The federal Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has revised 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.Read More
Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed to ban a number of longstanding uses of chrysotile asbestos, using expanded authority provided as part of amendments adopted to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in 2016. This proposal is EPA’s latest step to apply its expanded authority to review and restrict uses of asbestos, renewing agency efforts from the 1980s that were blocked by litigation.Read More
On March 28, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed regulations requiring “non-transportation-related onshore facilities” to prepare response plans covering possible releases of hazardous substances, and submit those plans to EPA. This proposal implements longstanding but unused EPA authority under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The remainder of this note discusses the proposal.
On March 28, the Biden Administration issued its budget proposal for federal Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 (October 1, 2022 through September 30, 2023). The administration proposes a $11.9 billion budget for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a 29% ($2.6 billion) increase above EPA’s adopted 2022 budget of $9.6 billion – similar to the administration’s FY 2022 proposal of $11.2 billion (which I wrote about HERE), which Congress cut considerably.
When must organizations evaluate and disclose how climate change will affect their operations?
The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) administers reporting requirements for companies listed on national securities exchanges (“listed companies” or “public companies”), under federal securities laws including the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Some of the SEC’s requirements provide detailed specifications, such as financial reporting consistent with Generally Accepted Accounting Practices (GAAP). Others are less quantified, requiring reporting of information that might be “material” to investors’ evaluation of a public company. Over time, SEC has added topics subject to reporting of material information, and some of these generalized requirements have evolved into more specific ones. In the latest example of this evolution, in March 2022 SEC is proposing regulatory requirements for disclosures about “climate-related risks and metrics” by public companies, enhancing and standardizing existing agency guidance (I’ve written about these several times over the years, most recently HERE). The remainder of this note summarizes SEC’s proposal.Read More
Discharges of plastics into the environment are steadily increasing, both in aggregate amounts and in associated environmental and health concerns. The United Nations has estimated that plastic debris accounts for at least 85 percent of total marine waste; an estimated 11 million metric tons of plastic enter the world’s oceans annually, and on current trends this will triple by 2040. In response to these concerns, the state of California is creating laws and regulations intended to reduce plastics discharges in the state. In addition to plastics recycling requirements (the state “bottle bill” and others), California has created a focus on “microplastics.” In February 2022, the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) adopted a new Statewide Microplastics Strategy (the Strategy); the rest of this note provides general background on California’s approaches to plastics and microplastics, and summarizes the Strategy.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to expand and refine environmental compliance requirements, including those related to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In particular, facilities and organizations subject to EPA's mandatory GHG emission reporting rules should be preparing to submit reports covering calendar year 2021. The remainder of this note summarizes these requirements.
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”).Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More