Category Archives: RCRA

Which Is Worse? EPA Oversight or Citizen Oversight?

Everyone who represents PRPs in Superfund settlements has his or her own horror stories regarding the scope of EPA’s oversight cost claims.  We all know that oversight costs can end up as an appreciable percentage of total site costs.  We’ve all cringed to go to meetings with EPA and see not just multiple EPA employees in the room, but several disembodied voices from EPA’s Ada, Oklahoma, lab.  Insult to injury is when there are 3 or 4 representatives of EPA’s outside oversight contractor.  Further insult to injury is added for those of us from states such as Massachusetts or New… More

I Believe in Environmental Regulation, But….

As readers of this blog know, I believe in governmental environmental regulation.  We have a complicated world and it is not surprising that many activities, including those generating greenhouse gases, cause negative externalities.  At the same time, however, I have spent more than 25 years representing regulated entities in negotiations with government regulators and it is impossible to do such work without obtaining an appreciation for the very significant costs that bureaucracies impose.

With all due respect – cue the upcoming diss – to my many friends in government, the absence of market discipline or the ability to fire nonpolitical… More

Stop the Presses: Utility Poles in Place Are Not Point Sources; Neither Are They Solid Waste

As we noted last month, the Supreme Court has determined that logging roads are not point sources subject to stormwater regulation under the Clean Water Act.  On Wednesday, in Ecological Rights Foundation v. Pacific Gas and Electric, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, relying in part on the decision in Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, held that releases of pentachlorophenol and other pesticides from in-place utility poles also do not constitute point source discharges.  As the Court concluded:

Utility poles simply are not “discernible, confined and discrete conveyances” that “channel and control” stormwater.

The Court further… More

Is EPA Considering Allowing PCB Cleanups to Proceed Under RCRA, Rather Than TSCA? I’ll Believe It When I See It (And I Hope I See It)

One headline in today’s Daily Environment Report stated that “EPA Considers PCB Regulatory Reform Amid State Regulator Criticism of Program.” Even my advanced sarcasm skills failed me on reading this. I’ll therefore settle for “about bloody time.”

The original fault certainly lies with Congress, not EPA. The notion that Congress needed a separate statutory regime to deal with one specific compound (ok, family of compounds) was always foolish. TSCA and RCRA were enacted with 10 days of each other in 1976. No one has ever justified the PCB provisions of TSCA, given the contemporaneous passage of RCRA. The… More

What’s the Future for Multi-Day Fines in Environmental Criminal Cases? The Supreme Court Rules That Juries Must Decide the Facts Supporting the Fines

The Supreme Court ruled today, in Southern Union v. United States, that juries must decide facts supporting the imposition of criminal fines.  To this non-criminal lawyer (in more ways than one, I hope), the decision did not seem particularly difficult in light of Apprendi v. New Jersey, but that doesn’t mean that the decision won’t be significant in some environmental cases.

Southern Union was a RCRA case involving allegations that Southern Union had stored a hazardous waste without a permit.  Specifically, the indictment alleged that Southern Union had done so "[f]rom on or about September 19, 2002 until… More

Wondering About the Status of EPA’s CCR Rule? So Are 11 Environmental Groups

I have had a number of clients ask me recently about the status of EPA’s efforts to regulate coal combustion residuals under RCRA. It turns out that some environmental groups have been asking themselves the same question. Being environmental groups, however, they did more than ask about it. They sued.

As most readers know, EPA published two separate proposals for regulating coal ash – one under Subtitle C and one under Subtitle D – on June 21, 2010. Since then, there has been mostly radio silence from EPA, aside from a Notice of Data Availability and request for additional comment last… More

RCRA Citizen Suits Are Still Constitutional

2012 is shaping up to be the Year of the Commerce Clause. Not only is the Commerce Clause at the center of the Supreme Court ‘s impending review of the Affordable Care Act later this spring; it is also at the heart of a statement made by a federal district judge in Voggenthaler v. Maryland Square, LLC that the Constitution bars the application of RCRA’s citizen suit provision in the case of a local groundwater contamination plume:

The central issue in this case is an alleged contamination plume located in Las Vegas, Nevada. As noted by [defendant]… More

The Shrinking of Environmental Liability

Environmental liability has always been a dish best served in as many slices as possible. Hence, CERCLA jurisprudence in its first two decades was characterized by a judicial willingness to entertain ever more creative theories to extend environmental liability to new classes of parties, such as a developer who unknowingly moved contaminated soil (Tanglewood East) to a toll manufacturer who merely directed the production of a useful product with knowledge that there would be hazardous waste by-products (Aceto). More recently, however, courts have shown far less appetite for expanding the traditional boundaries of environmental liability beyond owners, operators,… More

Toto, I’ve a Feeling We’re Not in Massachusetts Anymore: Exceeding a Cleanup Standard Is Not Necessarily An Imminent Hazard

In an interesting decision issued earlier this month, Judge Lewis Babcock of the District of Colorado ruled, in County of La Plata v. Brown Group Retail, that detection of contamination at levels exceeding state cleanup standards does not, by itself constitute an imminent and substantial endangerment under RCRA. I think that Judge Babcock is correct, but I can’t help but feel that the decision might be different in the blue state of Massachusetts. I was particularly taken by Judge Babcock’s description of the nature and purpose of state regulatory standards:

Regulatory screening levels, action levels, and standards do… More

You Want to Preclude a Citizens’ Suit? Pick Your Poison

When clients are threatened with citizen suits – and particularly when the threatened litigation involves a matter where EPA or a state regulatory agency is heavily involved, the clients always want to know why they can’t somehow get rid of the citizen suit, given that EPA is on the case. The answer is that they can – but only in limited circumstances.

The recent decision in Little Hocking Water Association v. DuPont confirmed this answer in the context of RCRA. The Little Hocking Water Association provides public water… More

Just What We Need: More Community Engagement in Superfund Sites

Last week, EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response announced release of its Community Engagement Implementation Plan. Who could be against community engagement? It’s as American as apple pie. It’s environmental justice. It’s community input into decisions that affect the community. It’s transparency and open decision-making.

Call me a curmudgeon, but I’m against it. Study after study shows that, in terms of the actual risks posed by Superfund sites, we devote too many of our environmental protection dollars to Superfund sites, when we should be focusing on air and water. Why do we keep doing this? Because the community demands it. As Peter Sandman has noted,… More

To Be Hazardous or Not to Be Hazardous: EPA Floats Two Options for Regulating Coal Combustion Residuals

Environmentalists have been pushing for years to overturn the Bevill Amendment and get coal combustion residuals (CCR) regulated as a hazardous waste. The failure of an impoundment at the TVA facility in Kingston, Tennessee, in 2008 almost guaranteed that EPA would do something to regulate CCR. Like Hamlet, however, EPA seems to be having trouble making up its mind. Earlier this week, EPA announced two different potential regulatory approaches, one regulating CCR as a hazardous waste under RCRA Subtitle C and one regulating CCR as non-hazardous waste under Subtitle D of RCRA.

More

Time For Another Rant: Precautionary Principle Edition

As I have previously noted, Cass Sunstein, now head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at OMB under Obama, has called the precautionary principle “deeply incoherent.” Why? Because, as Sunstein notes, “costly precautions inevitably create risks.”

I hope that Sunstein is as troubled as I am by the news, reported recently by Inside EPA, that Mathy Stanislaus, head of EPA’s Office of Solid Waste & Emergency Response, has said that implementing the precautionary principle is a key to EPA’s environmental justice efforts.

When Stanislaus says that “we can’t wait until we have all the… More

Superfund Liability: Owner? Operator? Property Manager?

In an interesting decision issued a few weeks ago, a District Court in Georgia held that a property manager at a strip mall could not be held liable as an owner of a facility under CERCLA. However, the court held that the property manager could be liable as an operator of the facility. I don’t think that the decision is correct, but if it is the law, then property managers would be wise to consider carefully what responsibilities they are willing to assume and what sort of indemnification agreements may be required with the actual property owners.

The case, More

Imminent and Substantial Endangerment Under RCRA — I Know It When I See It

Justice Potter Stewart famously said, with respect to obscenity, that “I know it when I see it.” I fear that the test for what constitutes an imminent and substantial endangerment under RCRA is no clearer than Justice Stewart’s subjective test regarding obscenity.

This week, in a decision that is good news for RCRA defendants, Judge Illlston, of the Northern District of California, ruled, in West Coast Home Builders v. Aventis Cropscience USA,  that risks posed by potential future vapor intrusion into buildings from a groundwater plume could not be “imminent and substantial” where no development has… More

When is a Preliminary Injunction Inappropriate? When the Judge Prejudges the Merits

In an interesting case, the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit this week vacated most of a preliminary injunction issued by a federal judge in Puerto Rico, because, the Court concluded, the lower court had wrongly, and without doing so explicitly, converted a PI hearing into a hearing on the merits.

In Sanchez v. Esso, a gasoline station operator brought RCRA citizen suit claims against Esso, which supplied gasoline to the station, and which actually was the owner of the USTs in which the gasoline was stored. Plaintiffs requested a PI requiring Esso both to assess and… More

A Rant Against Superfund

As some of my clients know all too well, I’ve been spending a lot of time on some Superfund matters recently. Although I can’t remember a period when I didn’t have at least one moderately active Superfund case, significant immersion in complex remedial decision-making and negotiations provides an unwelcome reminder just how flawed CERCLA is. Almost 20 years after the acid rain provisions of the Clean Air Act ushered in wide-spread acceptance of the use of market mechanisms to achieve environmental protection goals and the state of Massachusetts successfully privatized its state Superfund program, the federal Superfund program, like some obscure former… More

Regulation of Coal Ash: The Ball’s In EPA’s Court For Now

Although it appeared initially as though Congress might be the first to move towards greater regulation of coal ash following the TVA spill, EPA has seized the initiative. Yesterday, Administrator Jackson announced a two-pronged initiative. First, EPA has issued information requests to facilities maintaining coal ash impoundments in order to gather information necessary to support new regulations. Second, she confirmed that EPA will indeed then promulgate regulations designed to prevent future spills.

In response to the Administrator’s announcement, Nick Rahall, Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee withdrew his own coal ash regulation bill, H.R. 493,… More

Imminent and Substantial Endangerment Under RCRA: Not Everything Qualifies

Attorneys who have litigated citizen suits under RCRA have often wondered if there is any possible risk that would not qualify as an “imminent and substantial endangerment,” thus subjecting the person who “contributed” to such endangerment to liability under RCRA.

In Scotchtown Holdings v. Town of Goshen, the District Court for the Southern District of New York earlier this month established at least some outer parameters for this seemingly boundless phrase. In Scotchtown Holdings, the owner of land allegedly contaminated by the defendant’s use of sodium chloride – also known as salt to the uninitiated – caused groundwater contamination… More

Regulatory Fallout from the TVA Coal Ash Release

The magnitude of the recent release of coal ash from the TVA dam is hard to fathom, though the pictures certainly give some sense of its magnitude. Now, as regulators and Congress attempt to get their collective arms around the import of the release, some of the regulatory implications of the release are starting to emerge. According to a report in yesterday’s Greenwire, Congressional hearings this week may include a discussion regarding whether coal ash should continue to be exempt from regulation as… More

EPA Looks to Make Life Under RCRA Easier For Educational Institutions

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to publish a Final Rule creating an optional, alternative set of generator requirements for hazardous waste generated or accumulated in laboratories at “eligible academic entities”: (1) colleges and universities; (2) non-profit research institutes owned or affiliated with a college or university; or (3) teaching hospitals owned or affiliated with a college or university. 

The Rule will append a new subpart, Subpart K, to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous waste generator regulatory requirements of 40 CFR 262. Eligible academic entities may choose to have their laboratories subject to Subpart K in… More

Indoor Air: New Pathways to Potential Liability?

Two recent federal decisions may aid regulators and activists seeking to hold companies liable under the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA) for historical soil or groundwater contamination that could migrate as vapor and contaminate indoor air.

On July 28, 2008, in United States v. Apex Oil Company, Inc., the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois found the owner of a petroleum pipeline strictly liable under RCRA for pipeline leaks that contaminated soil and groundwater decades prior, and granted injunctive relief requiring the owner to abate the contamination. In Apex Oil, the Department of Justice filed suit under… More

Say It Loud, Say It Clear; The Inside of a Building Is NOT the Environment

In a recent decision, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed that neither CERCLA nor RCRA provide convenient ways for the buyer of a building containing asbestos to finance the abatement of that asbestos. In Sycamore Industrial Park Associates v. Ericsson, the seller of the building replaced the old heating equipment shortly prior to sale, but left the old system, including piping, in place. The buyer sought to make the seller pay for the asbestos abatement on the ground that the seller has disposed of the old equipment by abandoning it in place when it installed the new system…. More

Definition of Solid Waste Revised to Encourage Recycling of Hazardous Secondary Materials

On October 7, 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a new final rule (the “Rule”) that exempts certain recycled hazardous secondary materials from RCRA’s “cradle to the grave” regulatory system.

Hazardous waste is regulated under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). A hazardous secondary material can only be classified as a hazardous waste if it is first determined to be a solid waste as defined in Section 261.2 of the RCRA regulations. Previously, Section 261.2 classified some hazardous secondary materials, but not others, as solid wastes even when recycled. As complying with RCRA can be expensive… More