Environmental Compliance

By Jeryl L. OlsonPatrick D. Joyce, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: Last week before his departure USEPA Administrator Pruitt notified the regulated community that he had directed the Agency to update regulations governing the Agency’s use of Section 404(c) veto power in permitting discharges of dredged or fill materials under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) current regulations implementing Clean Water Act (CWA) section 404(c) allow the Agency to veto at any time during the permitting process a permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) under CWA section 404(a) that allows for the discharge of dredged or fill material at permitted sites.  USEPA has historically taken the position that it can preemptively veto a permit before, during or after a 404(a) application is filed or a permit is issued.

In a memorandum last week, USEPA Administrator E. Scott Pruitt directed the Office of Water to develop a proposed rulemaking that would end USEPA’s preemptory and retroactive 404(c) veto power. Administrator Pruitt said that it was his goal to refocus EPA “on its core mission of protecting public health and the environment in a way that is fair and consistent with due process.”  He continued that EPA “must ensure that EPA exercises its authority under the Clean Water Act in a careful, predictable, and prudent manner.”

Administrator Pruitt indicated that the “regulations were last revised nearly 40 years ago“ and “EPA’s regulations should reflect today’s permitting process and modern-day methods and protections, including the robust existing processes under the National Environmental Policy Act.”

Accordingly, the memo directs USEPA’s Office of Water to develop a proposed rulemaking that would consider the following changes:

  • Eliminating the USEPA authority to initiate the section 404(c) process before a USACE 404(a) permit application has been filed with the USACE or a state, otherwise known as the “preemptive veto.”
  • Eliminating the authority of USEPA to initiate the section 404(c) veto process after a USACE 404(a) permit has been issued by the USACE or a state, otherwise known as the “retroactive veto.”
  • Requiring a Regional Administrator to obtain approval from USEPA Headquarters before initiating the section 404(c) veto process over a USACE 404(a) permit.
  • Requiring a Regional Administrator to review and consider the findings of an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement prepared by the USACE before preparing and publishing notice of a proposed determination.
  • Requiring USEPA to publish and seek public comment on a final USEPA determination before such a determination takes effect.

We have previously blogged on related wetlands topics, including Supreme Court to Decide if Army Corps Initial Jurisdictional Determination to Regulate Wetlands Under CWA is Ripe for Judicial Review, Sackett v. EPA: Supreme Court Decides Unanimously In Favor Of Landowners, and New Wetlands Definition.

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

By Jeryl L. Olson, Ilana R. Morady, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: EPA announces its proposal to streamline the regulation of hazardous waste aerosol cans by adding them to the list of materials that can be managed under the Universal Waste management system.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a proposed rule that is intended to simplify the regulation of hazardous waste aerosol cans by adding them to the list of materials that can be managed under the Universal Waste management system under 40 CFR Part 273.  83 Fed. Reg. 11654 (March 16, 2018).  Some states, including California, Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah have already added aerosol cans to their Universal Waste lists. Adding aerosol cans to the list of Universal Wastes would ease the RCRA burden on generators in the two top economic sectors with the largest percentage of potentially affected entities, the retail trade industry and manufacturing.

Currently the U.S. EPA regulates nonempty aerosol cans as RCRA hazardous wastes in the same manner as other hazardous wastes; that is, hazardous waste aerosol cans are basically subject to the same requirements as drums of hazardous waste, including limitations on accumulation time  and volume, manifesting, disposal requirements, employee training, and response to releases.  That is, aerosol cans are regulated as hazardous waste when discarded, because propellant in the cans is flammable (i.e., a characteristic hazardous waste) and/or the contents of the cans contain P- or U- listed chemicals regulated as hazardous wastes. Aerosol cans can be excluded from the definition of hazardous waste, but only if they meet certain strict requirements.

Hazardous waste batteries, certain hazardous waste pesticides, mercury-containing equipment, and hazardous waste mercury lamps are already regulated as Universal Wastes. In general, materials managed as universal waste can be stored for 1 year or longer, and do not require a manifest when shipped, provided they are properly labeled, packaged and stored. Universal wastes also do not need to be counted toward a hazardous waste generator’s inventory for the purpose of determining whether the generator is classified as a very small quantity generator, small quantity generator, or large quantity generator.

While the rule is expected to be relief to the regulated community, the proposed rule raises nearly as many questions as it answers.  For instance, under the proposed rule, an aerosol can is defined as “an intact container in which gas under pressure is used to aerate and dispense any material through a valve in the form of a spray or foam.” It remains to be seen, therefore, whether this proposed definition would include items such as cans that dispense product without aerating (e.g. shaving gel).  Importantly, the proposed rule also creates uncertainty about when an aerosol can is “intact” or is “empty.”  This is a key issue because aerosol cans meeting the definition of “empty” are to be excluded from the Universal Waste rule, and the cans themselves would not be hazardous if recycled.

Currently, punctured, empty aerosol cans that are recycled are exempt from RCRA regulation if the puncturing is performed as part of a recycling process, and many companies have invested in can puncturing equipment to render aerosol cans “RCRA-empty” and thus, the cans (not the “drained contents”) are considered exempt from hazardous waste rules.  As suggested above, however, in the future, where puncturing and draining would render cans empty, they would not be subject to Universal Waste rules.  The issue of whether “puncturing” by the generator (versus the waste handler) is hazardous waste treatment can vary from state to state, and the proposed rule does not provide clarity for generators.

We will continue to monitor development of the proposed rule.

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 Andrew H. Perellis, Patrick D. Joyce, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: Continuing the fight over the Obama-era Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., the National Wildlife Federation, and a host of states, including New York and California have brought lawsuits against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) in response to their final rule to delay the applicability date for the WOTUS Rule.  States of New York et al. v. USEPA and Corps (State Litigation), No. 18-cv-1030 (S.D. NY February 6, 2018), and NRDC v USEPA and Corps (Association Litigation), No 18-cv-1048 (S.D. NY February 6, 2018).

As we noted in previous blogs, the WOTUS rulemaking has been fraught with controversy and has generated well over 1-million public comments. In the most recent chapter of this ongoing saga, the Agencies adopted an applicability rule to extend the applicability date of the 2015 WOTUS Rule to February 6, 2020. USEPA claimed that the extension “provides clarity and certainty about which definition of “waters of the United States” is applicable nationwide in response to judicial actions that could result in confusion.” The Plaintiffs refer to this extension as “the Suspension Rule.”

The State Litigation seeks “a declaration that the Suspension Rule is unlawful and an order vacating it” as well as a declaration that the Agencies’ action was arbitrary and capricious. The States argue, among other things, that the Clean Water Act does not give the Agencies authority to suspend a Rule when it has already become effective.

The Association Litigation seeks a ruling that “the suspension of the Clean Water Rule for two years is…‘arbitrary,’ ‘capricious,’ an ‘abuse of discretion,’ and ‘not in accordance with law’ under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A).” Additionally, the Associations seek a ruling that “the suspension of the Clean Water Rule for two years was…promulgated in violation of the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and was ‘without observance of procedure required by law’ and ‘contrary to constitutional right’ in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(B), (D).”

We will keep you up to date as to the progression of the litigation and any important briefing or rulings that come out of it.

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 Andrew H. Perellis, Patrick D. Joyce, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: The Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) finalized a rule moving the applicability date to the Obama-era Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule to February 6, 2020, two years in the future. 83 Fed. Reg. 5200 (Feb. 6, 2018).

The WOTUS rulemaking has been frought with controversy and has generated well over 1-million public comments.

We have previously blogged on the WOTUS rulemaking. See Executive Order on Restoring the Rule of Law … by Reviewing the “Waters of the United States” Rule, 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 now-final applicability rule extends the applicability date of the Obama-era 2015 WOTUS Rule to February 6, 2020, two years beyond today’s publication of the final rule in the Federal Register. USEPA claims that this extension “provides clarity and certainty about which definition of “waters of the United States” is applicable nationwide in response to judicial actions that could result in confusion.”

USEPA also reiterated that the applicability rule is separate from the ongoing two-step process the Agencies are currently undertaking to reconsider and potentially revise the 2015 WOTUS Rule. The comment period for Step 1 of the reconsideration closed in September, 2017, receiving just under 700,000 comments. Meanwhile, the agencies are still reviewing the 1.1+ million comments received from the public for the 2015 Obama-era WOTUS Rule. USEPA and the Corps are also in the process of holding “listening sessions” with stakeholders to assist the Agencies in developing a proposed Step 2 rule that would again revise the definition of “waters of the United States.”

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 Jeryl L. OlsonKay R. Bonza, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis:  In a guidance document issued last week, U.S. EPA sets out to deliberately move environmental enforcement responsibilities back to the states. While this may, to local interests, represent a noble purpose, few states are manned and ready to take on additional responsibilities.

In yet another move providing relief to industry from federal enforcement, the EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) last week issued an Interim Guidance on Enhancing Regional-State Planning and Communication on Compliance Assurance Work in Authorized States (January 22, 2018) (Guidance).

The Guidance, issued by OECA Assistant Administrator Susan Parker Bodine to Regional Administrators, suggests, with respect to enforcement cases,  a more collaborative partnership between the EPA and states with authorized environmental programs.  It applies to all EPA compliance assurance activities, and Bodine anticipates it will  “develop principles and best practices for State and EPA collaboration in inspections and enforcement, work planning and implementation, National Enforcement Initiatives, and outcome and performance measurement.”

The Guidance sets out the expectation that EPA Regional Offices and their respective states will henceforth work together to achieve environmental compliance rather than EPA repeatedly auditing state level efforts (or from the standpoint of regulated industry, interfering with them).  The Guidance calls for the Region and State to discuss and share information including lists of planned inspections as well as an understanding concerning when a facility will be informed of an inspection in advance.  For any planned program audits, “EPA findings should be considered preliminary until the State has had an opportunity to review and respond.”  Except in emergency situations, EPA aims to allow states to address a deficiency prior to being subject to enforcement action.

Under the Guidance, EPA recognizes that States are given “primacy” in authorized programs.  “With respect to inspections and enforcement, EPA will generally defer to authorized States as the primary day-to-day implementer of their authorized/delegated programs….”  EPA expects to “step in”,  in limited circumstances where actions require specialized EPA equipment and/or expertise, or where noncompliance issues need to be tackled at an interstate level.  Generally, “the Region should defer to the State except where the EPA believes that some EPA involvement is warranted.”

While the notion of cooperative federalism grants states leeway to decide how best to enforce environmental programs, allowing them to consider the unique circumstances and stakeholder interests in their state, the reality is the Guidance places a heavy burden on states to take on more responsibilities while dealing with their own budgetary constraints.  “Cooperative federalism” presumes states have adequate financial support to implement complex environmental requirements.

OECA expects to evaluate the success of the Guidance by requesting that Regions provide a progress report by September 28, 2018.  Unless the new approach is coupled with adequate financial support from the federal government to assist states in implementing complex and broad federal requirements, the collaborative partnership that the Guidance aims to achieve may be strained from inception.

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 Jeryl L. OlsonKay R. Bonza, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: In another example of business-friendly regulatory agency actions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has just rescinded the “Seitz Memo” associated with the “Once In, Always In” policy affecting the classification of certain major sources of hazardous air pollutants under section 112 of the Clean Air Act.  Memorandum: Reclassification of Major Sources as Area Sources under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act, William L. Wehrum, Assistant Administrator, Office of Air and Radiation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (January 25, 2018) (Reclassification Memo).

As noted by Bill Wehrum, Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, this action “will reduce regulatory burden for industries and the states, while continuing to ensure stringent and effective controls on hazardous air pollutants.”

Under the Clean Air Act, a “major source” is a source that emits, or has the potential to emit, 10 tons per year of a single hazardous air pollutant (“HAP”) or 25 tons per year of a combination of HAPs.  An “area source” is any stationary source that is not a “major source.”  Major sources are subject to different requirements than area sources, including major source MACT standards that can be complex and expensive for industry. For this reason, historically, sources have tried to limit their HAP emissions to avoid being characterized as a major source.

To provide guidance to companies struggling to meet deadlines to prove they were not a major source, in 1995, the Agency published its “Potential to Emit for MACT Standards – Guidance on Timing Issues” (Seitz Memo), which publicized an Agency policy commonly known as “Once In, Always In” (the “OIAI policy”).  The OIAI policy provides that facilities subject to major source standards as of the compliance date were permanently locked in to the major source standard, and could never “go back” to being regulated as a non-major or area source.

The OIAI policy was viewed by industry as unfair for a number of reasons, including that the policy was a disincentive to reduce HAP emissions; even if a major source facility reduced emissions to non-major source levels, the facility was still subject to often onerous major source requirements, so there was no incentive to reduce HAP emissions to non-major source levels. Further, if a company failed to notify U.S. EPA by the applicable MACT standard compliance date that it was not a major source, U.S. EPA used the OIAI policy to regulate that facility forever as a major source, even if HAP emissions were well below major source levels.

The January 2018 Reclassification Memo withdraws the old OIAI policy, effective immediately.  U.S. EPA determined that the OIAI policy articulated in the Seitz Memo is contrary to the plain language of the CAA and thus, under the Reclassification Memo, major sources can at any time choose to limit emissions and obtain “area source” status. This change in regulatory policy will allow previously categorized a major sources of HAP emissions to become area sources at any time by limiting their potential to emit HAPs under the major source thresholds.

For the regulated community, what this means is that if a major source takes an enforceable limit on its potential to emit, and takes measures to bring its HAP emissions below the applicable threshold, it may become an area source.  That source, now having area source status, will not be subject to requirements applicable to the source as a major source under CAA section 112, including, in particular, major source MACT standards that are often very burdensome. In terms of controls, monitoring, and recordkeeping and reporting, it is hoped this significant change in policy will now incentivize facilities to undertake HAP emission reduction projects to become a non-major source, which will in turn reduce air pollution.

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 Andrew H. Perellis, Patrick D. Joyce, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will not issue a final rule for the Obama-era’s proposed regulations for financial responsibility requirements for certain hardrock mining (HRM) facilities. 83 Fed. Reg. 7556 (Jan. 21, 2018).

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that “after careful analysis of public comments, the statutory authority, and the record for this rulemaking, EPA is confident that modern industry practices, along with existing state and federal requirements [sufficiently] address risks from operating hardrock mining facilities.”  “Additional financial assurance requirements are unnecessary and would impose an undue burden on this important sector of the American economy and rural America, where most of these mining jobs are based.”

EPA was under a court ordered deadline to take final action on this rulemaking by December 1, 2017.

EPA’s actions confirm the Trump Administration’s hostility toward regulation. Specifically, EPA concluded that the “degree and duration of risk” associated with the modern hardrock mining industry “does not present a level of risk of taxpayer funded response actions that warrant imposition of financial responsibility requirements under CERCLA for this sector.” According to the Agency, the determination reflected EPA’s interpretation of the statute, EPA’s evaluation of the record for the proposed rule, and the approximately 11,000 public comments received by EPA on this proposed rulemaking.

EPA published proposed HRM financial responsibility regulations under section 108(b) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund) on January 11, 2017. The public comment period on the docket closed on July 11, 2017. The proposed rule was intended to “increase the likelihood that owners and operators will provide funds necessary to address the CERCLA liabilities at their facilities, thus preventing owners or operators from shifting the burden of cleanup to other parties, including the taxpayer.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s comments on the proposed rule, filed July 11, 2017, called upon EPA to make a determination that no rule was necessary.

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 Andrew H. Perellis, Patrick D. Joyce, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: The Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule that would add an applicability date two years in the future to the Obama-era Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. 82 Fed. Reg. 55542 (Nov. 22, 2017).

The WOTUS rulemaking has been frought with controversy, and has generated well over a million public comments.

We have previously blogged on the WOTUS rulemaking. See Executive Order on Restoring the Rule of Law … by Reviewing the “Waters of the United States” Rule, 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 November 22, 2017 proposed rule would extend the applicability date of the Obama-era 2015 WOTUS Rule by two years beyond the comment period, which closes on December 13, 2017. Should the November 22, 2017 proposed rule become “final” on that same day, which is unlikely, the earliest the 2015 WOTUS Rule could be “applicable” is December 13, 2019.

EPA claims that this applicability extension “would give the agencies the time needed to “fully reconsider” the definition of ‘waters of the United States’.”

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said of this proposal that it “shows our commitment to our state and tribal partners and to providing regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers, ranchers and businesses…. This step will allow us to minimize confusion as we continue to receive input from across the country on how we should revise the definition of the ‘waters of the United States’.”

EPA also reiterated that the November 22, 2017 proposed rule is separate from the ongoing two-step process the Agencies are currently undertaking to reconsider and potentially revise the 2015 WOTUS Rule. The comment period for Step 1 of the reconsideration closed in September, receiving just under 700,000 comments. Meanwhile, the agencies are still reviewing the 1.1+ million comments received from the public for the 2015 Obama-era WOTUS Rule. The Agencies are also in the process of holding “listening sessions” with stakeholders to assist the Agencies in developing a proposed Step 2 rule that would again revise the definition of “waters of the United States.”

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 Ilana R. Morady and Andrew H. Perellis

Seyfarth Synopsis: The Cleaning Product Right to Know Act makes California the first state to require ingredient labeling both on product labels and online for consumer cleaning products.

On October 15, 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown signed California Senate Bill (S.B.) 258, the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act of 2017. The new law requires manufacturers of certain cleaning products, i.e. “designated products,” to disclose certain chemical ingredients on the product label by 2021.

Designated products are “a finished product that is an air care product, automotive product, general cleaning product, or a polish or floor maintenance product used primarily for janitorial, domestic, or institutional cleaning purposes.” Exceptions apply, such as referencing that the ingredient information is available on a website, or providing a toll-free phone number.

Under the new law, product information – such as the CAS numbers, the functional purposes of certain ingredients, and a link to the safety data sheets for the products – must also be made available on the manufacturers’ website by 2020. In light of the new law, chemical manufacturers of cleaning products should review their inventory of products sold in California and determine if such products are covered.

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 and Mike Radcliffe

Seyfarth Synopsis:  This blog welcomes Mike Radcliffe, for our guest author’s thoughts on the up and coming deadline for organizations to come into compliance with the new ISO 14001:2015 environmental management system (EMS) standard.

The new ISO standard brings significant change that will require considerable time and thought to implement. Due to the timing, the strategy should focus on implementing the EMS to address the greatest “gaps” and developing the “hard proof” of its effectiveness within your organization.

While it’s not too late to start with an ISO 14001:2015 installation, there should be little delay.  The deadline for recertification of your ISO 14001 EMS is September 15, 2018. After that, certificates issued under the ISO 14001:2004 standard will no longer be valid.

Some companies have the time and expertise to implement needed changes internally.  However, many companies will need to rely on outside assistance. Knowledgeable consultants are busy and will increasingly be in tight supply.  Radcliffe , an independent consultant already assisting several companies with the recertification process, cautions that the project lifecycle for a well-crafted EMS can require up to a year from design to full implementation. Not all of this time is spent developing and writing procedures and work instructions.

In fact, a majority of the time will involve collaboration between the consultant and the company’s internal staff to implement the EMS, by testing the procedures, developing proof that the EMS is functioning, and confirming that the EMS will be able to fulfill its strategic purpose. In addition, under the new ISO 14001:2015 requirements, the organization needs to formulate an approach for including its interested parties and stakeholders (e.g., suppliers) in its contextual analysis (e.g., how, where and with whom does it operate) and in its life cycle thinking. Such strategic thinking will obviously be impaired by tight deadlines.

Other significant changes to the EMS also require advance planning and thoughtful implementation. According to Radcliffe, some of the thematic differences between the two standards are:

  1. EMS aligned with the organization’s strategic direction.
  2. Top management more engaged and subject to nine specific accountabilities.
  3. Consideration of strategic threats and opportunities.
  4. Focus on Life Cycle thinking.
  5. Integrating EMS functionality into business operations.

In sum, the new ISO standard is a significant change that will require time and thought to implement. Companies are urged to look at their EMS systems soon, and bring them into compliance.

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.  Information on Mike Radcliffe can be found on his LinkedIn page, and he can be contacted at michael.radcliffe@gmail.com.