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Divided Supreme Court Vacates EPA Fossil Fuel Power Plants Rule

Late in June the U.S. Supreme Court issued its latest ruling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) efforts to implement the Clean Air Act (CAA). This time a sharply divided Court voted 5 to 4 to vacate EPA’s attempt to regulate hazardous air pollutant (HAP) emissions from fossil fuel-fired electricity power plants. The justices split over when during a decade-spanning, multi-phase rulemaking did CAA require EPA to calculate the costs and benefits of regulation—the Court majority ruled that this calculation should have occurred in the first round, rejecting EPA’s decision to do so later in the rulemaking sequence.

Valley Fever Endemic in Central California

Valley fever is an illness that usually affects the lungs and is caused by the microscopic fungus known as Coccidiodes immitis, which lives in the top two to twelve inches of soil. While the fungal spores may be present in soils throughout California, they are endemic in the Central Valley counties of Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, San Luis Obispo, and Tulare.

EPA Revises Underground Storage Tank Regulations

It’s been more than 30 years since the U.S. Congress enacted national underground storage tank (UST) requirements (federal UST Law) in 1984. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published extensive UST regulations in 1988, establishing technical requirements for the following:

Avoid Workplace Violence With Info From OSHA

When the majority of people hear the word “violence” they think of physical assault. Of course we know that acts of violence go beyond the physical to include any act in which a person is abused, threatened, intimidated, or assaulted. Every year almost two million U.S. workers report having been victimized by acts of workplace violence, yet many cases still go unreported. Workplace violence is a much bigger problem than many people realize, and it can happen anywhere at any time, and everyone is at risk.

DHS Prepares To Expedite Approval Of Chemical Facility Site Safety Plans

Late in May 2015, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued guidelines under which qualifying chemical facilities can apply for expedited approval of site safety plans (SSPs) intended to protect the facilities against criminal or terrorist activity. These guidelines respond to a Congressional requirement included in amendments adopted in December 2014 to DHS’ Chemical Facility Anti-terrorism Standards (CFATS) program.

Supreme Court Expands Employers’ Duty To Avoid Religious Discrimination

Federal laws protect individuals against job discrimination based on a variety of “protected classes” of characteristics. Most represent physical characteristics, such as race, sex, and disability. In addition, however, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits a prospective employer from refusing to hire an applicant in order to avoid accommodating a religious practice that it could accommodate without undue hardship.

Designing Environmental, Health & Safety (EH&S) Audits

Management of chemicals by your organization raises a host of environmental health and safety (EH&S) issues.  Some of those issues are represented by legal and regulatory compliance requirements, others by formal but non-binding programs that range from company policies to ISO certifications.  In response, organizations adopt and implement a wide variety of EH&S programs, including very broad ones (e.g., compliance with the Hazard Communication Standard) as well as very narrow ones (e.g., programs for managing entry into Confined Spaces).  Organizations with sufficient resources and the will to organize themselves will create systematic programs to evaluate EH&S issues to ensure they’re addressed, and to design and coordinate programs in ways that do so effectively and efficiently. (In 2013-2014 I prepared a series of e-books that outlined EH&S regulatory requirements triggered by chemicals - click here to download).

Drive Green! Save Green!

Did you know that “what you drive, how you drive, and what fuel you use can impact both the environment and your pocketbook?” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has put together a Green Vehicle Guide website that provides useful information and answers to all your questions about how you can go green on the road and save money too.

July 1 Deadline For California’s Revised Industrial Storm Water Requirements

The federal Clean Water Act (CWA) and state water quality laws (including California’s Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act) govern activities that may affect “waters of the United States.” Routine discharges from industrial and public sources make up most potentially polluting discharges, and are subject to National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits and California Waste Discharge Requirements (WDRs), but additional requirements also apply to potential “storm water” runoff from rainwater and snow, which can entrain oils and other pollutants and wash them down storm drains into water bodies. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the first broad-based national program in 1990, and has revised and expanded requirements over the past quarter century (often in response to court decisions finding its efforts inadequate). States have followed suit. For example, in 2014 California updated its industrial storm water requirements, replacing a general permit adopted in 1997 with a new one that becomes effective on July 1, 2015. The new permit revises and expands requirements, including narrowing exemptions for “light industry” facilities to become conditional exemptions subject to certification requirements, and addition of detailed requirements for “preproduction plastic” materials. The remainder of this note summarizes the new California requirements, which generally are comparable to EPA’s national general permit (last updated in 2008)–so readers outside California should remember that your facilities face analogous responsibilities.

EPA and Corps of Engineers (Re)define “Waters of the United States”

The Clean Water Act (CWA) governs activities that may affect “waters of the United States” – sometimes called “navigable waters.” These activities include water quality planning and discharge regulation by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and delegated states, and regulation of projects that may lead to “dredge and fill” of waters, through permits issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers. However, CWA provides no definition of this critical term, leaving agencies and courts to define and apply the term, and thereby to define their authority to control actions that affect water quality. In 2001, and again in 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court issued decisions upending decades of established practice by eliminating some types of water bodies from CWA control, and casting others into ambiguous status. First, in Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers [SWANCC], the Court ruled that the Corps lacks jurisdiction over “isolated” waters and wetlands that are not “adjacent” to navigable waters—such as “prairie potholes,” mudflats, and freshwater seasonal ponds. Then, in Rapanos v. United States, the Court ruled that the Corps has jurisdiction over non-adjacent wetlands when it can demonstrate on a case-by-case basis that there is a “significant nexus” between the wetlands and navigable waters (in addition, opinions signed by eight of the justices required that the wetlands be at least “relatively permanent.”).

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