By Mark A. Lies, II, Adam R. YoungJames L. Curtis, and Benjamin D. Briggs

Seyfarth Synopsis:  It is imperative that employers develop and implement organized and clearly communicated procedures for responding to a disaster. A well-planned and executed emergency response program will provide orderly procedures and prevent panic, thereby minimizing employee injuries and damage to property.

Please see the entire Alert, After the Rain: Disaster Recovery and Employee Safety Following Hurricane Harvey, for the full article and recommendations.

By Andrew H. Perellis and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: Pursuant to President Trump’s Executive Order (EO) on “Restoring the Rule of Law… by Reviewing the “Waters of the United States” Rule, the Agencies have scheduled ten teleconferences to collect stakeholder recommendations on the revision of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.

We had previously blogged on the WOTUS rulemaking. See EPA and Army Corps of Engineers Propose to Rescind Obama Era Rule Redefining “Waters of the United States”, EPA Publishes Final Rule Expanding Definition of “Waters of the United States” Under the Clean Water Act, Proposed Rule on Definition of “Waters of the United States” Under the Clean Water Act, and New Definition of “Waters of the United States”?

The EPA and the Corps of Engineers have now issued an Announcement of Public Meeting Dates, 82 Fed. Reg. 40742 (August 28, 2017).  In the Announcement, the Agencies note that they intend to propose a new definition for WOTUS that would replace the approach in the 2015 Clean Water Rule with one that is consistent with the approach outlined in the EO.  The Agencies recently completed consultation processes with tribes and state and local governments on the rulemaking.

Now the Agencies seek to provide other interested stakeholders an opportunity to provide pre-proposal “feedback” on the rule to revise the definition of the WOTUS.

The teleconferences will be held on a weekly basis beginning September 19, 2017, and will continue each Tuesday thereafter for ten weeks.  Each session will run from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., eastern time.  Information on how to register for the meetings is available on the EPA Web site.

Persons or organizations that wish to provide verbal recommendations during the teleconference will be selected on a first-come, first-serve basis. Individuals will be asked to limit their oral presentation to three minutes.

Note that each of the ten sessions will be geared to particular entities and organizations (such as small businesses and small government jurisdictions), and business segments (such as construction, transportation, and mining).  So it is importatant that you attend the session that most matches your particular interests in the rulemaking.

In addition, the Agencies are also planning an in-person meeting with small entities, to be held on Monday, October 23, 2017.  Check the Announcement for attendance information.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Seyfarth Environmental Compliance, Enforcement & Permitting Team.

By Jinouth Vasquez Santos

Seyfarth SynopsisMarijuana businesses must properly label their products if they contain chemicals that can cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive health problems.  Failure to do so will result in a civil penalty or civil lawsuit.

Entrepreneurial Plaintiff’s attorneys have now set their sites on marijuana businesses.  Since January 1, 2017, Plaintiff’s firms have issued approximately 800 violation notice letters to marijuana businesses alleging that producers of cannabis infused edibles and vape cartridge manufacturers failed to warn consumers about specific fungicides and pesticides associated with their products.

California’s Proposition 65, or the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, requires cannabis business owners to provide customers with warning of the chemicals contained in their products which can cause cancer, birth defects, and other health problems.  Among the substances “known to the state of California” to cause cancer, birth defects and other health problems are marijuana smoke itself, and the chemicals myclobutanil (also a fungicide), carbaryl, and malathion, commonly-used pesticides.

Failure to comply with the warning requirement can result in a civil penalty up to $2,500 per violation per day in addition to other penalties established by law. The Attorney General may bring an action in the name of the people or the Act allows individuals to bring a private action to obtain the civil penalty against marijuana businesses for failure to warn.

Before filing a lawsuit, the individual seeking a private action must provide a 60-day notice to the Attorney General and the district attorney, city attorney, or prosecutor in whose jurisdiction the violation is alleged to have occurred, and to the alleged violator.  If, after 60 days, none of the referenced individuals/entities take action, then the individual may proceed with his or her private claim so long as he or she complies with the 60-day notice requirements.

In order for the 60-day notice to be compliant, the notice must include a copy of Prop 65, a description of the violation, the name of the individual seeking an action, the time period of the violation, the listed chemicals involved, the route of exposure (ingestion, dermal contact or inhalation), and a certificate of merit.  The individual bringing the action must certify that they have “consulted with one or more persons with relevant and appropriate experience or expertise who has reviewed facts, studies, or other data regarding the exposure to the listed chemical that is the subject of the action, and that, based on that information, the person executing the certificate believes there is a reasonable and meritorious case for the private action.”

Marijuana businesses may avoid such 60-day notices and potential litigation by becoming familiar with the various chemicals that require warning labels, placing warning labels on their products, and ensuring that the pesticide levels in the products are compliant with California regulations. A comprehensive list of the 800 chemicals identified by the State can be found here.

California’s ever changing cannabis regulations can be difficult to maneuver. If you would like to review your policies for compliance, you may contact one of Seyfarth Shaw’s attorneys for assistance.

By James L. Curtis, Brent I. Clark, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: As expected, OSHA has appealed an ALJ ruling that severely limits OSHA’s “controlling employer” enforcement policy. Acosta v. Hensel Phelps Constr. Co., No. 17-60543 (5th Cir. 8/4/17).

This case involves an unprotected excavation at a construction site that both parties agreed was in in violation of OSHA’s trenching standards.  The Respondent was the general contractor on the construction project with overall control and responsibility for the worksite.  The Respondent also had management employees on site who were present at the excavation who “could have easily” prevented the subcontractor’s employees from working in the unprotected excavation but did not do so.  However, the Respondent did not have any of its own employees who were exposed to the hazardous excavation.

OSHA cited Respondent as a “controlling employer” under OSHA’s multi-employer policy and longstanding Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission precedent that has held that “an employer who either creates or controls the cited hazard has a duty under § 5(a)(2) of the Act, 29 U.S.C. § 666(a)(2), to protect not only its own employees, but those of other employers ‘engaged in the common undertaking’.” McDevitt Street Bovis, Docket No. 97-1918 (Sept. 28, 2000).  “An employer may be held responsible for the violations of other employers ‘where it could reasonably be expected to prevent or detect and abate the violations due to its supervisory authority and control over the worksite.”’ Summit Contractors, Inc., Docket No. 05-0839 (Aug. 19, 2010).

Nonetheless, while the Commission has upheld “controlling employer” citations based on exposure to another employer’s employees, this violation occurred at a jobsite in Austin, Texas, which was under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.  In 1981, the Fifth Circuit ruled that the OSH Act, its legislative history, and implemented regulations, serve to protect “an employer’s own employees from workplace hazards.”  ALJ’s emphasis.  Melerine v. Avondale Shipyards, Inc., 659 F.2d 706 (5th Cir. 1981).  Accordingly, rather than follow Commission precedent and uphold the citation, the ALJ found that “where it is highly probable that a Commission decision would be appealed to a particular circuit, the Commission has generally applied the precedent of that circuit in deciding the case – even though it may differ from the Commission’s precedent.” Kerns Bros. Tree Service, Docket No. 96-1719 (Mar. 16, 2000).  Therefore, the ALJ ruled that “applying 5th Circuit precedent, Respondent cannot be liable for a violation of the Act based solely upon a subcontractor’s employees’ exposure to the condition,”  and vacated the citation.

OSHA is appealing the ALJ’s decision to the 5th Circuit hoping that the 5th Circuit will reverse its 1981 holding in Melerine v. Avondale Shipyards, Inc.   This case represents a serious threat to OSHA’s multi-employer policy.  If upheld by the 5th Circuit, OSHA’s “controlling employer” policy may be in jeopardy. We will keep our readers apprised as this case develops.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.

By Andrew H. PerellisPatrick D. Joyce, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: Businesses and industries across the country which own or have interests in facilities and properties that may come under the broad scope of these new Superfund “Recommendations” will need to stay attuned and involved with what the Agency is doing relating to your interests. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently released its Superfund Task Force Recommendations Report (Report). The report, ambitiously, provides “42 specific and detailed recommendations to streamline and improve the Superfund program.” Along with the Report, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt also released a directive to EPA leaders and offices across the Agency of eleven “specific actions that should be implemented right away, with renewed focus,” including the identification, within 60 days, of the “sites where the risk of human exposure is not fully controlled.”

The Agency claims in its news release on the Report that “the recommendations of the Superfund Task Force, when implemented, will improve and expedite the process of site remediation and promote reuse.” The 42 Superfund Task Force recommendations are organized into five goals:

  1. Expediting Cleanup and Remediation;
  2. Re-invigorating Responsible Party Cleanup and Reuse;
  3. Encouraging Private Investment;
  4. Promoting Redevelopment and Community Revitalization; and
  5. Engaging Partners and Stakeholders.

In addition, the goals in the Task Force Report are accompanied by a set of strategies that include actions which are to commence in as little as 30 days from the Report’s approval.

A few of the notable recommendations include:

  • Providing “reduced-oversight incentives” to cooperative, “high-performing PRPs,” and use of enforcement tools as disincentives for protracted negotiations, or slow performance under cleanup agreements, including”
    • actively using enforcement authorities, including more prevalent issuance of unilateral orders to recalcitrant parties to discourage protracted negotiations
    • prohibiting PRPs from multiple chances to revise the same document when initial submittal is subpar
  • Focusing on sites which have “taken far too long to remediate” including:
    • establishing an “Administrator’s Top Ten” list which will get Administrator Pruitt’s weekly attention and
    • directing additional resources to sites that have been on the National Priorities List (NPL) for five years or longer;
  • Identifying third parties to invest in NPL sites and other “innovative tools” to “accelerate cleanups and promote reuse” such as:
    • utilizing alternative approaches to financing site cleanups, including environmental liability transfer and protections for third party investors and
    • working with PRPs to better integrate reuse needs into cleanup activities;
  • Prioritizing NPL sites where remedies have already been selected;
  • Encouraging the use of new technologies and clean up approaches by PRPs; and
  • Incentivizing PRPs who perform “timely, high quality cleanup” such as:
    • reducing oversight costs for PRPs that perform timely, high quality work and
    • increasing PRP and Agency adherence to project deadlines.

For businesses and industries across the country which own or have interests in facilities and properties that may come under the broad scope of these new Recommendations, diligence and attention are the key words. Stay tuned and involved with what the Agency is doing relating to your interests.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Seyfarth Environmental Compliance, Enforcement & Permitting Team.

By Craig B. Simonsen and  Jeryl L. Olson

Seyfarth Synopsis: Businesses and industries that had been impacted by the EPA’s HFCs rule may wish to monitor EPA’s response to this opinion carefully.

The DC Circuit Court of Appeals this week, by a split three-judge panel, vacated part of a 2015 EPA rule intended to target greenhouse gas emissions, saying that while Section 612 of the Clean Air Act (CAA) does require manufacturers to replace ozone-depleting substances with safe substitutes, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) do not deplete ozone, so the agency never had the power to enforce the replacement provision of the rule.  “The fundamental problem for EPA is that HFCs are not ozone-depleting substances, as all parties agree.”  Mexichem Fluor, Inc. v. EPA, No. 15-1328, — F.3d —-, 2017 WL 3389376 (DC Cir. Aug 8, 2017).

This case was filed because in 2013, President Obama announced that EPA would work to reduce emissions of HFCs because HFCs contribute to carbon emissions. “Plan to Cut Carbon Pollution and Address Climate Change” (June 25, 2013). The Climate Action Plan indicated that “… the Environmental Protection Agency will use its authority through the Significant New Alternatives Policy Program” of Section 612 to reduce HFC emissions. Consistent with the Climate Action Plan, EPA promulgated its Final Rule in 2015 that moved certain HFCs from the list of safe substitutes to the list of prohibited substitutes (Change of Listing Status for Certain Substitutes Under the Significant New Alternatives Policy Program, 80 Fed. Reg. 42870, July 20, 2015).

Th DC Circuit Court concluded this week that “EPA’s novel reading of Section 612 is inconsistent with the statute as written.  Section 612 does not require (or give EPA authority to require) manufacturers to replace non-ozonedepleting substances such as HFCs.  We therefore vacate the 2015 Rule to the extent it requires manufacturers to replace HFCs, and we remand to EPA for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

For businesses and industries that had been impacted by the EPA’s HFCs rule, it is time to watch for what the Agency does in response to the Court’s opinion.  Whether it appeals to the Supreme Court, or begins rulemaking to revise the current rules, you may wish to monitor this carefully.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Seyfarth Environmental Compliance, Enforcement & Permitting Team.

By Brent I. Clark and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: New OSHA guidance documents may provide employers in these industries with another tool for carefully measuring compliance with the PSM standards.

OSHA recently released guidance documents on Process Safety Management for Explosives and Pyrotechnics Manufacturing (PSM Explosive Pyrotechnics Guidance) (OSHA 3912-03 2017), and the Process Safety Management for Storage Facilities (PSM Storage Guidance) (OSHA 3909-03 2017).

The PSM Explosive Pyrotechnics Guidance focuses on aspects of the standard particularly relevant to explosives and pyrotechnic manufacturers, found in OSHA’s standard on Explosives and Blasting Agents, 29 CFR 1910.109.  The PSM Storage Guidance focuses on aspects of the PSM standard particularly relevant to storage facilities generally.

OSHA notes that while all elements of the PSM standard apply to all PSM-covered pyrotechnics manufacturing or storage facilities, the following elements are most relevant to hazards associated with these facilities:

  • Employee Participation
  • Process Safety Information (PSI)
  • Process Hazard Analysis (PHA)
  • Operating Procedures
  • Training
  • Mechanical Integrity (MI)
  • Emergency Planning and Response

OSHA emphasizes that as to explosives, these PSM elements complement the “cardinal principle for explosive safety: expose the minimum number of people to the smallest quantity of explosives for the shortest period consistent with the operation being conducted.”

These Guidance documents provide employers with an outline to compliance with the applicable PSM standards that provide another review tool to achieve compliance.  Employers in these industries are encouraged to review these Guidance documents carefully to measure compliance with the standard, as you may be sure that OSHA’s inspector’s, if or when they visit, will do so.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.

By Andrew H. Perellis, Kay R. Bonza, and Craig B. Simonsen

EPA SignSeyfarth Synopsis: The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers have proposed to rescind the 2015 Clean Water Rule defining “Waters of the U.S.,” and recodify the pre-existing rule, then engage in a subsequent rulemaking to re-evaluate and revise the definition of WOTUS presumably intended to decrease in the number of water bodies subject to EPA permitting obligations.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers have published a proposed rule on the “Definition of “Waters of the United States” – Recodification of Pre-Existing Rules.”

We had previously blogged about the EPA’s monumental final rule, in June 2015, expanding the definition of “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act, thereby increasing the number of water bodies subject to protection by the EPA through permitting obligations. The final rule was based on EPA’s Science Advisory Board’s draft scientific report, “Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence.” EPA/600/R-11/098B (September 2013).

In commenting on the proposed rule to rescind the WOTUS rule, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said, “we are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses …. This is the first step in the two-step process to redefine ‘waters of the U.S.’ and we are committed to moving through this re-evaluation to quickly provide regulatory certainty, in a way that is thoughtful, transparent and collaborative with other agencies and the public.”

The proposed rescission follows President Trump’s February 28, 2017, Executive Order on “Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule.”  The effect of the rescission would be to recodify the regulatory text that was in place prior to the 2015 Clean Water Rule and that is currently in place as a result of a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit’s stay of the 2015 rule. Therefore, according to the EPA press release, this action, when final, “will not change current practice with respect to how the definition applies.”

EPA also notes that the agencies have begun deliberations and outreach on the second step of the rulemaking involving a reevaluation and revision of the definition of WOTUS in accordance with the Executive Order.

The regulated community — industry, municipalities, developers, builders, and a host of others — should watch and monitor this rulemaking effort closely.  While this initial step will recodify the pre-existing rule, the subsequent rulemaking to re-evaluate and revise the definition of WOTUS presumably is intended to reduce the number of regulated water bodies constituting “waters of the United States,” thereby decreasing permitting obligations, or subjecting fewer entities to permitting requirements as a result of a narrower definition of WOTUS.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Seyfarth Environmental Compliance, Enforcement & Permitting Team.

By James L. Curtis and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: OSHA has proposed to delay the reporting compliance deadline, until December 1, 2017,  for certain employers to electronically file injury and illness data.

Under OSHA’s revised recordkeeping rules certain employers are required to electronically file injury and illness data with OSHA.  As we noted previously in our blog, the rule became effective in January 1, 2017, and required employers to electronically file that information by July 1, 2017.  However, for months the regulated community had been asking how it would be expected to accomplish this electronic filing when OSHA had failed to set up a website capable of accepting the submissions.

In May 2017 OSHA acknowledged that “OSHA is not accepting electronic submission of injury and illness logs at this time and intends to propose extending the July 1, 2017 date by which certain employers are required to submit the information from their completed 2016 form 300A electronically.”

OSHA has now formally proposed to extend the filing deadline until December 1, 2017.  82 Fed. Reg. 29261 (June 28, 2017).  Importantly, OSHA states that the proposed delay will also allow OSHA an opportunity to “further review and consider the rule.”  Accordingly, it appears that OSHA is reconsidering the entire rule and may even modify or revoke the rule prior to the December 1, 2017 filing date.  OSHA stated that it intends to issue a separate proposal to reconsider, revise, or remove other provisions of the final rule on electronically filing injury and illness data.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the author, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.

By Benjamin D. Briggs, Brent I. ClarkJames L. Curtis, Patrick D. Joyce, and Craig B. Simonsen

iStock_000042612884_MediumSeyfarth Synopsis: In an interesting outcome, an OSHRC Administrative Law Judge recently vacated a citation to an alleged “controlling employer” based on 5th Circuit precedent – despite being contrary with OSHA policy and other OSHRC precedent.

A recent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (Commission) Administrative Law Judge, Brian A. Duncan’s decision, in Hensel Phelps Construction Co., Docket No. 15-1638 (April 28, 2017), considered whether Respondent, as the general contractor for the project, can be held liable for the violation as a “controlling employer.”  Additionally, the parties argued and stipulated that under 5th Circuit case law, that OSHA’s “controlling employer” policy has been invalidated and is unenforceable.

The Commission has held that “an employer who either creates or controls the cited hazard has a duty under § 5(a)(2) of the Act, 29 U.S.C. § 666(a)(2), to protect not only its own employees, but those of other employers ‘engaged in the common undertaking’.” McDevitt Street Bovis, Docket No. 97-1918 (Sept. 28, 2000).  “An employer may be held responsible for the violations of other employers ‘where it could reasonably be expected to prevent or detect and abate the violations due to its supervisory authority and control over the worksite.”’ Summit Contractors, Inc., Docket No. 05-0839 (Aug. 19, 2010).

In the facts in this case, according to the ALJ, the Respondent had overall construction management authority on the project.  Pursuant to its contract with the City of Austin, and as the jobsite general contractor, Respondent also had authority through its officials and agents to stop construction work performed by subcontractors when hazardous conditions were found, and to prevent them from continuing work due to safety concerns.  Respondent’s onsite safety managers had previously exercised control over jobsite safety by stopping subcontractor work, and by removing subcontractor employees from the jobsite.  In fact, “Respondent’s Area Superintendent … and … Project Superintendent … were actually present when CVI employees were performing work in the unprotected area of the excavation.”

However, this violation occurred at a jobsite in Austin, Texas, which was under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.  In 1981, the Fifth Circuit, according to the ALJ, ruled that the OSH Act, its legislative history, and implemented regulations, serve to protect “an employer’s own employees from workplace hazards.”  ALJ’s emphasis.  Melerine v. Avondale Shipyards, Inc., 659 F.2d 706 (5th Cir. 1981).  In this case, the ALJ clarified that that “where it is highly probable that a Commission decision would be appealed to a particular circuit, the Commission has generally applied the precedent of that circuit in deciding the case – even though it may differ from the Commission’s precedent.” Kerns Bros. Tree Service, Docket No. 96-1719 (Mar. 16, 2000).

Therefore, the ALJ ruled that “applying 5th Circuit precedent, Respondent cannot be liable for a violation of the Act based solely upon a subcontractor’s employees’ exposure to the condition.”  The citation was vacated.

For employers this outcome raises a clear example of where, if issued an OSHA citation, such as under OSHA’s multi-employer citation policy, it is important to review the citation from the big picture, including the law, regulations, and all case law precedent that might impact the citation on the particular employer.  The jurisdiction in which the case arises matters.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.