlying large portions of southwest, north central and northeastern Pennsylvania. Natural gas extracted from the Marcellus Shale has become Pennsylvania’s (and increasingly, America’s) fuel of choice for the 21st century. Will the environmental legacy be different this time?
In February, 2012, Pennsylvania enacted The Oil and Gas Act Amendments of 2012, known as Act 13, in an attempt to adapt Pennsylvania’s longstanding Oil and Gas Act to issues unique to the technique used to fracture layers of shale and release natural gas, commonly known as “fracking.” The Amendments raise a number of new legal issues:
1. By offering shale gas fees to host municipalities who are willing to accept them, the Act preempts accepting municipalities from enacting zoning ordinances to regulate fracking. A recent Commonwealth Court decision held such preemption unconstitutional. An appeal by the State is pending before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Briefs have been filed and oral argument is scheduled for October 17 in Pittsburgh.
2. Despite mandatory setback distances from wells, required by the Amendments, instances of citizens claiming that or suing because their water supply was contaminated as a result of the recovery of shale gas, either through leakage, spillage, or other events will need to be resolved.
3. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection has differed with EPA and the Delaware River Basin Commission regarding how much authority these agencies should have to regulate operations associated with Marcellus Shale gas production.
4. In a victory for the shale gas industry, the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania invalidated a 2009 U.S. Forest Services Agreement with environmental groups that would have required the preparation of a NEPA environmental assessment prior to drilling in U.S. forests.
5. Some property owners who have leased their subsurface drilling rights for Marcellus Shale gas recovery have found themselves unable to refinance their mortgages. Although the property owners argue that their land has become more valuable because of the potential recovery of fees from the Marcellus Shale gas recovery, some banks have refused to refinance claiming that the fracking lowers the value of the property because of the potential of pollution and/or the location of drilling rigs and other heavy equipment on the property, thereby making foreclosure more difficult.
6. Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) is the collector under Act 13 of the “impact fees” from natural gas well operators – which have to date exceeded $200 million and will be distributed in large part to “accepting” host municipalities. In accordance with Act 13, the PUC has also begun issuing advisory opinions on the legality of local zoning ordinances. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision on the Commonwealth Court’s invalidation of the preemption issue could affect how the PUC approaches these matters going forward.
While the sources of fuel and the techniques for obtaining it have changed much over the centuries in Pennsylvania, fuel production from forests, coal mines, oil rigs and fracking wells share a common legacy, initially attracting often environmentally insensitive wild catters, raising issues of local control versus the need for statewide uniformity, and creating the risk of potentially permanent environmental impacts if state-of-the-art environmental protections are not implemented. In sum, notwithstanding changes in preferred fuel sources over the past four centuries, the issues, impacts and challenges remain similar; the need to balance energy production and environmental protection, or, as they say – “the more things change, the more they remain the same”. Rather than be resigned to repeating history, however, the Commonwealth should rise to the challenge and use its acquired knowledge to inform our discussion as to how to utilize its resources, including natural gas, to provide energy solutions going forward.
Posted on October 3, 2012
2012 marks the 50th anniversary of Silent Spring, one of the first books to point out the environmental dangers associated with pursuing technological and scientific advances without fully understanding their possible negative side effects. Silent Spring was a revolutionary environmental exposé published in 1962 by an unassuming author, Rachel Carson. Her book inspired a powerful social movement that continues to impact environmental law and American society today.
A scientist and ecologist, Carson was a former editor of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service publications and a feature writer for the Baltimore Sun who eventually dedicated herself to writing books that taught people about the fragile beauty of Earth’s ecosystem. Silent Spring was written in the wake of post-war lethargy, new affluence and during a time when Americans were confident science had all the answers. Disturbed by the proliferate use of synthetic chemical pesticides after WWII, Carson challenged this practice and sounded a loud warning about the use of chemical pesticides, a reminder of the responsibility of science and the limits of technological progress.
Critics called Carson an alarmist, and Silent Spring was met with intense rebuttals from the scientific establishment and some major industries. Regardless, Carson was steadfast in her resolve to show the need for new environmental policies and regulations necessary to protect human health and the environment.
Silent Spring is proof of the power of public opinion, and despite scientific skeptics, the book sparked a major environmental revolution. Carson’s exhaustive environmental calculations in Silent Spring brought to light the fact that people were subjecting themselves to slow poisoning by the misuse of chemical pesticides and toxic pollutants that take more than 15 years to break down. In addition, she exposed the fact that these chemicals could cause irreparable liver and nervous system damage, cancer and reproductive issues.
Carson’s testimony before Congress in 1963 later served as the catalyst for the ban on the domestic production of DDT and sparked a grassroots movement demanding better environmental protection and increased regulation, resulting in the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Sadly Carson was not able to enjoy the fruits of her labor. She died after a long battle with breast cancer in 1964, just 18 months after her testimony before Congress. However, many celebrate the impact of her work on April 22 each year on Earth Day.
So after 50 years, how much has changed? Today, there is federal regulation of everything from coastal development to farming practices. Environmental protection includes policies concerning natural resources, human health, economic growth, energy, transportation, agriculture, industry and international trade and all parts of society. Many would say there is over regulation today. In many cases, I agree. However as Rachel Carson showed us, there is a need for some regulation, if just to protect us from ourselves.
Posted on September 27, 2012
Depending on how you count, advocates have led over 25 state legislatures or regulators to consider or adopt bans on certain uses of Bisphenol A (BPA), the recently publicized monomer that is (or was) present as a residual at low levels in some plastic products. Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) accepted a petition from the American Chemistry Council banning use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups, because the use had been abandoned by manufacturers.
For many, FDA’s scientific review of BPA studies and thoughtful analysis on the merits of regulation was too slow, and to those who conclude “I don’t want exposure to any substances of concern” use-by-use regulation did not (and will never) provide comfort. What started as a concern in baby bottles and sippy cups, and was the subject of numerous state bans several years ago -- before the FDA acted this summer to acknowledge the abandonment of BPA in those bottle and sippy cups -- is more recently the subject of additional state proposals for bans from lids of food cans and containers. Some ask: “Can you please ban it from any product that may reach my children?”
Because it is difficult to get the federal machine to act quickly, why not seek an audience in your state capital? It is easier to file legislation in many states than in Congress, easier to get exercised citizens to the state capital, easier to involve local media looking for a controversy, and cheaper for citizens to play at the state level than in Washington. However, state toxicologists and regulators often don’t have the resources of the FDA, they are often not as well equipped (and certainly not as experienced) in making the necessary risk evaluations and product regulations. And putting environmental police in the grocery aisles seems to squander limited state environmental resources. As Maine DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho recently put it: “We’re environmental regulators. You’re asking us to be the FDA in some regards here.”
Even assuming states are equipped to address those issues, how can national manufacturers (or national or regional retailers) deal with state-by-state regulation of different products using the same materials? Not very well! And how are consumers to understand why chemicals in a product present acceptable risks in one state, but unacceptable risks in another? They don’t. Why is state-by-state regulation of chemicals in products in the national interest when FDA has jurisdiction? Maybe it isn’t.
Congressman Markey has petitioned the FDA for a federal ban on coatings in infant formula packages (arguing abandonment), and the federal agency has sought comment. But that petition was made after extensive state efforts against use in baby bottles and sippy cups. The FDA will consider the matter, so it may be some time before the FDA acts. In the interim, states are still being encouraged to adopt their own bans on certain uses of BPA.
FDA is even more broadly considering BPA safety and its uses under FDA jurisdiction, but in the meantime, keep your eye on your local legislature if you want to watch a messy process that is frustrating for everyone.
Posted on September 18, 2012
By Pam Giblin and Amber MacIver, Baker Botts L.L.P.
The regulatory landscape for the offshore oil and gas industry has been subject to rapid change in the two years following the Macondo Incident in the Gulf of Mexico.1 Two primary themes have emerged in the new and revised regulations: (1) increased agency oversight, and (2) requirements for third party certification. The regulations are relatively recent, but operators can expect to feel the impacts over the next year.
Increase Agency Involvement
The Mineral Management Service (MMS) oversaw many of the revenue collection, leasing, permitting and enforcement functions for the offshore industry prior to the Macondo Incident. Following that event, the MMS was restructured into separate agencies in part to enable increased agency involvement and oversight.2 The three new agencies are:
(i) the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which has the leasing functions;
(ii) the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), which has responsibilities for permitting and enforcement; and
(iii) the Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR), which has revenue collection.
The new agencies, and in particular BSEE and ONRR, have demonstrated a trend of increased agency involvement. With respect to the ONRR, in just the past year, it has issued penalties that represent an increase in excess of three times the previous yearly average under MMS.3 This increased enforcement is a trend we expect to continue.
BSEE’s increased oversight is seen in the numerous regulations it has issued in the past two years. Many of those new rules require additional agency intervention in offshore oil and gas operations. For example, Section 250.456(j) of the Drilling Safety Rule requires that before an operator may switch from heavy to light drilling fluid, the operator must receive approval from BSEE. The Workplace Safety on Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS) rule requires operators to submit their self-audit plans to BSEE for review, BSEE may make changes to the plan, and it has the option to participate in the audit.4 In addition to formal changes in the regulations, both the former director of BSEE and the current director have indicated a potential shift in enforcement policy that would add contractors to the scope of BSEE’s enforcement actions, contrary to former MMS policy, further expanding the agency’s oversight of the industry. We have not seen an example of this yet, but would expect that contractors could see enforcement in the near future.
These changes, among others, illustrate a trend of increased agency oversight of the offshore oil and gas industry. It is a trend we expect to see continue at least during the next year.
Third Party Certification
BSEE has issued new regulations and amended others, adding dozens of new rules and requirements for offshore oil and gas operations. The trend that runs through many of these changes is a requirement for certification by a third party. For example, the Drilling Safety Rule requires that operators have a professional engineer independently certify that the casing and cementing program is appropriate for the purpose for which it is intended under expected wellbore pressure.5 Although the current SEMS rule allows for self-audits to be conducted either by designated qualified personnel (DQP) or third party auditors, the proposed SEMS II rule would eliminate the option to use DQP, requiring all self-audits to be performed by independent third party auditors.6
The likely outcome of the changes that result from these two overarching themes, increased agency involvement and third party certification, is additional enforcement and red tape. Operators may face difficulty in scheduling operations when they have to rely on outside parties to certify their work or agency approval to make changes. Enforcement actions are likely to increase as agency oversight increases. Operations that have not been subject to scrutiny in the past are likely to face additional hurdles and possibly enforcement under the new regulations. Offshore oil and gas operators need to closely follow the evolving regulatory scheme to stay in compliance with the rules and avoid costly enforcement actions.
1The “Macondo Incident” refers to the April 20, 2010 explosion from the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, in the Macondo prospect, Mississippi Canyon Block 252.
2See DOI Secretarial Order No. 3299 (May 19, 2010) (issued in May 2010 and gave the Assistant Secretary- Land and Minerals Management and the Assistant Secretary -- Policy, Management and Budget 30 days to develop a schedule to implement the Order).
3See, e.g. ONRR Press Release, April 30, 2012, http://www.onrr.gov/about/pdfdocs/20120430.pdf, last visited July 9, 2012 ($1.9 million civil penalty against Cabot alleging inaccurate records); ONRR Press Release, March 29, 2012, http://www.onrr.gov/about/pdfdocs/20120329.pdf, last visited July 9, 2012 ($1.7 million civil penalty against Merrion for late royalty payments); ONRR Press Release, July 11, 2012, http://www.onrr.gov/about/pdfdocs/20120711.pdf, last visited August 30, 2012 ($1.2 million civil penalty against QEP resources for maintenance of inaccurate reports).
430 C.F.R. § 250.1920(b).
530 C.F.R. §§ 250.418(h), 250.420(a)(6).
676 Fed. Reg. 56683 (Sept. 14, 2011).
Posted on September 13, 2012
One company may own a variety of “functionally related” facilities that are located on various contiguous and non-contiguous parcels of land, spread out over many square miles. May all those “functionally related” facilities be considered “adjacent” and thus deemed to be one single major stationary source for Clean Air Act Title V permitting purposes?
A Court of Appeals recently weighed in on this issue. On August 7, 2012, the Sixth Circuit vacated EPA’s determination that Summit Petroleum Corporation’s natural gas sweetening plant and gas production wells located in a 43-square mile area near the plant were “adjacent” and thus could be aggregated to determine whether they are a single major stationary source for Title V permit purposes. Summit Petroleum Corp. v. EPA, 2012 WL 3181429 (6th Cir., Aug. 7, 2012). The majority held that EPA’s position that “functionally related” facilities can be considered adjacent is contrary to the plain meaning of the term “adjacent,” which implies a physical and geographical relationship rather than a functional relationship. The court also found EPA’s interpretation to be inconsistent with the regulatory history of Title V and prior EPA guidance. The case was remanded to EPA for a reassessment with the instruction that Summit’s activities can be aggregated “only if they are located on physically contiguous or adjacent properties.”
Posted on September 6, 2012
Federal and state regulators have, over the years, frequently received complaints about odor. Because the problem is a common one -- and because the origins of environmental law lie, in part, in the common law of public nuisance -- one might think we would have developed a consistent, practical way of regulating odor. We haven’t. No federal laws address odor, and the various state laws and rules addressing odor are a hodge-podge of not fully-considered ideas.
This is likely due in part to the subjective nature of odor: one person’s stench may be another person’s sweet smell of success. More importantly, though, there is no commonly accepted way of quantifying or measuring odor. If you cannot define something precisely and cannot agree on how to measure it, it necessarily follows that you will have a hard time regulating it. There have been attempts to use odor measurement technologies including the scentometer or field olfactometer, but they ultimately rely on subjective human olfactory assessment. While some states allow them as a guide, it does not appear that any statutory or regulatory scheme has adopted their use, and in fact, some states legislatures have adopted resolutions prohibiting their agencies from using such technologies for enforcement purposes.
So what is a regulator to do? Consider the efforts made by one state, my beloved Commonwealth. Virginia has tried to cram the square peg of odor into the round hole of the Best Available Control Technology (“BACT”) requirement of the Clean Air Act’s prevention of significant deterioration of air quality (“PSD”) preconstruction permitting program. Applying the BACT process to odor may have sounded like a good idea back in the day when the PSD rules were first adopted and BACT was a sexy new acronym, but implementation of the BACT approach for odor has not been easy.
At the outset, there is the difficulty that the BACT process applies only to things that are “pollutants” under the Clean Air Act. Not everything that regulators want to regulate under the Clean Air Act, however, is considered a “pollutant” under the Act. (If you doubt this, recall that it took many years of agency action and litigation and decisions by the United States Courts of Appeals and the Supreme Court before it was generally accepted that carbon dioxide is a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.) And so it is with odor, which is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “a quality of something that stimulates the olfactory nerves or the stimulation itself. In short, odor is definitely not a “typical” Clean Air Act pollutant. (Interestingly, certain substances that are pollutants, also carry the name “aromatic” if they also happen to be organic compounds with a cyclical structure, but I digress.)
Even if one can accept that “odor” is a “pollutant,” though, can the BACT process be applied to it? Not really. ”Best available control technology” means “an emission limitation based on the maximum degree of reduction of [a pollutant . . .] which the permitting authority . . . , taking into account energy, environmental, and economic impacts and other costs, determines is achievable . . . .” Clean Air Act § 169(3). And typically BACT is determined through a top-down approach, i.e., one starts with the most stringent emission limitation theoretically achievable and then moves down from there only if the various costs of that approach are too high. How can such an approach work for odor, though, when we do not have a unit measure for odor, much less a quantitative scale for objectionable scent. Without such a measure or scale, it is effectively impossible to evaluate whether the environmental, economic or energy costs of reducing odor are reasonable or cost-effective.
So, if my beloved Commonwealth doesn’t now have the answer, let me cast my net more broadly and ask if anyone knows of a good practical scheme for regulating odor.
Posted on August 20, 2012
Co-Authored by: Beth A. Coombs, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP
California’s recently approved regulations establishing a Cap-and-Trade Program for the reduction of greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions are already under attack in California court. In March 2012, two citizen groups filed a petition challenging the California Air Resources Board’s (“CARB’s”) regulations that allow entities to quantify GHG emission reductions and take credit for those reductions while, at the same time, making such reductions available to other GHG emitters to purchase as an “offset” to their own greenhouse gas emissions. The case, Citizens Climate Lobby and Our Children’s Earth Foundation v. California Air Resources Board, Case No. CGC-12-519554, filed in San Francisco County Superior Court, represents the first major legal challenge to California’s landmark Cap-and-Trade Program.
The Cap-and-Trade program is part of the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which the California legislature adopted in 2006 under Assembly Bill 32. The bill required statewide GHG emissions to be reduced to their prior 1990 levels by 2020. Cal. Health & Saf. Code § 38550. As part of its overall statutory scheme, AB 32 vested the CARB with the discretion to decide whether to adopt regulations employing “market based compliance mechanisms.” Health & Safety Code §38570. Exercising that discretion, CARB, through a multi-year process involving extensive public comment, promulgated regulations establishing offset credits through protocols specific to certain industries or business operations. It is these offset protocols that are now under attack.
Petitioners claim that the protocols adopted by the CARB allow GHG emission reductions that are not “additional.” This, they say, violates AB 32’s mandate that offsets must be “in addition to any greenhouse gas emission reduction otherwise required by law or regulation, and any other greenhouse gas emission reduction that otherwise would occur.” Cal. Health & Saf. Code § 38562(d)(emphasis supplied). However, Petitioners’ interpretation of “additionality” is inappropriately and prohibitively narrow. For example, under Petitioners’ view of AB 32’s requirements, the offset protocol for the use of anaerobic digesters that reduce GHG emissions (primarily methane) by treating manure at dairies and hog farms allows in “non-additional” projects because some farms within the United States already use digesters—despite the fact that (1) farms currently using digesters would not be credited under the program, (2) the use of digesters on farms is still rare, and (3) most digesters currently in use were installed under grants for increasing energy efficiency. As another example, Petitioners argue that the offset protocol for the destruction of ozone depleting substances (“ODS”) allows crediting for projects that otherwise would occur because while less than 1.5% of recoverable U.S. sourced ODS is currently being destroyed, there are still ‘business reasons” aside from offset incentives for destroying ODS. And they point to the General Electric Company as an example of a company that gains “goodwill” with the consumer public by voluntarily destroying ODS.
This prohibitively narrow view of AB 32’s offset requirements for “additionality” effectively nullifies the California legislature’s grant of regulatory authority to CARB to create an offset program, because no such program could comply with the strictures laid out by Petitioners. Indeed, it is Petitioners’ philosophical disagreement with the legislature’s decision to allow an offset program that underlies this litigation. Two members of one of the groups challenging the offsets long ago advised CARB that, “[i]t is critically important for ARB to resist the temptation to make offsets part of California’s cap-and-trade program.” Laurie Williams & Allan Zabel, Comment on Proposed GHG Offset Protocols, 9, Dec. 13, 2010, Comment 521 for California Cap-and-Trade Program. But this fundamental disagreement about whether offsets should be part of a government greenhouse gas reduction program is necessarily a policy decision – not one that should be decided by the courts – and the legislature clearly gave CARB the discretion to adopt the protocols.
The legal problem with Petitioners’ attack is that they sidestep the critical definition of “additional” that CARB adopted as part of the same regulatory package that contains the offset protocols. That definition provides that:
"in the context of offset credits, [GHG] emission reductions or removals that exceed any [GHG] reduction or removals otherwise required by law, regulation or legally binding mandate, and that exceed any [GHG] reductions or removals that would otherwise occur in a conservative business-as-usual scenario.” Cal. Code of Regs. tit. 17, Section 95802(a)(3).
The four protocols challenged by the litigation – livestock (digestors), ozone depleting substances, forests and urban forests – were all developed through a lengthy and thorough public process involving stakeholders from all perspectives on the political spectrum. In each case, data and research were devoted to determining what “business as usual” meant with respect to GHG emissions reductions. And where there were clear additional steps that very few, or almost none, of the industry was taking regarding GHG emissions reductions, then protocols were developed to recognize such steps as potentially qualifying for offsets. There seems little doubt that the protocols easily meet the CARB definition of “additional” and that may be why Petitioners chose to avoid a challenge of the regulatory definition, and instead simply to claim that the protocols violate the statute. But their failure to challenge the definition in the same regulatory package seems like a transparent attempt to avoid the more lenient “arbitrary and capricious” standard of review for the adoption of most regulatory programs in California, and to try for the more rigorous “de novo” standard of review.
All of these issues are laid out in the briefs that have been filed by Petitioners, CARB, and the interveners which include the Climate Action Registry (the original developer of the protocols), a business interveners group which includes many of the large utilities (Southern California Edison, for example, is a member), and the Environmental Defense Fund. The Nature Conservancy has also submitted an amicus brief. It is certainly telling that a coalition of major utilities, the Environmental Defense Fund, and The Nature Conservancy have all lined up to take the same position of defending CARB’s adoption of the four offset protocols.
The Court has scheduled November 6, 2012 as the date to hear the matter.
Posted on August 14, 2012
On Friday, in Texas v. EPA, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated EPA’s decision rejecting Texas’s SIP revisions that would have implemented (and did implement, for 16 years) a Flexible Permit Program for minor NSR sources. While genuflecting at the altar of deference to agency decisionmaking, the Court concluded that EPA’s rejection was not based on either EPA factual determinations or on its interpretation of federal, as opposed to state, law. The Court also concluded that EPA had not in fact relied on the reasons given in its briefs, and refused to defer to EPA’s “post hoc rationalizations.” The Court thus gave essentially no deference to EPA’s decision.
The interesting part of the decision was the dissent by Judge Patrick Higginbotham, a Reagan appointee. Judge Higginbotham took the majority to task for “not faithfully applying the deferential arbitrary and capricious standard.” He then persuasively demonstrated why the Texas program, as written, did violate the Clean Air Act.
After dismantling the majority’s logic, he then addressed the practical heart of the case – EPA’s 16-year delay in rejecting the SIP revisions. While criticizing EPA for the delay, Judge Higginbotham pointed out that there is a statutory remedy for EPA’s failure to rule on the revisions – a suit under section 7604(a)(2) of the CAA – a remedy never pursued by Texas.
What’s important about this case is that is an excellent example of why judicial restraint is so often “more honor’d in the breach than the observance.” (It’s been a while since I’ve quoted Shakespeare.) When a federal agency unwinds state policy after a sixteen-year delay, it’s very tempting for courts to engage in judicial activism, if that’s what it takes to go upside the agency’s head. The harder course, requiring more discipline, is to remain true the ideal of judicial restraint – that a court is not to substitute its judgment for an agency acting pursuant to an act of Congress. Therefore, Judge Higginbotham’s conclusion seemed worth note:
"As so often with political debate in search of a legal forum, its utility lies largely in pleasure of expression. Angst over perceived federal intrusion into state affairs ought be eased by the reality that laws enacted by Congress are laws of the States. Congress passed the Clean Air Act and made it enforceable by the EPA. The State was represented in that decision by two senators and its thirty-two other elected members of Congress. It also bears mentioning that its former governor was resident in the White House for eight of the years in passage here. The Clean Air Act is not foreign law. I dissent."
Posted on August 3, 2012
In February 2010, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued interpretive guidance that clarified corporate disclosure obligations regarding climate change-related risks and opportunities. While the guidance didn’t create any new legal requirements, it indicated that climate-related issues can have a material impact on companies that requires appropriate disclosure. It also offered examples of the ways in which companies may be impacted, including from regulations, international accords, litigation, and physical impacts from water quality and quantity issues.
A recent Ceres report, “Physical Risks from Climate Change: A Guide for Companies and Investors in Disclosure and Management of Climate Impacts,” released in May 2012, highlights the economic impacts of extreme weather events on companies and their supply chains in seven key sectors.
More than two years after the release of this guidance, what is the state of corporate disclosure on climate change issues? Two recent reports by Ceres examined climate-related disclosure in multiple sectors.
“Clearing the Waters: A Review of Corporate Water Risk Disclosure in SEC Filings,” released June 18, 2012, examined corporate disclosure on a key climate-related issue—water risks—to see what impact the interpretive guidance had on disclosure practices. The report analyzes changes in water risk disclosure by more than 80 companies in eight water-intensive sectors: beverages, chemicals, electric power, food, homebuilding, mining, oil and gas, and semiconductors. It found that significantly more companies are disclosing exposure to water risk in 2011 compared to 2009, with a focus on physical risk. For example, 87 percent of companies surveyed now report physical risk exposure versus 76 percent in 2009, with the biggest increases coming from the oil and gas sector. There was also a meaningful increase in the number of companies connecting water issues to climate change as part of a long-term trend.
The report recommends, however, that companies make further efforts to include quantitative data and performance targets in financial filings to clarify how they are actually responding to these water-related risks. Without this level of specificity, as well as more information on water management systems, it remains difficult for investors to incorporate these factors into their decision-making.
Another new Ceres report, “Sustainable Extraction? An Analysis of SEC Disclosure by Major Oil & Gas Companies on Climate Risk and Deepwater Drilling Risk,” released August 2, 2012, examines climate change disclosure in one carbon-intensive industry: oil and gas. The report examined the financial filings that ten of the world’s largest oil and gas companies filed in 2011, a year after the interpretive guidance was issued. While six of the ten companies provided fair disclosure on efforts to manage their own greenhouse gas emissions, the disclosures reviewed in the report were generally disappointing. Particularly on regulatory risks—both direct and indirect—the level of specificity, comprehensiveness, and quality of analysis varied widely across the ten companies’ filings, showing a clear need for further attention and due diligence on material climate risks.
Climate change is a complicated issue for companies to address in their financial filings, particularly with emerging and shifting regulatory regimes and the complexity of modeling the physical impacts of a changing climate. Good climate disclosure that meets the requirements of the SEC guidance and is useful to investors requires the collaboration of a company’s senior legal, environmental, financial and operational managers and advisors. The above-referenced Ceres reports provide a window into the current state of climate-related disclosure and offer recommendations for companies to improve how they address their climate-related risks.
Posted on July 18, 2012
Yesterday, in American Petroleum Institute v. EPA, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed EPA’s revisions to the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for NOx. The revisions adopted, for the first time, an hourly NAAQS for NOx, in addition to the annual standard.
API made a number of assertions that EPA had been arbitrary and capricious in its review of the scientific evidence concerning potential short-term impacts. The most important were EPA’s reliance, in part, on a study which had not been the subject of peer review, and EPA's alleged failure to consider a study suggesting that short-term impacts had not been demonstrated.
The Court rejected both complaints. With respect to the first, API asserted that EPA violated its own requirements when it relied on an internal analysis that had not been peer-reviewed. The Court’s response was short, but certainly not sweet:
Perhaps the API should have had its brief peer-reviewed. In quoting the EPA’s Review Plan, the API omits the first and most relevant word of the following sentence: “Generally, only information that has undergone scientific peer review … will be considered.” Of course, “generally” here indicates the practice in question will not invariably be followed. A bad start for the petitioners.
To which I can only say, ouch. Significantly, the Court noted that EPA did have its internal analysis reviewed by the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, and it stated that review by CASAC qualifies as peer review.
Regarding the second claim, the Court concluded that EPA had considered the skeptical study. Moreover, EPA gave reasons why it rejected the conclusions of the study. This was enough for the Court.
I have previously pointed out that the Court’s review of EPA’s NAAQS in recent years has pretty much made the CASAC the final arbiter of the validity of EPA NAAQS promulgations. If EPA’s decision is supported by CASAC’s review – as it was here – EPA’s NAAQS will be affirmed. If, on the other hand, as was the case with EPA’s PM2.5 NAAQS, EPA promulgates an NAAQS that ignores CASAC advice, EPA’s standard is not likely to survive judicial review.
Yesterday’s decision only confirms this analysis. CASAC did not merely review the one paper that API had challenged; it proposed a short-term standard that was similar to and certainly consistent with the standard that EPA ultimately adopted. I’m not sure that Congress meant to delegate to CASAC the determination whether NAAQS adopted by EPA are arbitrary and capricious, but I think that that is where we are today.
To which API can only say, ouch.
Posted on July 10, 2012
"And I wonder, still I wonder, who'll stop the rain."
Creedence Clearwater Revival
As environmental issues go, stormwater regulation is not a high priority for many environmental practitioners. Maybe it should be, because EPA seems to be obsessed by it. In the last year, among other things, EPA has:
• Issued a new construction general permit to regulate stormwater discharges (and got involved in litigation that forced it to withdraw the regulations regarding a numeric effluent limit);
• Developed a template designed to help builders write their stormwater control plans;
• Filed a Notice of Intent to revise the stormwater regulations to exempt discharges from logging roads; and
• Created an action plan to address stormwater runoff in the Chesapeake Bay watershed (over some objection).
On the litigation front, cases involving stormwater compliance have been popular. Of the five environmental cases from the Ninth Circuit that sought (and have been granted) review by the U.S. Supreme Court for the next term, three of them relate to stormwater regulation.
For residential and commercial developers, stormwater regulations have been expensive to address, but 20 years of practice have allowed many of them to adapt to the existing requirements. EPA's attempt to introduce numeric effluent limits in the new permit caused a few moments of panic until EPA was forced to withdraw them.
However, a change was made in the permit that has gone unnoticed and has the potential to impact the cost of construction. The new requirements for stormwater discharges at construction sites can be found at 40 C.F.R. Part 450. At Section 450.21, there are requirements relating to “effluent limitations reflecting the best available practicable technology available.” Buried in this section is a fairly innocuous provision that simply requires the developer and builder to, “unless infeasible, preserve topsoil.”
The reason to preserve topsoil at construction sites is two-fold. First, it has more organic material than denser soils so it allows faster growth of vegetation which, in turn, works to slow down the runoff of stormwater from a site. Second, it acts like a sponge to soak up the rain before it is allowed to run into a gully or ditch and, eventually, to a stream or river. For development of a construction site, however, topsoil has a serious drawback – it's in the way. Topsoil does not provide a solid enough base for roads or buildings and, therefore, the developer frequently finds it necessary to scrape the property of all topsoil before installing any streets, driveways or permanent structures.
While I cannot speak to the rest of the country, in the Midwest, this typically means that the topsoil is removed and is often not replaced, but is used for berms around the site. Respreading it is too costly and would usually affect the final grade of the development. Rather, when it comes time to put vegetative cover on the open areas, sod (with its own layer of topsoil) is used. The new permit requirement will change that practice. The definitional problem that will need to be addressed by every state is the meaning of "preserve" as used in the permit.
Perhaps the term means that areas of a development that are not going to have a structure or street should not have the topsoil removed. As a practical matter, that would be impossible. Virtually every development site of any size requires grading to even the slopes and to account for drainage. The term might mean that whatever topsoil was in existence prior to the disturbance of the site, would need to be returned to the site. As a practical matter, this would be difficult to do. Some areas of a site might have a few inches of topsoil, while other areas might have several feet. Grading in anticipation of replacing the topsoil with what was preexisting would, at least arguably, be infeasible.
As the NPDES Permit for each state comes up for renewal, the issue of how to comply with this requirement will need to be addressed. The permits could simply incorporate the language into the terms of the revised permit, but this would provide virtually no guidance to developers or, more importantly, to the MS4 cities that will be called upon to enforce the requirement.
In Iowa, the General Permit for Construction Sites will need to be updated on October 1, 2012. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has spent considerable time pondering this problem and has come up with a solution. The IDNR has decided to create, in essence, a safe harbor for compliance. The proposed rule provides that disturbed areas that will not have streets, driveways or structures located on them will require a minimum of four inches of topsoil (which can include the topsoil found in the sod). This amount of topsoil fits well with other building requirements and is a significant sponge for purposes of soaking up rainwater. There is an exception to the four inch requirement for those sites which did not have four inches of topsoil prior to disturbance. If a developer believes that the site has less than four inches of topsoil, he/she can complete a soil survey prior to disturbing any soils and, if the topsoil is less than four inches at any given location, the developer is only required to return that amount of topsoil at the conclusion of the development.
The Iowa solution is far from ideal. While it has the advantage of providing certainty, it does so at what may be a very steep cost. Estimates have not yet been made on the additional cost of returning topsoil to each lot, but there will certainly be added expenses that will add to home ownership costs at a time that the industry needs to be finding ways to reduce costs. On the other hand, it is preferable to an undefined requirement that a developer “preserve topsoil unless infeasible,” which simply invites litigation.
Over the course of the next twenty-four to thirty-six months, virtually every state will need to address this issue. If EPA chooses to make stormwater compliance a priority, and there is every indication that it will, the new permits will result in a significant change in the way developments are built and priced. Adding these costs to help reduce what amounts to less than 1% of the surface water contamination problem is questionable, but it's here. Since we're not going to stop the rain, or the EPA, I would suggest that we need to help our state regulatory agencies come up with a reasonable, and workable, solution.