On June 17, the Ninth Circuit (federal) Court of Appeals issued an important ruling on national pesticide regulation, directed at the chemical glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in the ubiquitous weedkiller Roundup (originally marketed by Monsanto, which was bought by Bayer in 2018). The order remands to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the agency’s determination that glyphosate does not pose “any unreasonable risk to man or the environment,” citing evidence that such risks may indeed be present. The case, Natural Resources Defense Council v. EPA, interprets and applies the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). This decision is the latest step in controversies dating to 2009, when EPA began its latest FIFRA hazard review and reregistration determination for glyphosate.Read More
Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog
On May 12, 2022, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) published an interim final rule that revokes a Trump-era prohibition against its attorneys’ use of payments to third parties, including via “supplemental environmental projects (SEPs)”, in settlements with violators of federal environmental laws. (I discussed Trump Administration policies several times, most recently HERE). In these cases, DOJ acts as the attorney for the agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that enforce laws and regulations allegedly violated. This rule change would codify policy changes presented in a memorandum from Attorney General Merrick Garland to US attorneys. This change is designed to restore flexibility to DOJ’s US attorneys to trade penalty dollars for more rapid commitments by wrongdoers to undertake actions to offset harms caused by their violations.Read More
On May 4, 2022, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published notice of a proposed consent decree in litigation brought by the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). EPA proposes to issue a decision responding to a petition filed by CBD in 2014, about whether to list discarded polyvinyl chloride (PVC) as hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). CBD filed the suit early in 2021, after EPA had taken no action on its petition for seven years, claiming that the agency’s inaction violated a duty to act. EPA is now ready to commit to issue a proposed decision no later than January 20, 2023, and a final decision by April 12, 2024.
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.
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