Federal and State Developments

President Elect Trump has vowed to unwind regulations which he believes are dramatically constraining economic growth.  The Obama Administration’s environmental regulations are specifically being targeted, including:  the Clean Power Plan, the Waters of the U.S. Rule and ozone regulations. His transition web-page even touts that for every one new regulation enacted his Administration will remove two old regulations.  

Billionaire investor Carl Ichan was given the position of Special Adviser on Regulatory Issues.  As reported on CNBC, Mr. Ichan said this about government regulation when his new position was announced:

"Under President Obama, America’s business owners have been crippled by over $1 trillion in new regulations….It’s time to break free of excessive regulation and let our entrepreneurs do what they do best: create jobs and support communities."

But just how quickly can the Trump Administration unwind environmental regulations?  What tools does the Administration have at its disposal to reduce or eliminate environmental regulation?

Federal Rulemaking Process

The rulemaking procedures for federal agencies, including U.S. EPA, are governed by the Administrative Procedures Act (APA).  While the APA imposes a formal process for adoption of new rules that naturally slows the pace of federal rulemaking, it also imposes restrictions on the ability to either remove existing regulations as well as stop regulations once they are in process.

The APA (5 U.S.C. Section 553) requires a four step rulemaking process:

  1. Issue a notice of proposed rulemaking;
  2. Receiving comments on the proposed rule;
  3. Issue a final rule; and
  4. Setting an effective date at least 30 days after publication of the final rule n the Federal Register.

Once a rule has completed this four step process, it becomes much more difficult to remove or prevent the rule from going into effect.  Below are some of the administrative, legislative and legal strategies the Trump Administration may employ to reduce and/or eliminate environmental regulation.

Executive Order to Stop Regulations in Process

On the first day of office, President Trump can have a memorandum issued directing all federal agencies, including the U.S. EPA, to freeze current rule making efforts.  Similar memorandums were issued on the first day by Bush and the Obama Administrations.  But the APA has limits on the authority to derail current rulemaking efforts.

A similar memorandum was issued on January 20, 2001, by Andrew Card, President Bush’s Chief of Staff.  See, 66 Fed. Reg. 7702 (Jan. 24, 2001) The memo directed executive agencies to withdraw rules not yet published and to postpone the effective dates of public regulations. However, prior Court precedent forced agencies to go through proper APA procedures prior to withdrawing or delaying rules. 

In Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. v. EPA, 683 F.3d 752 (3d Cir. 1982) the Court specifically addressed whether indefinite postponement of an EPA rule would violate the APA.  At issue was an EPA rule that had completed the four-step APA process with an effective date.  An Executive Order was issued to suspend the effective date of certain rules to reconsider the costs and benefits of the new rule.  The Court held that such a postponement was tantamount to rulemaking itself and the four step APA process would need to be completed to delay the effective date of the rule.

A GAO study showed that the Card memorandum resulted in the delay of the effective date of 90 rules and 15 rules still had not gone effective after one year from the date of issuance of the memorandum.  See, U.S. General Accounting Office, GAO-02-370R, Feb. 15, 2002.

While the Trump Administration can delay rules in process, past precedent shows that executive authority to stop a rule in process is does have constraints.

Slow the Pace of New EPA Regulations

The Trump Administration can also direct U.S. EPA to be cautious in adopting any new regulations. Certainly the new Administration can reduce the number of newly adopted regulations.  A similar action was taken by President Reagan through his Executive Order 12291.  The Order enacted on February 17, 1981, required all agencies perform a "Regulatory Impact Analysis" to determine if the "potential benefits to society for the regulation outweigh the potential costs to society" and the rule with the "least net cost to society" shall be enacted.

President Reagan order did reduce the number of new regulations adopted during his Presidency. However, such an Executive Order cannot prevent all new rulemaking, in particular with regard to U.S. EPA that is statutorily required to adopt certain regulations.

In fact, environmental groups often sue U.S. EPA to force adoption of new regulations.  Such suits were common during the Bush Administration.  Environmental statutes, such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, contain citizen suit provisions that authorize third parties to compel an agency to perform a mandatory act under those statutes.  See, Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. Section 7604(a)(2) and Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. Section 1365(a)(2).

However, litigation takes time.  Even if Courts agree and order the U.S. EPA to adopt statutorily mandated regulations, the Trump Administration will have the power to slow pace of newly adopted EPA regulations.

Legislative Options

The Congressional Review Act (CRA- 5 U.S.C. Section 801-808) requires federal agencies to submit rules to Congress for review.  Under the CRA, Congress has the ability to revoke rules through a special joint resolution during the 60 day period following the rules submission to Congress.

While the CRA could be used to revoke rules enacted at the end of the Obama Administration, the process to adopt a special joint resolution is required for each rule to be rescinded.  Therefore, the process is time consuming.  

As discussed in Forbes, another option is to pass legislation such as the RED Tap Act (S. 1944), which would require elimination of one rule for every new rule enacted.  

Current Litigation Involving Obama Administration EPA Rules

Challenges to two of the Obama Administration’s signature environmental rules- the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of U.S..- are still pending in the Courts.  The Trump Administration could simply not put on a strong defense to rules currently being challenged.  If the Court invalidates a rule, then the Trump Administration could simply choose not to enact the rule.

Authority to Repeal Existing EPA Regulations

While the ability to delay or revoke rules in process is important, what authority does the Administration have to revoke rules that are currently in place.  Previous Administrations have learned, typically through the courts, that Presidential powers to revoke existing rules is limited.  An existing regulation can only be amended or repealed if the four step APA rulemaking process is followed.  Furthermore, the APA requires the Administration to not act "arbitrary" or "capricious" in revoking or amending a rule.  In other words, the Agency must justify its change in position.  See, FCC V. Fox Television Stations, Inc., 556 U.S. 502 (2009).

A good example of the limits on the ability to revoke prior enacted rules is the Tongass National forest exemption to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s "Roadless Rule" which limited road construction and timber harvesting in national forests.  The Roadless Rule was promulgated under President Clinton.  President Bush created an exemption to the rule that was challenged in Court as arbitrary and capricious under the APA.  After years’ of litigation, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal overturned the exemption stating the Agency provided insufficient justification for its change in policy.  See, Organized Village of Kake v. USDA, 795 F.3d 956 (9th Cir. 2015)

Conclusion

Clearly, the Trump Administration can slow down the regulatory rulemaking process.  It can also choose not to defend rules currently being challenged in the Courts.  However, under the APA, the Administration cannot simply revoke existing rules without sufficient technical and legal justification.  

There is a lot of hyperbole regarding President-Elect Trump’s potential environmental agenda. During the campaign there was also a lot made about issues of employment and opportunity in the "Rust Belt" (a term I personally do no like).  Here are two suggestions of how the incoming Trump Administration could bring greater opportunity to the Rust Belt without controversial roll backs of environmental standards.   

  1. Bring Logic to Air Quality Standards and Regulations
  2. Moonshot on Brownfield Redevelopment

Bring Logic to Air Quality Standards and Regulations 

Midwestern states with large populations and a heavy manufacturing base are hit particularly hard by tightening air quality standards for ozone and small particulate matter (p.m. 2.5).  On October 1, 2015, EPA strengthened the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone to 70 parts per billion (ppb).  EPA will designate areas in late 2017 based on monitoring data as to whether they meet the ozone standard ("Attainment Areas") or do not meet the standard ("Non-Attainment Areas"). States will have until at least 2020 to achieve compliance with the revised standards. 

As the adjacent map demonstrates, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania (all key states to Trump’s victory) will have significant portions of the state designated as non-attainment areas.  The designations will result in more regulation and restrictions on economic growth.

The good news is that U.S. EPA projects that most areas will be able to reach attainment of the new standards as a result of already promulgated federal regulations for gasoline, autos, power plants, and other sources of emissions. U.S. EPA projects that these already promulgated regulations will bring all but 14 of the 241 counties that currently don’t meet the 70 ppb ozone standard into attainment.  However, the bad news is that these reductions will not be achieved until 2025, five years past the ozone deadline.  Furthermore, some Members of Congress are trying to block the federal regulations.

As discussed in a recent Congressional Research Service report on the new ozone standard, some while Members in Congress have objected to the federal standards for motor vehicles, fuels, power plants, and other sources.  However, the net effect of repealing them would be to shift the burden of attaining the ozone NAAQS more squarely in the direction of state and local governments. As detailed in prior posts (here and here), the states have very little ability to improve air quality through state specific regulations under required emission reduction plans (State Implementation Plans- SIPs) to meet the NAAQS.  The federal regulations are far more cost effective.

It’s not just new regulations that will hamper economic growth in non-attainment areas, it is also mandated restrictions on economic growth.  Under the Clear Air Act, businesses looking to expand or relocate must pay for more costly emission controls in non-attainment areas.  Also, in non-attainment areas any increase in air emissions associated with a business expansion must be offset by reductions from existing businesses before a permit can be issued that allows the expansion to go forward (i.e. "Offsets").  These requirements push businesses to avoid non-attainment areas reducing opportunities for economic expansion.  

A Trump Administration could bring more logic to this regulatory mish mash by resisting calls to roll back the more cost effective federal regulations and by adjusting attainment deadlines to give states more time to take full advantage of federal regulations already on the books. Such actions would also avoid promulgation of costly new local air regulations that will largely do very little to improve air quality.  

Moonshot on Brownfield Redevelopment

A major focus during the campaign was how to improve our urban centers- finding ways to attract development and jobs to our neglected cities.  A highly effective means of giving a boost to our inner cities would be to energize U.S. EPA’s brownfield program as well as other brownfield incentives. 

As detailed in a four part series on this blog, brownfields lead to significant decay, social injustice and loss of opportunity (i.e. jobs).  The cost for businesses to expand in our urban centers is often complicated by the cost to cleanup pre-existing contamination.  Those costs are avoided by moving out of the City and developing on greenfields instead.

While brownfield programs have been successful, they have been wholly inadequate to make a significant difference.  If part of the Trump Administration’s massive infrastructure program was directed toward brownfield redevelopment, this could be a major shot in the arm promoting capital investment, cleaning up sites that pose public health issues and creating more jobs for those living in the inner city.  

In a major upset, Donald Trump wins the Presidency last night.  In less than twenty-four hours after the official concession by Secretary Clinton, people are scrambling to figure out what a Trump Presidency really means.  Because he was purposefully silent on specifics during the General Election, many are left this morning "reading the tea leaves" to figure out what the future might hold. It is no different when it comes to the future of the EPA and environmental regulations.

Clearly, President-Elect Trump intends to reduce environmental regulation.  Just how far he plans on going has yet to be seen.  However, two of the most significant EPA regulatory actions under the Obama Administration are clearly on the chopping block-  the Clean Water Rule and Clean Power Plan.

What repeal of the Clean Water Rule will mean?

The Clean Water Rule was the Obama Administration’s attempt to extend the reach of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act to most waters and wetlands.  To understand the reason for the Clean Water Rule it is important to review the long history that led to is promulgation by EPA.

The CWA limits jurisdiction to "navigable waters" which is defined as "waters of the United States, including the territorial seas." 33 U.S.C. Section 1361(7)  Interpretation of the vague term- "waters of the United States"- has been left largely to guidance and the Courts. The most significant decisions were issued by the Supreme Court in Rapanos and SWANCC. Justice Kennedy, plurality decision in Rapanos held that CWA jurisdiction extended to both navigable waters and any non-navigable water that had a "significant nexus" to a navigable waterway.  

As applied, the "significant nexus" test extends jurisdiction to small tributaries and wetlands separated from large rivers or water bodies.  Under the test, these smaller streams or wetlands fall under federal jurisdiction if impacts to the stream or wetland would affect the "chemical, physical, and the biological integrity of a navigable water."

EPA issued the Clean Water Rule in attempt to better define how the significant nexus test should be applied as well as establish which waterways were exempt from coverage.  The rule was harshly criticized as an overreach by EPA. Soon after its release, the rule was challenged by a number of states and business groups.  The Sixth Circuit Court issued a stay blocking implementation of the rule until the case could be heard.  

There is little doubt the a Trump Administration will repeal the Clean Water Rule as a significant overreach of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.  However, unless the rule is replaced with a new definition of "waters of the U.S." businesses and individuals will have no regulatory certainty.  Repeal of the rule will mean continuation of the status quo of vague guidance and litigation in the Courts over the extent of federal jurisdiction.  

What will be fascinating to see is whether a Trump Administration is simply satisfied with repeal of the Clean Water Rule or whether the Administration attempts to provide much needed regulatory certainty. One approach would be to limit federal jurisdiction under a new rule and rely on the states to determine which smaller streams or more isolated wetlands should be protected strictly under state law.  Ohio provides a good example of how this regulatory structure could work as it was one of the few states that passed a law protecting isolated wetlands after the Supreme Court decision in Rapanos.

Revoking the Clean Power Plan

It is also clear that the Obama Administration most significant regulatory action- promulgation of the Clean Power Plan- will be undone within the first 100 days of the Trump Presidency.  Years of technical and legal work by EPA went into development of the rule.  However, the rule was based on very tenuous legal grounds.  

After repeal, unlike the Clean Water Rule, there is virtually no chance the EPA under President Trump will replace the Clean Power Plan.  Furthermore, there is a very good chance additional climate change regulatory actions by EPA will be eliminated.  

However, despite those who forecast the end of all climate change related regulation, the Clean Air Act will still exist.  The Supreme Court has already decided that greenhouse gases are a "pollutant" under the Clean Air Act.  What this means is a likely a return the the Bush-era on climate change litigation- Blue States and environmental groups using the Courts to push for regulation or blocking attempts to repeal enacted regulations.  Litigation means less certainty for businesses, however, less regulation is a certainty as well.

On August 24th, Ohio EPA released new guidance that incorporates an unprecedented approach to vapor intrusion.  Under the new guidance, Recommendations Regarding Response Action Levels and Timeframes for Common Contaminants of Concern at Vapor Intrusion Sites in Ohio, the Agency is for the first time demanding immediate action when contaminant levels exceed certain established "trigger levels."  In the case of one particular contaminant, trichloroethylene (TCE), the Agency expects action within days if the associated trigger levels are exceeded.  The guidance, as outlined below, has major implications for businesses, property owners, consultants and attorneys.

The guidance establishes specific trigger levels for sub-slab and indoor air.  With regard to TCE, it establishes trigger levels for groundwater in addition to sub-slab and indoor air.  Groundwater or sub-slab exceedances will require immediate indoor air sampling.  If indoor air trigger levels are exceeded, immediate action is required in the form of installation of a remedy and/or notifying regulators.  The response times for exceedance of indoor air trigger levels are set forth below.

Response Times for Common Indoor Air Contaminants

Exceeds Indoor Air Risk Standard
Chronic Response Resample or install remedy within 3-90 days
Accelerated Response Coordinate with appropriate state, local and health authorities on response action

 

* Common contaminants include: vinyl chloride, tetrachloroethylene, chloroform, carbon tetrachloride and naphthalene

 

Response Times Specific for TCE

Exceeds Indoor Air Risk Standard
Accelerated Early and interim response actions evaluated within weeks
Urgent Response actions evaluated within days. Consider relocation of residents/occupants
Imminent Immediately contact state, local and public health officials.  Relocate residents/occupants

The Agency made the following public statement following release of the new guidance:

The Division of Environmental Response and Revitalization (DERR) has developed a memorandum on action levels and response timeframes for sites that are being investigated for vapor intrusion of trichloroethylene (TCE) and other associated chemicals. These actions levels and time frames are based primarily upon the short term exposures to TCE and the potential for cardiac malformations in developing fetuses. DERR developed this guidance in consultation with USEPA and use these risk levels and response times when conducting Ohio EPA lead investigations for the CERCLA and RCRA programs. This guidance does not have the force of law, but Ohio EPA recommends its use to outside stake holders, including the Voluntary Action Program (VAP), in evaluating the concentrations of volatile compounds in ground water, soil gas or indoor air in residences and commercial buildings.(emphasis added)

What is unprecedented about this new guidance is the requirement to take immediate action, within days in some cases, based upon risk based screening values.  Historically, vapor intrusion risks were vetted through sampling and analysis, a process that could take a year or more before cleanup was implemented.

Guidance on TCE

TCE is a very common metal degreaser.  As set forth above, the response timeframes for exceedances of TCE trigger levels are particularly aggressive.  Ohio EPA bases its urgent call to respond upon a specific evaluation of the risks of TCE exposure:

“In September, 2011, [U.S. EPA] updated the toxicity assessment for TCE which concluded, in part, that women in the first trimester of pregnancy are one of the most sensitive populations to TCE inhalation exposure due to the potential for fetal cardiac malformations. Because the key steps for cardiac development occur within the first 8 to 10 weeks of pregnancy, exposure to TCE during early pregnancy is of concern.”

To give some perspective as to the number of sites in Ohio that may have some level of TCE contamination, earlier this year, Massachusetts recently announced a TCE initiative in which it reviewed 1,000 closed cleanup sites across the State.  Ohio, a much larger and more industrial state, likely could have more TCE impacted sites. 

Implications of New Vapor Intrusion Guidance

The guidance has major implications for businesses/property owners, consultants and attorneys:

  • Property owners have increased liability risk, in particular if they are aware that trigger levels may be exceeded.
  • Through guidance and training sessions, Ohio EPA has pressured consultants to come forward with data even in instances when their clients may not want the information to be public;
  • It will be critical for attorneys to ensure adequate evaluation of vapor intrusion is included in Phase Is.  While it is a requirement to evaluate vapor intrusion risks under the current Phase I standard (ASTM 1527-13), inconsistencies persist among consultants in evaluation of vapor intrusion in their Phase I reports.
  • Where Ohio EPA has data and wants further evaluation of vapor intrusion risks, the Agency is notifying property owners they must take action or the Agency will proceed with sampling.
  • In early summer, Ohio EPA revoked portions of its prior vapor intrusion guidance that relied upon use of the Johnson & Ettinger model (a less conservative model than U.S. EPA Vapor Intrusion Screening Level (VISL) Calculator).  Ohio EPA still hasn’t been clear as to whether it will reopen previously closed cleanup sites that relied upon the Johnson & Ettinger model.
  • While the guidance states it does not have the force of law, EPA is taking action based upon the new guidance.  

 

On November 2, 2015, President Obama signed into law the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Improvement Act of 2015.  The law required all federal agencies to increase civil penalties with inflation. While there were previous requirements to increase civil penalties, the new law provides for more dramatic increases attributable to the following changes:

  • Requires adjustments annually instead of every four years as had been previously been required;
  • Institutes a "catch-up" period to increase penalties assuming the more accelerated schedule had previously been in place with a cap on total increases of 150% (which is quite dramatic)
  • Formula for the "catch-up" period is based on how much the October 2015 Consumer Price Index (CPI) exceeds the 1990 CPI (called the "cost-of-living multiplier")

The EPA promulgated the Civil Monetary Penalty Inflation Adjustment Rule to establish a schedule for penalty increases including implementation of the "catch up" provision.  The schedule began implementation on August 1st.  EPA described the purpose of the rule as follows:

The primary purpose of the rule is to reconcile the real value of current statutory civil penalty levels to reflect and keep pace with the levels originally set by Congress when the statutes were enacted.  

EPA’s Adjustment Rule includes the following increases (there are a range of potential penalties in the Adjustment Rule.  The ranges shown below are for some of the more common violations):

  • TSCA toxic substances violations – go from $25,000 per day to $37,000
  • RCRA-  from $25,000 per day to anywhere from $56,467 to $70,117 depending on the nature of the violation
  • Clean Air Act-  from $37,500 (set in 2009) to $44,539 for EPA administrative penalties and a maximum of $93,750 for penalties assessed by a court (the maximum increase of 150% allowed under the rule)
  • Clean Water Act- from $37,500 to anywhere from $44,539 to $51,570
  • ECPRA and CERCLA- from $37,500 to $53,907

To understand the specific penalty increases for particular violations of the statutes set forth above, consult Table 2 of 40 CFR Section19.4 of the EPA Civil Monetary Penalty Inflation Adjustments Rule.

While EPA still has discretion to seek less than the per day maximum civil penalty set forth in the Adjustment Rule, the rule shows an intent that penalties for environmental violations will be significantly larger even when EPA exercises is discretion.

On July 29th, the Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette charged six more public officials in connection with their roles in the Flint Water Crisis.  One of the six charged included a senior management official at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ)- the former Chief of the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance. The latest charges are in addition to the two MDEQ officials charged in April.  

Attorney General Schuette stated:

"Many things when tragically wrong in Flint.  Some people failed to act, others minimized harm done and arrogantly chose to ignore data.  Some intentionally altered figures and covered up significant health risks."  (emphasis added)

Ohio experienced its own issues with drinking water in Sebring Ohio.  In January, Ohio EPA fired two employees for failing to timely provide information to the District Office deemed critical to providing timely information regarding the condition of water in Sebring.  Here is what Ohio EPA’s Press Release said about the reason for terminating the employees: 

"Ohio EPA Central Office employee responsible for sending laboratory results from the Central Office failed to ensure that data was provided to the field office to help them conduct their review…The employee’s supervisor is also being terminated for not properly managing an employee who had an existing record of performance issues and not providing appropriate corrective counseling or progressive discipline despite being instructed to do so."

Ohio EPA also announced that it established a new process to provide staff with a direct and expedited communication route to senior Ohio EPA officials of situations that have possible “significant environmental and public health consequences.”

It is rare for State environmental protection agencies to fire employees for not performing their job.  It is even more rare for criminal charges to be brought against State EPA employees relating to performance of their job functions.  The firings and criminal charges have garnered national attention.  The crises have, no doubt, had an effect on the cultural and work environments of State EPA.s

Here are five things businesses can expect:

  1.  More Aggressive Deadlines-  One of the themes from Flint and Sebring was whether officials acted on information on a timely basis.  Also, whether officials raised public health issues up the chain quickly.  As a result, it is likely regulators will be demanding more aggressive deadlines for businesses to address non-compliance and/or investigate issues.
  2. Demand for Action-  Regulators will have less tolerance for debating over appropriate responses to ongoing violations and/or investigating issues.  If businesses don’t respond in a timely fashion (in the Agency’s viewpoint) or refuse to take the steps the Agency believes are appropriate, regulators will takes action.  This could be performing sampling using Agency resources (not waiting for businesses to sample).  This could be referring matters up the chain more quickly for enforcement.  
  3. Less Deference to Outside Technical Consultants–  Regulators will be less willing to defer to the private sector to decide how to appropriately respond.  Historically, it was common place for private consultants and agency representatives to debate technical issues.  With the pressure on agency employees to perform their duties quickly this will likely translate to less deference to private consultants.
  4. More Involvement of Management in Decision Making-  Another theme from both Flint and Sebring was whether agency employees made management aware of issues in a timely fashion.  For example, Ohio EPA announced a new protocol for making senior management aware of "public health" issues quickly.  What constitutes a public health issue or  potential issue is vague.  Lower level employees will be more inclined to raise issues up chain of command to management.  In some cases, even directing businesses to address correspondence directly to senior management when that same correspondence would have gone to staff just a year ago.
  5. Changing Work Environments-  Even though environmental regulators perform a critical function, the stereotype is that government workers have less stress and more reasonable work hours then their counterparts in the private sector. With the added pressure and spotlight these recent news events have brought, there will be changes in the work environment within State EPAs.  These "cultural" changes will also be felt by businesses, consultants and individuals that interact with regulators. 

Guest Post from Arun Kottha and Christopher Caryl at Tucker Ellis.

On June 22, President Obama signed into law the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which amends the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), the nation’s primary chemical management legislation. TSCA was originally enacted in 1976 and is administered by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). One of the main objectives of the TSCA was to assess and regulate new commercial chemicals before they enter the market. When TSCA was originally enacted, all then-existing chemicals were considered safe for use and were “grandfathered” in. Under the 1976 law, tens of thousands of chemicals already in existence in 1976 were considered in compliance without any requirement for the EPA to review them for safety.

The 2016 amendment makes several significant changes to the existing law, including risk assessment and management of all chemicals in commerce (not just new ones), additional tools to prevent new chemicals from entering the market, changes to claims of proprietary information, and guaranteed funding of the new program. These amendments require the EPA to assess numerous chemicals previously deemed “safe” and signal a shift toward heavier regulation of the chemical industry.

RISK ASSESSMENT

The EPA is required to evaluate the safety of existing chemicals in interstate commerce and to start with those most likely to cause health risks. So-called “high-priority” chemicals must be assessed by the EPA starting with 10 assessments to be under way within 180 days, and 20 at any given time to be under way within a few years. Low-priority chemicals need not be tested but can be moved into high-priority with the development of additional hazard information. The initial assessment is a new risk-based safety standard that considers if the chemical poses an “unreasonable risk,” especially to susceptible or highly exposed populations (like children, the elderly, and industry workers), irrespective of cost. If there is an “unreasonable risk” identified, cost may be then considered in the mitigation of the health risks, along with bans, phase outs, or other actions.

INCREASED SCRUTINY OF NEW CHEMICALS

New chemicals may also have a tougher time getting to market. Under the 1976 law, companies would notify the EPA of their intention to manufacture a new chemical or a significant new use for the chemical by using a Pre-Manufacturing Notice (PMN). The 1976 act did not require any toxicity testing before submitting a PMN and did not require safety information to be included with the documentation. Under the 1976 law, in order to regulate new chemicals, the EPA needed to make a determination that the chemical might present “an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment…” If it could not satisfy this requirement within a narrow window of 90 days, the chemical was allowed to be legally marketed and sold. Now, the EPA must make an affirmative finding on the safety of a new chemical or significant new use of an existing chemical before it is allowed into the marketplace. While this may be a win for health and safety advocates, it may cause a significant backlog and therefore impede business and innovative progress.

PROPRIETARY INFORMATION AND FUNDING

The amendment also limits claims of confidentiality by chemical manufacturers with a rebuttable presumption that “the public interest in the disclosure of the information outweighs the public or proprietary interest” of the manufacturer. And finally, the EPA will be able to collect up to $25 million per year in user fees from chemical manufacturers and processors, supplemented by congressional budgeting to pay for these expanded regulatory activities. 

EFFECT

The EPA may renew its previously unsuccessful effort to completely ban the use of asbestos. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy states in her blog, “The dangers of inaction were never more stark than in the case of asbestos, a chemical known to cause cancer through decades of research.” McCarthy goes on to write that “[d]uring the first Bush Administration, EPA tried to ban asbestos under TSCA, but the rule was overturned in court. In the law’s 40-year history, only a handful of the tens of thousands of chemicals on the market when the law passed have ever been reviewed for health impacts, and only 5 have ever been banned.”

This amendment may cause turmoil in the chemical industry with the assessment, for the first time, of decades-old chemicals that previously were deemed “safe.” In the next six months, we will know which high priority chemicals are selected for the initial risk assessment. The bill can be found here.
 

Vapor intrusion is the process where contamination in soil and groundwater volatilizes and enters indoor air in buildings.  Understanding and evaluating the risks to occupants of buildings with vapor intrusion issues has received dramatic new focus nationally in recent years.

In Ohio, scrutiny of vapor intrusion issues is at an all time high.  This post details some of the recent significant initiatives and actions taken by Ohio EPA to address vapor intrusion.

Ohio EPA Revokes 2010 Vapor Intrusion Guidance

On May 27, 2016, Ohio EPA announced that it was revoking prior guidance in place since 2010 on analyzing the risks associated with vapor intrusion.  Ohio EPA revoked two entire chapters of its 2010 vapor intrusion guidance document.  It also indicated that environmental consultants should utilize U.S. EPA’s guidance document titled, “Technical Guide for Assessing and Mitigating the Vapor Intrusion Pathway from Subsurface Vapor Sources to Indoor Air (June 2015)” and U.S. EPA’s Vapor Intrusion Screening Level (VISL) calculator.

The VISL calculator is a new tool utilized by U.S. EPA to quickly determine whether a site presents a potentially unacceptable health risks due to vapor intrusion.  Using the VISL, soil gas, soil and groundwater sample results are plugged into the calculator to determine if risk presented by the detected contaminant levels exceed screening levels.  If screening levels are exceeded, the Agency can require either more investigation or cleanup.

The VISL replaces prior modeling techniques that have been utilized for years to evaluate contaminated properties.  Ohio EPA’s 2010 Vapor Intrusion Guidance document relied heavily on the Johnson & Ettinger (J&E) model to analyze risk.  J&E was used to evaluate vapor intrusion at hundreds of site in Ohio.

Some consultants tell me that the VISL is approximately 50 times more conservative than the J&E model.  As a result, site contamination issues previously thought to present no issues under J&E are now viewed as significant problems under VISL.

Ohio EPA’s revocation of portions of its 2010 vapor intrusion guidance includes the chapters regarding the J&E model.  Ohio EPA’s announcement included a statement that all sites currently being evaluated will no longer consider J&E data valid and will require use of the VISL.

Ohio EPA Reviews TCE Site Inventory

Ohio EPA has also decided to heavily scrutinize any site with trichloroethylene (TCE) contamination (typically associated with a solvent used to clean metal parts).  A new study determined that the risk presented by exposure to TCE contamination to woman of child bearing years and pregnant women are greater than previously thought.  Those risks are also thought to be acute risks (i.e. short term) versus the long term risk based upon 30 years of exposure used to develop many cleanup standards.  

Beginning in the later part of 2015 and continuing through today, Ohio EPA has been internally evaluating any site where it has data showing TCE contamination.  Those sites are being analyzed using the new TCE cleanup standards and the VISL calculator.  Due to the fact both the cleanup standard and VISL are more conservative, sites are much more likely to be deemed to present potential health issues.  

Ohio EPA has sent letters to owners of sites with TCE contamination requesting additional investigation or cleanup.  In some cases, Ohio EPA has demanded additional testing and if the property owner refused, Ohio EPA performed its own sampling.

In February 2012, at an Ohio EPA brownfield training course, environmental consultants were told of Ohio EPA’s position regarding vapor intrusion and TCE.  Here are some of the key points discussed:

  • Ohio EPA will not "sit on data" if it believes an issue exists it will move quickly to seek or take additional action;
  • In terms of sampling techniques to evaluate vapor intrusion, Ohio EPA wants to see sub-slab paired with indoor air samples to analyze the risk;
  • In analyzing vapor intrusion, Ohio EPA will want multiple sample locations and multiple sampling events (to address seasonal variation in contaminant levels);
  • If off-property vapor intrusion needs to be analyzed, the Agency’s expectation is the owner/developer will do it.  In not, the Agency will collect the data it needs;
  • Agency is not going to have long technical debates whether a health issue may exist.  If the Agency thinks there may be an issue it wants to act quickly;
  • On Voluntary Action Program (VAP) cleanups, if a consultant is aware of data that indicates a potential health issue, the Agency expects the consultant to come forward with the information even if the property owner or developer doesn’t want the information released to the Agency;
  • Due to TCE’s short term risks to sensitive populations, the Agency expects quick action and evaluation of data at sites where TCE is at issue.

At the Spring 2016 Ohio Brownfield Conference many of these points were reiterated by Agency representatives.  In particular, participants were told the Agency will act quickly and aggressively when it believes contamination has the potential to present a public health issue.  

Ramifications to Property Owners and Developers

The changes relative to analysis of vapor intrusion in general as well as the specific initiative on sites with TCE, has major ramifications for property owners and developers.  Here are some the issues or considerations for owners/developers:

  • Consultants are under increasing pressure to disclose any data to Ohio EPA that suggests a public health issue may exist;
  • Expectation is that properties with potential vapor intrusion issues on or off site will be evaluated very quickly;
  • The standards and models use to analyze vapor intrusion risk have become significantly more conservative.  Sites are much more likely to be deemed to present potential issues than even a year ago; 
  • All ASTM compliant Phase I reports are supposed to evaluate the potential for vapor intrusion.  In light of the increased focus on vapor intrusion, it is critically important to conduct high quality due diligence prior to acquisition that includes a robust evaluation of the potential for vapor intrusion; 
  • Liability risks have increased dramatically in recent years for owners and/or developers of property that may have vapor intrusion issues; and
  • Due to increased stringency of modeling and cleanup standards, what will the Agency do regarding sites that were previously deemed sufficiently cleaned up under outdated guidance and cleanup standards?

 

On February 28, 2016, U.S. EPA publicly announced its priority enforcement areas (EPA National Enforcement Initiatives or NEIs) for the next three years (fiscal years 2017-2019).  The announcement provides keen insight into how EPA plans to allocate its enforcement resources in the coming years.  

 EPA describes the NEIs in the following manner:

"Every three years, EPA selects National Enforcement Initiatives to focus resources on national environmental problems where there is significant non-compliance with laws, and where federal enforcement efforts can make a difference"

EPA has elected to keep five of its current enforcement initiatives, expanding some of its efforts, as well as add two new initiatives.  This brings the total priorities to seven for fiscal years 2017-2019.  The NEIs take effect on October 1, 2016. 

A brief summary of each NEI is provided below.

Air

  • Reducing Air Pollution form the Largest Sources-  EPA’s New Source Review (NSR) initiative has targeted cement, glass and acid plants.  However, its principal target has been coal fired power plants.  According to U.S. EPA statistics, from FY 2010 to FY 2015, of the 800 facilities inspected, EPA has increased the number of facilities with enhanced air pollution controls from 41% to 77%.  By maintaining this enforcement priority, EPA will likely focus on compliance with existing decrees as well as target new industries.
  • Cutting Hazardous Air Pollutants – EPA is expanding this initiative for the FY 2017-2019 to focus its efforts on two additional source categories-
    • Large product storage tanks used by refineries,chemical plants and bulk storage facilities- EPA will likely used enhanced inspection techniques, such as infrared cameras to looks for leaks of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from these storage units;
    • Hazardous waste generator and treatment, storage, and disposal facilities-  the focus of this expanded initiative will be to address hazardous waste tanks, surface impoundments, or containers, as well as related hazardous waste treatment equipment.

Energy Extraction

  • Ensuring Energy Extraction Activities Comply with Environmental Laws

The attached chart shows the dramatic increase in the number of inspections and enforcement actions related to energy extraction.  

EPA has increased the number of inspections from 361 in FY 2011 to between 600 to 700 per year.  Interestingly, the number of enforcement actions has not significantly increased when comparing FY 2011 to subsequent years. 

It is also interesting that EPA maintained this initiative despite the recent dramatic economic downturn in the energy sector.

  

Hazardous Chemicals

  • Reducing Pollution from Mineral Processing Operations- Focus is on releases from mining operations that EPA believes threaten drinking water, surface water as well as cleanup mining sites.
  • Reducing Risks of Accidental Releases at Industrial and Chemical Facilities (NEW)-  The focus of this new initiative will be compliance with Risk Management Plan (RMP) rule.  RMPs are required for facilities that store extremely hazardous materials.  RMP is required under Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act.  Facilities are required to have plans that inventory the materials and have a plan to implement in the event of releases or emergencies.  Plans are required to be updated every five years. It is likely EPA will look for facilities that have failed to comply with the RMP rule or those facilities with outdated plans.

Water

  • Keeping Raw Sewage and Contaminated Stormwater Out of Our Nation’s Water-  EPA has largely addressed municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) with combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and/or sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs).  This initiative was renewed most likely to focus on compliance with existing consent decrees.  In many cases, cities are facing the most expensive parts of their compliance schedules.
  • Preventing Animal Waste from Contaminating Surface and Ground Water- EPA has been focused on inspections and enforcement of Combined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) for a number of years.  Since 2011 it has conducted over 1,800 inspections and concluded 217 enforcement actions under the Clean Water Act.
  • Keeping Industrial Pollutants Out of the Nation’s Waters (NEW)-  EPA will be focusing on certain industries that it believes contribute a larger portion of nutrient and metal pollution. Those industries include chemical and metal manufacturing, mining and food processing.  On its web-page, EPA signals that it will look to compliance with NPDES permits and electronic reporting of effluent violations (eDMRs) to initiate actions.

The Clean Power Plan and Waters of the U.S. Rule have dominated much of the discussion at the ABA’s Spring Meeting of the Section of the Environment, Energy and Resources (SEER) in Chicago.  SEER is a gathering of nations prominent environmental and energy attorneys from both the private sector and government.

Waters of the U.S. Rule (WOTUS)

The WOTUS rule defines the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.  WOTUS was issued after the Supreme Court suggested in the Rapanos decision that the regulated community would benefit from a rule.  EPA released the rule earlier this summer.  As previously discussed in a prior post, the Sixth Circuit has issued a stay of the EPA’s WOTUS rule after numerous lawsuits have been filed.  

Steven Neugeboren, Associate General Counsel, Water Law Office, U.S. EPA, discussed the Agency’s development of the rule.  He emphasized that the Administrator’s directive in developing WOTUS was to "follow the science."   He opined that part of the reason for all of the litigation and controversy surrounding the rule is based upon "speculation" and "fear" fostered by some in the regulated community regarding the scope of the rule.  

As an example, Mr. Neugeboren cited to public comments on the draft of the rule that argued EPA was trying to regulate puddles.  EPA responded by putting specifically in the final rule that puddles are exempt form regulation.  In response, he indicated some commented that the inclusion of the exemption was an indication EPA planned to regulate puddles all along.

Comments on the private bar during the conference have centered on the broad scope of the rule. EPA’s approach in the rule was described as extending regulation to virtually every waterway and relying upon narrow exemptions to carve out instances EPA deems regulations unnecessary.  Due to the broad and vague language used in WOTUS there is tremendous uncertainty as exactly what is covered under the rule.

Are Wetland/Stream JD’s Appeallable?  The Supreme Court Will Decide

As a first step in wetland/stream permitting, many developers and property owners will hire a consultant to perform a wetland and/or stream delineation on the property. The delineation is the consultant’s opinion as to whether federally protected wetlands or streams exist on the property. The delineation will also determine the size and quality of the water resources on the property. However, the consultant’s delineation is not a legal determination. Only the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) can determine if wetland or streams are federally protected. Therefore, although not required, many property owners/developers submit their wetland delineations to the ACOE for concurrence. This is called a "Jurisdictional Determination" or JD. See, 33 CFR 320.1(a)6)

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that an approved jurisdictional determination (JD) is a final agency action that can be challenged. See, Hawkes Co., Inc. et al v. Corps, Case No. 13-3067 (April 10, 2015).  The Court determined that if a JD is not appeallable a property owner is left with the Hobson choice of risking enforcement or acquiescing to the ACOE permitting process.

At the conference, a panel discussed the likelihood the the Hawkes case would be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Because there has been a split in the circuits, the panelists all believed the case would likely be heard.  

Panelist Ray Ludwiszewski, attorney at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, offered his opinion that while the case would be heard, he believed the Court would determine a JD is not appeallable because JDs are voluntary.  He distinguished JDs to the enforcement order that was issued by EPA in the Sackett case which compelled the property owner to comply.  

Professor Richard Lazarus, Harvard, agreed that the voluntary nature of JDs may be a key factor in how the Court would rule, but he said the Court may rule JDs are appeallable because the Court, in prior decisions like Sackett, showed its "anger" over the EPA’s application of the 404 wetland/stream permitting and the "heavy handed nature of government regulation" in this area.

Clean Power Plan

Not surprisingly, EPA strongly defended the legality of the rule at the conference while attorneys from the private sector questioned its legal foundation.  The biggest open issue regarding the legality of the Clean Power Plan was the scope of Section 111(D) of the Clean Air Act.   Conference participants agreed the key issue is whether EPA’s authority Section 111(D) is limited to the "fence line" at a power plant or provides much broader authority to regulate the mix of energy (coal, natural gas and renewables) across the country.

Another issue discussed was the uncertainty caused by litigation  The States must file their plans to comply (referred to as a "State Implementation Plan" or "SIP") by September 2016.  The rule allows incentives to State’s to file SIPs.  For example, states can get more time to develop their plans and cannot participate in a emission trading plan if they don’t submit a compliance plan. Despite the incentives, states that strongly oppose the rule may elect to not file a compliance plan.  

Art Harrington, attorney from Godfrey & Kahn, discussed the uncertainty the rule is causing in his State of Wisconsin.  The implementation time lines and requirements, especially with the cloud of litigation, is causing tremendous uncertainty in the regulated community.  

Monica Trauzzi, reporter for E&ETV/E&E Publishing, commented that in her discussions with Governors and State agency air directors, the states are having conversations around development of compliance plans.   Conversations are occurring even in states strongly opposed to the plan because the utility industry has been putting pressure on states due to the uncertainty associated with failing to comply with the plan.