Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

EPA Withdraws “Once in Always in” Policy For Major Air Toxics Sources

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Mar 06, 2018

The Clean Air Act (CAA) directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to define “hazardous air pollutants (HAPs)” that may pose acute health hazards, and to impose regulations to reduce those hazards. Controls include permits for “major sources” of HAPs based on “Maximum Achievable Control Technologies (MACT),” and lesser controls for non-major “area sources.” Since 1995, EPA policy has been that every emission source that met major source criteria at the time a MACT became effective is “once in, always in” and cannot requalify as a less-regulated area source even if it accepts legally binding controls that reduce its “potential to emit.” On January 25, 2018 EPA reversed that decades-old policy.

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Tags: Environmental risks, Environmental, EPA, Greenhouse Gas, ghg, climate change, CAA, mact

California Adopts Plan for Greenhouse Gas Controls Through 2030

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Feb 27, 2018

Since enacting AB 32 in 2006, California has pursued aggressive policies to reduce statewide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Primary responsibilities are assigned to the California Air Resources Board (ARB), although other state agencies implement complementary policies within their areas of special jurisdiction. In addition to emissions control regulations, state law assigns ARB to develop a Scoping Plan that identifies the state’s strategic goals, and compiles the many tactical approaches through individual regulatory and incentive programs. ARB issued the first Scoping Plan in 2008, with an update in 2014 and the latest update in 2017. The rest of this note describes changes in the latest Scoping Plan to reflect the state’s ever-expanding GHG reduction goals.

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Tags: Health & Safety, California Legislation, Environmental risks, Environmental, Greenhouse Gas, ghg

EPA Adopts E-Manifest Compliance Deadline and Fees

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Feb 20, 2018

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working for nearly six years to meet a legislative mandate to develop and implement an electronic manifest (“e-manifest”) system to replace the decades-old paper-based system. The Hazardous Waste Electronic Establishment Act of 2012 amended the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and gave EPA three years, but it’s taken longer. EPA adopted e-manifest rules in 2014, but put them on hold until it could establish a suitable information management system (I wrote about these rules here). In January 2018 EPA published final e-manifest rules, including fees, and set June 30, 2018 as the initial compliance deadline.

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Tags: Environmental, EPA

Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Extends Efforts Until 2030

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Feb 13, 2018

One of the longest running sub-national greenhouse gas (GHG) control efforts in the U.S. has been the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) program. RGGI provides a cap-and-trade program covering GHG emissions from targeted fossil fuel power plants in participating northeastern states. The program t has just been revised and extended through 2030.

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Tags: Environmental risks, Environmental, Greenhouse Gas, ghg, cap-and-trade

NLRB Eases Restrictions on Employer Policies

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Feb 06, 2018

Most employers promulgate a wide range of employee-related policies and work rules, which some compile in employment manuals. All too frequently, these policies and work rules contain ambiguities that employees try to parse to understand what rules really apply, and why. What if employees interpret – or might reasonably interpret – an ambiguity in a way that appears to restrict employees’ rights to organize themselves? Do these provisions violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)?

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Tags: Business & Legal, Employer Best Practices, Employee Rights, NLRB, directors, directors & officers

EPA is Expanding Mercury Reporting Requirements

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Jan 30, 2018

On June 22, 2016 President Obama signed the “Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act,” revising the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) TSCA extensively. I’ve written about the major programmatic changes here, here, and here. In addition to those Big Picture changes however, the 2016 Amendments provide a number of targeted revisions.

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Tags: Health & Safety, Environmental risks, Environmental, Hazcom, tsca

A Cautionary Tale for Employers Drafting Discretionary Bonus Plans

Posted by Jennifer M. Fantini on Tue, Jan 23, 2018

In the recent British Columbia Supreme Court decision of Kenny v. Weatherhaven Global Resources Ltd., the plaintiff successfully claimed unpaid bonuses and bonus amounts owed over the contractual notice period of approximately $170,000.

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Tags: Employer Best Practices, Employee Rights, Canadian, directors, directors & officers

California’s New Cleaning Products Right to Know Act – A First Look

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Jan 16, 2018

Does your employer’s Hazard Communication program pay attention to cleaning agents used in the workplace – bleaches, disinfectants, glass cleaners, etc? If it does more than mention their existence and note that they’re probably corrosive and maybe toxic, you’re almost certainly in the minority. In most workplaces, workers who use cleaners are exposed to undisclosed or unexplained chemical hazards. And even if your organization’s employees do receive this information, does your employer contract out janitorial and other service work without ensuring that those night janitors are fully trained and protected?

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Tags: Business & Legal, Employer Best Practices, Employee Rights, Environmental risks, Environmental, Hazcom

NLRB Re-Revises the Definition of “Joint Employer”

Posted by Jon Elliott on Tue, Jan 09, 2018

If someone receives occupational direction and/or compensation from more than one entity, then who’s the boss? Sometimes it’s obviously one or the other, sometimes it’s not clear which one is, and sometimes the answer may be “both.” The answer has important implications, not just for who writes a paycheck but for who is subject to legal requirements and prohibitions under federal, state and local laws. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) upended established definitions in 2015, in a decision that Browning-Ferris Industries of California (BFI) was a joint employer with the company (Leadpoint Business Services) that provided employees who worked at one of BFI’s sanitary landfills, since BFI reserved the right to intervene in a variety of labor decisions. By a party-line 3:2 vote (with Democrats in the majority) NLRB “restated” agency and judicial precedent and found that the two companies were indeed joint employers, which realigned the employees’ access to collective bargaining (NLRB’s area of jurisdiction). The other two members dissented vociferously, for a variety of reasons.

After the BFI decision, employer groups and many Republican legislators argued that the correct standard was actual control not potential control, and that the majority was abandoning the common law approaches it claimed to follow. Early in December 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to write a definition of “joint employer” into the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), in order to reverse this expansive interpretation (HR 3441, the “Save Local Business Act”). However, on December 14 the NLRB – now with a 3:2 Republican majority after President Trump filled two intervening vacancies – voted on a party line vote to rescind the BFI case analysis and return to an actual control test. The new decision is in Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors, Ltd. and Brandt Construction Co., as a single employer and/or joint employers. The remainder of this note discusses the issue and this decision, which probably resolves the issue … until the next election that changes the balance of power again.

Who Can Be a “Joint Employer” Under the NLRA

The NLRA does not presently include a statutory definition of “joint employer” (or even “employer”, for that matter, other than to clarify that “any person acting as an agent of an employer” is also considered an employer (29 USC § 152(2))). In the absence of a statutory definition, NLRB and courts look to other labor laws and the “common law” when considering whether an employer-employee relationship exists. This case-specific review allows flexibility to adapt policies to changing workplace realities, but also means that guidance can be unclear and tends to vary with the opinions of a majority of the five NLRB Board members.

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Tags: Business & Legal, Employer Best Practices, Employee Rights, NLRB

Final Determination of Net Neutrality Fate Likely to be Slower Than Dial-up

Posted by Eric Robinson on Tue, Dec 19, 2017

On December 14, the FCC voted to rescind its “net neutrality” rules barring Internet service providers from either favoring or disfavoring certain online content over other content by providing faster, prioritized access to the favored content. As expected, the changes came in a three-to-two vote of the commission members.

This issue has had a convoluted history, dating back to when dial-up was the primary means to access materials online. In 2002, the commission decided that then-emerging broadband access should be classified under the law as an “enhanced information service,” which is subject to little regulation, rather than as a “basic telecommunications service,” which is more highly regulated, like a public utility.

For example, the regulation of old-fashioned telephone service as a basic service means that telephone companies cannot keep their customers from calling customers of other phone companies, or from receiving such calls.

The commission then tried to enact “net neutrality” rules in 2008 and in 2010, both of which were struck down by the courts because of the prior classification of broadband access as an enhanced service. So in 2015, the FCC reclassified Internet access as a “basic service” and imposed new net neutrality regulations on the basis of that classification. With the reclassification in place, the commission’s net neutrality rules were upheld by the courts last year.

Now the commission has voted to again classify Internet access as an enhanced service and rescind the net neutrality regulations. FCC Chair Ajit Pai has said that if Internet service providers unfairly favor some online content over others, the issue should be handled by the Federal Trade Commission as an anti-competitive business practice.

It is important to note that many of the concerns of net neutrality advocates are so far primarily theoretical. But without net neutrality regulations, Internet service providers could favor content from their corporate siblings or subsidiaries, or from content providers that have paid for such priority.

Without net neutrality rules in place, the accessibility of an individual business’s website or cellphone app could depend on the specific circumstances in their markets. Large companies may, for example, be able to afford prioritization from ISPs and dominant businesses may have enough customer support to avoid being deprioritized, so that customers would object if an ISP blocked or limited access. But smaller and independent businesses may not have the clout, in terms of either funds or user demand, to avoid having access to their online material slowed.

The FCC’s vote eliminating the net neutrality rules is not likely to be the last word on the issue. Several state attorney generals have already announced a court challenge and other groups are likely to file separate lawsuits. The changes will probably be put on hold until the court challenges are resolved. Some members of Congress have endorsed legislation on the issue.

In the Internet era, we’ve become used to instant answers and results, but it appears that the question of net neutrality, like many legal issues, will be resolved the old-fashioned way: slowly.

This column is for educational purposes only; it does not constitute legal advice.

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Tags: Business & Legal, Internet