Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

EPA and Corps of Engineers propose another re-definition of “Waters of the United States”

Posted by Jon Elliott on Mon, Jan 03, 2022

The Clean Water Act (CWA) empowers federal agencies to regulate 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, requiring permits from the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps).

However, CWA does not define this critical term. For many years, agencies used regulatory definitions jointly developed by EPA and the Corps in rules that date primarily from 1986, which included ambiguities that increased agency discretion but also frustrated landowner aspirations in some cases. However, beginning in 2001 a series of decisions by the US Supreme Court frayed the expansive edges of the regulators’ interpretations. 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 in 2006 that the Corps can exert jurisdiction over non-adjacent wetlands where there is a “significant nexus” between the wetlands and navigable waters (in addition, the wetlands must be at least “relatively permanent”).

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Tags: EPA, Environment, PCBs, Wetlands

EPA proposes to revise PCB rules to facilitate cleanups

Posted by Jon Elliott on Mon, Dec 13, 2021

In 1976, an important motivation for enactment of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was to empower the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to control polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which had been developed as superlative insulation fluids but had come to be recognized as persistent toxic contaminants that bioaccumulate in the environment. TSCA banned the manufacturing, processing and distribution of new PCBs effective January 1, 1978, except in a “totally enclosed manner” or with an express exemption from EPA (including a finding that the exempt activity does not pose an “unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment”). Even enclosed activities were banned beginning in 1979, unless with an express exemption from EPA. Additional provisions apply to non-banned activities, and to the cleanup and disposal of PCB-containing wastes. PCBs remain in use in enclosed/exempt locations throughout the country, and new contamination is identified from new leaks and legacy sites.

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Tags: EPA, tsca, CWA, Environment, Toxic, Toxics Release, PCBs

EPA publishes National Recycling Strategy

Posted by Jon Elliott on Mon, Nov 29, 2021

On November 15, 2021, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its “2021 National Recycling Strategy,” which summarizes recent efforts to organize support for recycling of solid wastes – typically referred to in regulatory parlance as “municipal solid waste (MSW)” – and sets out near-term priorities for further progress to reach a national recycling rate of 50% by 2030. The Strategy notes that “The U.S. MSW recycling system currently faces a number of challenges, including confusion about what materials can be recycled, recycling infrastructure that has not kept pace with today’s diverse and changing waste stream, reduced markets for recycled materials, and varying methodologies to measure recycling system performance.” EPA characterizes this Strategy as “part one in a series of strategies to help us re-envision how we use materials more broadly.” As part of these broader considerations, the Strategy incorporates contemporary emphases on environmental justice and climate change. (I’ve recently written about state-level initiatives including “product stewardship” HERE and HERE). The remainder of this note summarizes this policy document.

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Tags: EPA, Environment, Recycling

US Government rolls out comprehensive approach to PFAS “forever chemicals”

Posted by Jon Elliott on Mon, Nov 08, 2021

On October 18, the federal government announced comprehensive plans to design and implement protections against perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – often referred to as “forever chemicals.” PFAS have been manufactured and used since the 1940s and are now found in many environmental settings, and most Americans’ blood. These plans were rolled out through statements by President Biden and longer pronouncements by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Defense, Food and Drug Administration, Department of Agriculture, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Health and Human Services.

The remainder of this note provides basic information about PFAS, and EPA’s new “PFAS Strategic Roadmap: EPA’s Commitments to Action 2021-2024.”

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Tags: EPA, Environment, PFAS, NIEHS

EPA marks the 35th anniversary of Toxics Release Inventory and proposes to list additional chemicals

Posted by Jon Elliott on Mon, Nov 01, 2021

October 17 was the 35th anniversary of the enactment of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA, also referred to as SARA Title III). EPCRA presents several separate programs, including release prevention and reporting for a fairly short list of extremely hazardous substances (which I discussed HERE), inventory reporting for most hazardous materials (which I discussed HERE), and filing of annual toxic chemical release inventory reports with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state, on one of two forms (Form R or Form A) – usually called the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program (which I’ve discussed several times, including HERE).

EPA is celebrating the TRI program anniversary on its website. Meanwhile, the agency has also proposed to add an additional dozen chemicals to the TRI reporting list. The reminder of this note summarizes these activities.

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Tags: EPA, Environment, Toxic, Toxics Release, TRI

Biden Administration Proposes to reverse most Trump Administration revisions to Federal Environmental Impact Assessment rules

Posted by Jon Elliott on Wed, Oct 20, 2021

The federal Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has proposed to revise its regulations administering the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969. NEPA requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions, and incorporate this information into their decisions. Government-wide guidance is provided by the White House’s CEQ, established by NEPA and appointed by the President. CEQ issues formal regulations that agencies must follow, and guidance documents that provide additional advice.  CEQ also reviews agencies’ NEPA implementation programs, and publishes annual national Environmental Quality Reports.


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Tags: Environmental, EPA, NEPA, CEQ

EPA finalizing HFC phase-down rules

Posted by Jon Elliott on Wed, Oct 06, 2021

On September 23, 2021, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced final rules to phase down production and consumption of specified hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HFCs) (I wrote about the proposal HERE). These HFCs are used in refrigeration and air conditioning and fire suppression, and as foam blowing agents and solvents. These rules are consistent with directives included in the 2016 Kigali Amendment to the United Nations-sponsored Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (which I wrote about HERE). The US finally enacted statutory support for Kigali-like requirements in the December 2020 coronavirus relief bill (American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2020 (AIM Act)), which included dozens of unrelated provisions within its 5,593 pages.

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Tags: EPA, climate change, Environment, HFCs, Montreal Protocol, Ozone Layer

Proliferating product stewardship programs facilitate recycling

Posted by Jon Elliott on Wed, Aug 18, 2021

Solid waste management has come a long way since enactment of the Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA) of 1965 to address the national “landfill crisis.” The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) applies SWDA authority to adopt landfill standards, which are administered by state and local governments. EPA also empowers these state and local governments to do more, not just through additional disposal standards, but through expanded requirements for recycling and resource recovery efforts designed to keep more solid wastes out of landfills. In addition, extended management programs impose “product stewardship” and “extended producer responsibility” on manufacturers. This note discusses these introduces these ideas, and summarizes the extent of state programs that apply them.

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Tags: EPA, SWDA, Environment, environmental law, Recyclable, Stewardship Program

National Contingency Plan now requires monitoring of chemical dispersants

Posted by Jon Elliott on Wed, Aug 04, 2021


The US government promulgates a “National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan” – more commonly referred to as the National Contingency Plan (NCP) – as the blueprint for responses to spills of oil and hazardous substances. The NCP is used for responses under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Superfund law (Comprehensive Emergency Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA)), and is overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (although you should note that the first NCP was issued in 1968, not only before CWA and CERCLA were enacted, and even before EPA before was created).

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Tags: EPA, CERCLA, Clean Air Act, NCP

Biden Administration proposes to expand EPA’s budget significantly

Posted by Jon Elliott on Wed, Jul 28, 2021

On May 28, the Biden Administration issued its budget proposal for federal Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 (October 1, 2021 through September 30, 2022). As anticipated based on statements from Mr. Biden while a candidate and since his inauguration, the proposal includes many dramatic changes from former president Trump’s proposed budgets. The administration proposes a 21.6 % ($2 billion) increase in the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget above EPA’s adopted 2021 budget of $9.2 billion. Roughly 90 percent of this increase is related to climate controls and environmental justice, broadly defined.


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Tags: Environmental, EPA