Last week, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a $20M penalty imposed on ExxonMobil for Clean Air Act violations at its Baytown facility, remanding the case for a more particularized review by the District Court regarding whether the plaintiffs have demonstrated that they have standing with respect to all of the violations committed by ExxonMobil. The Court held that it is not enough to show that each of the claims in the complaint are traceable to ExxonMobil’s conduct. … More
Category Archives: Enforcement
On Tuesday, President Trump issued an Executive Order on Regulatory Relief to Support Economic Recovery. I’ll leave to others a discussion of the provisions telling agencies to look for more regulations to roll back. I’m in general agreement with commenters who have said that those provisions don’t add much to Trump’s prior deregulatory efforts and are likely to face mostly the same reception in the courts as prior efforts.… More
Last week, I discussed the Administration’s guidance concerning the exercise of its enforcement discretion during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now comes evidence that the guidance may actually be self-defeating. While the administration is – understandably – trying to cut regulated industries some slack while they are trying to deal with COVID-19, it turns out that exposure to PM2.5 has a significant impact on the COVID-19 death rate.… More
Last week, Susan Bodine, EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, issued a memorandum stating that EPA would exercise its enforcement discretion and not take enforcement action against entities that cannot comply with obligations to EPA due to issues arising from COVID-19. At a certain level, this is understandable. The world has been turned upside down and no one quite knows what is feasible in the current circumstances and what it not.… More
On Monday, District Judge Rodney Sippel ordered sweeping injunctive relief against Ameren Missouri, intended to remedy violations of PSD requirements he had previously identified resulting from upgrades to the Ameren Missouri Rush Island generating plant.
Notwithstanding the lengthy opinion, most of the Court’s findings are fairly plain vanilla. Basically, Judge Sippel ordered Ameren Missouri to submit a PSD permit application and he ruled that BACT for control of SO2 emissions at Rush Island required installation of wet flue gas desulfurization equipment.… More
Late last month, Federal Judge Rodney Sippel ruled that EPA could obtain injunctive relief against Ameren Missouri in the long-running NSR enforcement case concerning Ameren’s Rush Island Plant. The Court had already ruled that Ameren had violated the Clean Air Act by failing to obtain a PSD permit prior to implementing substantial modifications at the plant.
Having lost at the liability stage, Ameren took three shots at avoiding injunctive relief. … More
Earlier this month, EPA released its recommendations for its National Compliance Initiatives for 2020-2023. I face a dilemma in posting about the NCI, because I actually agree with the two biggest changes EPA is proposing. This administration has given regulatory reform a bad name. It’s sort of like a reverse “Nixon in China” situation. These changes might be credible if they were made in any administration other than this one.… More
Being a poor country environmental lawyer, I don’t often delve into the academic world. I therefore just recently caught up to the article written last year by my friend Dan Esty. Red Lights to Green Lights: From 20th Century Environmental Regulation to 21st Century Sustainability, is a wonderful synthesis of a lot of work on how to build a better regulatory mousetrap.
The title does not exactly roll off the tongue,… More
Earlier this month, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals granted something of a reprieve to EPA’s New Source Review enforcement initiative. The Court first confirmed what everyone other than EPA and DOJ already knew – that failure to get a pre-construction permit is a one-time offense, so that penalty claims for alleged violations more than five years prior to filing are barred by the statute of limitations.… More
In November, Attorney General Sessions issued a memorandum prohibiting DOJ from issuing regulations disguised as guidance.
Now, DOJ has taken the prohibition a step further. It will no longer rely on guidance issued by other agencies when taking civil enforcement action. The memorandum has made the regulated community and the NGO community sit up and take notice.
I am sympathetic to the concerns raised in the Sessions memo. … More
Settling Federal Environmental Enforcement Claims — Some Payments to Third Parties May Be Allowed (But Not Many)
Earlier this month, Jeffrey Wood, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources issued a memorandum expanding on Jeff Sessions’ memorandum of June 5, 2017, generally barring payments to third parties as part of government settlements. (And, yes, I know there should be another “s” after the apostrophe, but I’m hereby announcing a new rule; if I can’t pronounce it, I’m not writing it!) The Wood Memorandum affirms – of course – the June 5 Memorandum,… More
I’ve noted numerous times that the NSR program is incomprehensible gibberish. These are scientific and objective comments. The most recent example of this is the DTE litigation, in which a one-judge minority somehow ended up writing the opinion of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, allowing EPA enforcement claims against DTE Energy to continue.
The question in DTE Energy is whether EPA can second-guess a generator’s pre-construction prediction of future actual emissions and bring a claim for an NSR violation – even where post-project actual emissions did not show a significant net increase in emissions. … More
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt today issued a Directive prohibiting the practice of “sue and settle.” He also issued a Memorandum to senior staff explaining in more detail some of the concerns about “sue and settle.” They are two very strange documents.
As to the substance of how EPA will handle future citizen suit claims, there are some specific concrete steps which individuals and groups across the political spectrum actually can support. … More
In a very interesting – and extremely rare – case, Emhart Industries has successfully defended itself against a unilateral administrative order issued by EPA under CERCLA, on the ground that key decisions made by EPA were arbitrary and capricious. The decision, concerning the Centredale Manor Restoration Project Superfund Site, is worth a read for CERCLA practitioners, even though it weighs in at 108 pages.… More
Earlier this week, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs went live with two new web sites intended to increase the public availability of information concerning regulated entities in Massachusetts. The first, ePLACE, will provide information about on-line permit applications. However, since MassDEP began accepting on-line applications on May 5, 2017, ePLACE is going to be of much more interest in the future than it is today. … More
Last month, Attorney General Sessions barred DOJ from entering into settlements that provide for payments to non-governmental persons not a party to the dispute. At the time, I peered into my crystal ball and proclaimed that the practice of incorporating supplemental environmental projects into environmental settlements was “hanging by a thread.” For once, my speculation was accurate.
Yesterday, DOJ notified the District Court for the District of Columbia that the United States and Harley-Davidson had jointly agreed to modify a consent decree that had already been lodged with the Court. … More
Earlier this week, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals handed environmentalists at least a temporary win in what I think was the first case to reach judicial decision in Scott Pruitt’s great environmental roll-back tour of 2017. The Court rejected EPA’s effort to stay the effective date of the New Source Performance Standards for fugitive emissions from oil and natural gas operations, pending EPA’s reconsideration of certain aspects of the Obama-era rule.… More
Earlier this week, Attorney General Sessions issued a brief memorandum barring DOJ from entering into any civil or criminal settlement that would provide for a payment by a defendant to any non-governmental person that is not a party to the dispute.
Where does this leave the common practice of mitigating enforcement penalties through the implementation of Supplemental Environmental Projects? Hanging on by a thread, I’d say.… More
Last year, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the decision by District Judge David Hittner not to impose any penalties on ExxonMobil for violations alleged in a Clean Air Act citizens’ suit concerning ExxonMobil’s Baytown facility. At the time, I asserted that the case was largely a win for ExxonMobil.
Last week, Judge Hittner, in an opinion which was admirably scrupulous in not trying to dodge the 5th Circuit remand,… More
Last week, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that AEP, which entered into a consent decree requiring it to install certain pollution controls at its Rockport 1 and 2 power plants, could not force the owner of those plants to pay to install the controls. The case involved the interpretation of specific contractual language under New York law, but it still has lessons for power plant owners and operators everywhere.… More
Earlier this month, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that NPDES permit holders must comply with all of the terms of their permits. I’m not sure why this should be earthshattering news, but the case does have some relevance for defining the scope of the permit shield.
The case involved the Fola Coal Company and the recurring issue of high conductivity resulting from surface coal mining operations. … More
On June 15, 2016, Exxon sued Massachusetts AG Maura Healey in federal court in Texas, seeking to bar the enforcement of AG Healey’s April 19, 2016 civil investigative demand, issued pursuant to M.G.L. c. 93A, the Commonwealth’s unfair and deceptive practice statute. Under c. 93A, § 6, the AG may issue investigative demands “whenever [s]he believes a person has engaged in or is engaging in any method, act or practice” prohibited by c.… More
On July 1, EPA promulgated an interim final rule making inflation adjustments to the civil penalties under statutes it administers. The adjustments are required by statute. The new amounts apply to violations that occurred after November 2, 2015 and that are assessed after August 1, 2016, which is the effective date of the rule.
The rule has a handy table to locate the new penalty amounts,… More
On Wednesday, EPA published certain amendments to the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in the Federal Register. EPA describes most of the changes as “technical corrections,” but there is one important substantive change. EPA has deleted the affirmative defense for violations caused by equipment malfunctions.
The change follows EPA’s 2015 SIP call requiring states to delete affirmative defenses for violations related to startup, shutdown, or malfunction events. … More
It is well-known that the “economic benefit of noncompliance” is one of the factors to be evaluated in setting penalties under the Clean Water Act. Thus, it is not surprising that, after an oil spill at Citgo’s facility in Lake Charles, Louisiana, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals was unhappy when the District Court “did not quantify the economic gain to Citgo, finding it virtually impossible to do so given the evidence.” The 5th Circuit directed the District Court to “consider its analysis of the [penalty] factors afresh after making a reasonable approximately of economic benefit.”… More
On Wednesday, EPA provided notice of its new “eDisclosure Portal”. Going forward, self-disclosures under EPA’s Audit Policy and its Small Business Compliance Policy will be made via the web-based portal.
Last year, after a string of defeats for EPA in its NSR enforcement initiative, I suggested that the initiative was in trouble, but that EPA was probably not yet ready to concede defeat. After the latest blow, earlier this month, EPA has to be reconsidering. I assume that EPA won’t give up completely until it has lost everywhere or the Supreme Court has weighed in, but the NSR initiative is definitely on life support at this point.… More
Last week, Judge John Copenhaver refused to allow a motion by the United States to enter a consent decree that would have resolved government claims against DuPont concerning alleged violations of the Clean Air Act, CERCLA, and EPCRA at its facility in Belle, West Virginia. The motion was unopposed.
Instead, Judge Copenhaver ordered the United States to file a revised memorandum in support and he specifically directed that the memorandum address certain issues that concerned him,… More
As we noted in 2013, two different Courts of Appeal had ruled that injunctive relief is not available in PSD/NSR enforcement cases against former owners. Both United States v. Midwest Generation and United States v. EME Homer Generation held that, because the former owner no longer controls the site, courts cannot impose injunctive relief against them. As the Court stated in EME Homer Generating:
with time travel yet to be discovered,… More
On Tuesday, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the “permit shield” provisions of the Clean Water Act protected ICG hazard from Sierra Club claims that effluent from ICG Hazard’s Thunder Ridge mine caused exceedances of Kentucky water quality criteria for selenium. Thunder Ridge is covered by a general permit, not an individual site permit, and the Sierra Club argued that the shield should not apply. … More
In a memorandum issued earlier this month, EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement Cynthia Giles encouraged use by EPA staff of “Next Generation Compliance Tools” in civil settlements. Some of the tools are more “next generation” than others, but they all bear watching by the regulated community. The specific tools highlighted in the Giles memorandum include:
- Advanced monitoring, including real-time monitoring of ambient pollution levels at the facility fence-line or in the immediate neighborhood
- Third party compliance verification
- Electronic reporting
- Increased public availability of compliance data
To me,… More
Last week, EPA released its report on Enforcement Annual Results in EPA Regions for Fiscal Year 2014. As always, the report is worth reading, if only for the interactive map which shows where EPA has brought various kinds of cases.
Notwithstanding the traditional self-congratulatory tone of the report, the press coverage has almost uniformly focused on the year-to-year decrease in cases brought and dollars recovered. … More
Is Selenium the Coal Industry’s Kryptonite? Citizen Groups Obtain Summary Judgment Based on Water Quality Criteria Exceedances
Earlier this week, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and other NGOs obtained summary judgment that Alex Energy had violated both its NPDES permit and its Surface Mining Permits due to exceedances of the West Virginia water quality standard for selenium. The permit did not contain effluent limitations for selenium. Nonetheless, the state NPDES permits incorporate by reference regulations stating that:
discharges covered by a WV/NPDES permit are to be of such quality so as not to cause violation of applicable water quality standards promulgated by [West Virginia Code of State Rules § 47-2].… More
EPA Wins Two Clean Water Cases in One Day: The Fourth Circuit Affirms a Narrow Construction of the Permit Shield Defense
Yesterday, I noted that the D.C. Circuit rejected challenges to EPA’s Enhanced Coordination Process and Final Guidance on Clean Water Act permitting for mining activities. It was not EPA’s only CWA victory. On the same day, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a decision narrowly construing the CWA’s permit shield defense.
Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards sued A&G Coal over discharges of selenium from A&G’s Kelly Branch Surface Mine in Virginia.… More
The Reach of Sackett is Not Infinite: Regulated Facilities May Not Challenge EPA Notices of Violation
After the Supreme Court held in Sackett v. EPA that EPA must provide hearings to those to whom it issues unilateral administrative orders, the regulated community immediately began to wonder how broadly the ruling would sweep. It is clear that EPA’s order authority under similar statutory provisions – such as those in the Clean Air Act – is also subject to Sackett.… More
Last Friday, EPA lost another NSR enforcement case. Not only that, but this was a case EPA had previously won. As we noted last August, Chief Judge Philip Simon of the Northern District of Indiana, had previously ruled that the United States could pursue injunctive relief claims against United States Steel with respect to allegations by EPA that US Steel had made major modifications to its plant in Gary,… More
Enforcement of Municipal Stormwater Ordinances Is Tricky Business: Failure to Enforce an Ordinance Required Under a Permit Is Not a Violation of the Permit
Stormwater pollution has become an increasingly important problem. Part of the difficulty in solving it is that it’s not obvious who should be responsible. Should cash-strapped municipalities be on the hook or should it be developers and others who own and maintain large properties with acres of impermeable surfaces? Often, the answer given by EPA and state regulators is that municipal separate stormwater sewer systems, or MS4s are responsible, but they have the authority – and sometimes the obligation – to impose appropriate requirements on property owners.… More
Yes, Virginia, NSR Really is a Preconstruction Permitting Program: Another NSR Enforcement Case Fails on Statute of Limitations Grounds
The trend of cases holding that the NSR provisions of the Clean Air Act constitute a one-time preconstruction review requirement got stronger earlier this month, as the decision in Sierra Club v. Oklahoma Gas and Electric Company dismissed claims by the Sierra Club related to facility modifications that occurred more than five years prior to entry of a tolling agreement between the parties. The decision may not break any new ground,… More
As I have previously noted, the government’s record in NSR enforcement cases has been going downhill, particularly with important defeats before the 3rd and 7th Circuits’ Courts of Appeals. The latest governmental defeat came late last week, in Pennsylvania v. Allegheny Energy, when Chief Judge Conti granted judgment for the defendants on claims alleging both NSR and NSPS violations.… More
Although courts are sometimes reluctant to enforce them, there really are hard stops in CERCLA, particularly the three year statute of limitations for recovery of costs incurred in a removal action. In Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection v. Beazer East, Inc., the Third Circuit recently affirmed the dismissal of a CERCLA cost recovery action by the State of Pennsylvania on the basis of the three year limitations period for removal actions. … More
Last month, I noted that shrinking EPA budgets would lead to greater focus on citizen enforcement. This week, an article in Law360 concerning EPA’s draft 2014-2018 strategic plan has driven that message home. While talking about increased use of technology to monitor compliance more efficiently – all well and good and certainly for real – the strategic plan acknowledges a likely significant decrease in the number of enforcement actions to be brought by EPA. … More
The Answer, My Friend, Is Not Blowin’ In The Wind: Waste From CAFO Ventilation Fans Does Not Require an NPDES Permit
Earlier this year, in her aptly named post “What the Cluck?”, Patricia Finn Braddock, noted that a state court in North Carolina had held that wastes from poultry farms, blown by ventilators from confinement houses and then washed into waters of the United States with stormwater flow, are subject to NPDES permit requirements. Well, in a decision issued on October 23, Judge John Preston Bailey,… More
As the EPA budget continues to get squeezed by the ongoing sequester and a GOP-controlled House that is, shall we say, less than sympathetic to EPA’s mission, it is not surprising that EPA would try to shift more of the enforcement burden to citizen groups. According to a report in Greenwire yesterday, that is precisely what EPA has in mind.
Greenwire quotes Cynthia Giles, EPA’s enforcement czar as saying that “we have far too much noncompliance,… More
Last spring, Robby Sanoff complained in this space about the problem resulting from appellate courts’ refusal to give appropriate discretion to district judges in performing their gatekeeping function under Daubert. As Robby put it:
The difference between “shaky but admissible” and unreliable and inadmissible evidence would seem to be entirely in the eye of the beholder.
The Final Nail In the Coffin on EPA’s Enforcement Initiative Against Historic PSD Violations? The Third Circuit Agrees That PSD Violations Are Not Ongoing
Only last month, the 7th Circuit ruled that alleged violations of the Clean Air Act’s PSD requirements are not ongoing. On Wednesday, in United States v. EME Homer Generation, the 3rd Circuit agreed. Like the 7th Circuit, the 3rd Circuit did not really even view the question as difficult, finding the statute unambiguous and never reaching the second step of traditional Chevron analysis.… More
More on the Permit Shield Defense: A Permittee Is — Gasp — Entitled to Rely on Regulations and Permits Issued by Delegated State Agencies
Late last month, we noted that a permittee may not rely on the permit shield defense unless it has clearly informed the permitting agency of the nature of its discharge. Now we see the flip side. In Wisconsin Resources Protection Council v. Flambeau Mining Company, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals held that Flambeau Mining was entitled to rely on the permit shield defense with respect to its stormwater discharges,… More
What Is the Burden In Proving a Violation of a Stormwater Permit? If It Walks Like a Stormwater Discharge …
Those of us who do NPDES work know that enforcement, including citizen enforcement, against industrial point sources can often be all to straightforward. The plaintiff marches into court with a pile of the defendant’s discharge monitoring reports and the liability phase may be over quickly. Stormwater cases are different, as last week’s 9th Circuit decision in NRDC v. County of Los Angeles demonstrates.
The case had a number of twists and turns,… More
The Clean Water Act permit shield provision provides that compliance with an NPDES permit constitutes compliance with the CWA. What happens when the permit does not mention a particular pollutant? In Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards v. A&G Coal, decided late last week, the Court made clear that the permittee must fully disclose information about its discharge of the pollutant to the permitting agency in order for the shield to be available.… More
The Seventh Circuit Cuts the Gordian Knot of NSR Interpretation: Preconstruction Review Cannot Lead to Continuing Violations
Earlier this week, in United States v. Midwest Generation, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of EPA’s NSR enforcement action against Commonwealth Edison. Commonwealth Edison was the prior owner of the plants at issue and modified them at various times from 1994-1999 without obtaining PSD/NSR approvals before doing so. Midwest Generation purchased the plants and continued to operate them. In 2009, the United States sued both Commonwealth Edison and Midwest Generation. … More
What To Do When You Are Issued A CERCLA Injunction To Perform A $1.5 Billion Cleanup — Lower Fox River Superfund Update
In a 78 page decision in the Lower Fox River Superfund case issued last month, the federal court issued an injunction against NCR Corp. and three other PRPs requiring them to perform a $1.5 billion remedy. No company ever wants to receive such an injunction and NCR sought to soften the impact of that injunction by proposing that it would share the costs of performing the remedy on an interim per capita basis with the three other PRPs. … More
On Thursday, in United States v. DTE Energy Company, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals revived EPA’s enforcement action against DTE energy for alleged NSR violations at DTE’s Monroe Power Plant. As the dissent notes, it may be a hollow victory.
The facts trace a familiar NSR enforcement case trajectory. In 2010, DTE commenced a $65 million maintenance project at Monroe,… More
Last week, EPA announced that it had reached yet one more – its 24th – settlement under as a result of its NSR enforcement initiative. This time, it was Louisiana Generating’s Big Cajun II plant, in New Roads, Louisiana. By now, the contours are familiar, including a penalty of $14 million and injunctive relief estimated to cost approximately $250 million. Changes will include:
- Installation of SNCR (not SCR) on all units to control NOx.…
EPA recently released two guidance documents relevant to Superfund practitioners. One establishes revised procedures regarding how EPA will manage negotiations with PRPs. The second updates EPA’s guidance on how it will handle Alternative Sites. To me, both have the flavor of deck chair management on the Titanic.
The RD/RA negotiation guidance has to be seen to be believed. It’s a document that seems reasonable on its face,… More
Late last month, in Wildearth Guardians v. Lamar Utilities Board, Judge David Ebel ruled that Lamar violated the Clean Air Act by not obtaining a MACT determination, given that its potential emissions of hydrochloric acid were 10.3 tons per year, above the 10 tpy limit for any single hazardous air pollutant. The decision provides an abject lesson on the costs imposed by regulatory uncertainty.
The facts,… More
More Evidence That the Government No Longer Automatically Wins Superfund Cases: New Jersey Requires Proof of a Nexus Between a Discharge and Response Costs
As I have previously noted, government attorneys’ traditional approach to litigating Superfund cases has been to announce that they represent the government and that they therefore win. There was hope, following the Supreme Court’s decision in Burlington Northern, that those days were nearing an end.
It is clear to me, following too many cases after Burlington Northern,… More
Last week, in United States v. Louisiana Generating, EPA won a ruling regarding what type of projects fall within the routine maintenance, repair or replacement exception from the rule that facility modifications are subject to PSD/NSR requirements. The decision is thorough in that it carefully reviews the so-called “WEPCO Factors” – the nature, extent, purpose, frequency, and cost of the work, and applied them to the work at issue in this case,… More
An article in the New York Times earlier this week reported on EPA’s attempts under the Superfund program to address contamination in water bodies, such as rivers, lakes and harbors. Although the article acknowledges that these water body sites are technically challenging, it does not remotely capture the tortured regulatory history of these sites or the dubious remedial approach that EPA is now pursuing. It is not an exaggeration to say that some of the most notorious Superfund failures involve water body sites.… More
PRPs hoping that the Supreme Court in Burlington Northern had established that volume could always be used as a basis for apportioning CERCLA liability will be disappointed by a recent Seventh Circuit opinion. Affirming the trial court’s apportionment decision in the Lower Fox River case on which I blogged earlier, the Seventh Circuit distinguished Burlington Northern and followed the Restatement test that apportionment is not available whenever each tortfeasor’s contribution is independently capable of causing the harm. … More
Score a victory for EPA in its long-running set of disputes with the State of Texas and generation facilities in Texas. Yesterday, in Luminant Generation Co. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed EPA’s decision to partially approval and partially reject the Texas SIP, essentially rejecting both environmentalist and industry challenges to EPA’s determination regarding excess emissions during startup,… 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.… More
E&E News reported yesterday that the U.S. Conference of Mayors has requested a “moratorium” on Clean Water Act enforcement of stormwater limitations on municipalities. The report makes clear that the Mayors avoided an attack on either the CWA or the current EPA administration. Moreover, they acknowledged that there is still “much to be done to protect our water resources.”
Why the moratorium request, then? Two words – they’re broke. One of the mayors who spoke was Michael Bissonnette of Chicopee,… More
After the oral argument Sackett v. EPA presaged where the decision was coming down, I raised the question whether EPA would try to persuade district courts that nothing really had changed. On occasion, I call them correctly. According to E&E News, Mark Pollins, director of EPA’s Water Enforcement Division, in commenting on Sackett, said
What’s available after Sackett?… More
It’s always satisfying to find an open-minded judge who is willing to change his decision when he is shown to be wrong, but Judge Greisbach of the Eastern District of Wisconsin may be crossing the line from open-mindedness into a chronic inability to make up his mind. In the past 9 months, Judge Greisbach has issued three separate decisions in US v. NCR on the subject of whether a party,… More
In its unanimous decision yesterday in Sackett v. EPA, the Supreme Court’s communicates more than a little exasperation with its co-equal branches of government. Justice Alito’s concurrence is an outright broadside attacking Congress for failing over decades to clarify the scope of the Clean Water Act which enabled the Executive Branch in the form of an arrogant EPA to employ what Justice Scalia in the majority opinion describes as the “strong-arming of regulated parties”.… More
For once, speculation about oral argument proved solid. The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling today in Sackett v. EPA means that EPA must allow judicial review of enforcement orders issued pursuant to its authority under the Clean Water Act. The question now is what the true scope of the decision will be. That question really has two parts.
The first is what will happen to CWA enforcement. On that score,… More
Over the first two decades of CERCLA, the rule gradually emerged that parties which settled their liability were restricted to contribution claims under Section 113(f)(1) and would be entitled to contribution protection under Section 113(f)(c)(2). Moreover, in order to ensure the effectiveness of that settlement scheme, courts routinely ruled that claims against settling parties were all barred by contribution protection regardless whether those claims had been asserted in the form of direct CERCLA cost recovery claims under Section 107 or as common law tort claims for negligence,… More
For several decades now, the United States has taken the position that communications and documents exchanged in Superfund matters between government lawyers representing the US EPA and government lawyers representing federal PRPs are privileged. Specifically, the government has argued that both of these sets of government lawyers represent the same party — the United States, which is a unitary government — and thus their communications are protected as attorney-client communications.… More
Is the Bell About to Toll on EPA’s Enforcement Order Authority? The Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument in Sackett
I am generally loath to speculate about what the Supreme Court will do based on oral argument, but the overwhelming reaction to the oral argument in Sackett v. EPA was that EPA is going to lose. What would a loss mean? In simplest terms, EPA would no longer be able to issue enforcement orders under the Clean Water Act without those orders being subject to judicial review. Such a decision would undeniably be significant. Everyone practicing in this area knows how coercive EPA enforcement orders can be. A person who thinks that he is not liable or that the order is inappropriate,… More
The decision yesterday in United States v. Minnkota Power Cooperative serves as a useful reminder regarding how important the burden of proof is in review of agency decisions. The case started in 2006, as part of DOJ’s NSR enforcement initiative, when the United States and North Dakota brought suit against Minnkota’s Milton R. Young Station. The parties settled and a consent decree was entered. Apparently,… More
The PCB contamination in the Lower Fox River in Wisconsin continues to spawn novel Superfund decisions. The latest is US v. NCR, in which Judge Greisbach of the Eastern District of Wisconsin reversed his initial ruling, made less than six months ago, that the United States could not establish successor liability under CERCLA against Appleton Papers, which had bought assets from the alleged polluting party – NCR Corp – and assumed NCR’s liabilities.… More
EPA may have had problems in court in recent years defending its regulations, but it has generally fared much better in its enforcement cases. Earlier this week, however, EPA suffered what will be, if it is affirmed, a devastating defeat in its PSD/NSR enforcement initiative. In United States v. EME Homer City Generation, Judge Terrence McVerry concluded that the government could get no relief against either the former owners of the facility or the current owners or operator. No penalties. No injunctive relief. No relief under state law. Nothing. Nada.… More
As some of our clients know all too well, I am spending much time these days defending citizen suits. As federal and state agency budgets get slashed, we’re only going to see more such suits, unless a Tea Party-controlled Congress amends the relevant statutes to cut back on citizen suit provisions.
The public perception is that big, bad corporations can just spend as much money as necessary to win in court. Those of us in the trenches know that the reality differs. Indeed, at least with respect to actions brought by government environmental agencies, the most common defense experience is for the DOJ attorney to introduce him or herself by saying. “Good morning, your Honor, my name is ________. I represent the government,… More
Perhaps the Justices Just Don’t Like GE: The Supreme Court Grants Certiorari to Review EPA’s Clean Water Act Order Authority
As I noted earlier this month, the Supreme Court denied GE’s certiorari petition seeking to challenge the constitutionality of EPA’s use of unilateral administrative orders issued under section 106 of CERCLA. It thus comes as something of a surprise that the Court today accepted a certiorari petition in Sackett v. EPA. The Sackets are appealing a decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals holding that pre-enforcement review is not available to challenge unilateral administrative orders issued by EPA pursuant to section 319 of the Clean Water Act. Lest anyone think that this is simply the Court reining in that liberal 9th Circuit,… More
As much as I’ve always found EPA’s use of unilateral administrative orders under Section 106 of CERCLA to be offensive, I still expected EPA’s authority to withstand challenge. As I noted previously, not every law that is unfair is unconstitutional. At least for now, the issue has probably been laid to rest. Yesterday, the Supreme Court denied GE’s petition for certiorari seeking to appeal the D.C.… More
Thursday afternoon, EPA and the Tennessee Valley Authority announced one of the largest pollution reduction consent decrees in US history – resulting in between $3 to $5 billion of investment in air pollution controls, and retirement of almost one-third of TVA’s coal-fired generating units within the next few years. Over the next decade, it will reduce TVA’s total emissions of nitrogen oxides by 69% and sulfur dioxide by 67%. … More
While EPA remains under attack by the GOP-majority House, that doesn’t mean that coal is off the hook. To the contrary, coal remains under attack itself. A number of recent stories demonstrate the multi-pronged effort by those who want to reduce or eliminate use of coal. For example, the Environmental Integrity Project and two Texas-based NGOs just filed suit against the Lower Colorado River Authority’s Fayette Power Project,… More
Last month, I noted that, in the absence of comprehensive climate legislation, U.S. carbon policy would be a mish-mash of several elements – including more NSR enforcement. In fact, Phillip Brooks, director of EPA’s Air Enforcement Division, had just told an ALI/ABA forum that EPA’s NSR enforcement initiative is alive and well and he predicted more closures of old coal plants as a result of EPA’s NSR enforcement. … More
Earlier this week, the United States brought another NSR/PSD enforcement action, this time concerning the Homer City Plant, in Pennsylvania. The suit itself isn’t big news, though it’s helpful to have periodical reminders that the NSR enforcement initiative remains active at EPA and DOJ; it is a significant part of the government’s arsenal against traditional pollutants.
It’s also important to remember that,… More
When EPA creates a web page solely addressing one stormwater settlement, you can safely assume that EPA thinks it is important and is trying to send a message. Thus, EPA’s announcement earlier this week of a settlement with Beazer Homes to resolve allegations that Beazer Homes violated federal stormwater requirements at construction sites in 21 – count ‘em, 21 – states should make everyone in the construction industry sit up and take notice.… More
As the holiday approaches, I am particularly thankful that I am not counsel to the Washington State DOT in United States v. Washington State DOT, a case that continues to make me want to take EPA, DOJ, and United States District Judge Robert Bryan by the neck and ask them what the heck are they thinking.
One of the first lessons I learned as a summer associate, more years ago than I care to remember, is that the probability of a successful estoppel claim against the government is approximately the same as the probability that there is a Santa Claus. After the recent decision from the District of New Jersey in FMC Corporation v. American Cyanamid, the probability of a successful estoppel claim may still be low,… More
In a crisply written opinion by Judge Posner, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals just reversed a district court judgment against Cinergy in the NSR case involving Cinergy’s power plant in Wabash, Indiana, and directed that judgment enter for Cinergy. It is not obvious that the case will have wide applicability, but it is certainly worth noting.
The first key issue in Cinergy was whether proposed new projects would be subject to NSR review if they were expected to result in an increase in annual emissions or only if they would result in an increase in the hourly emissions rate. … More
If environmental lawyers have been wondering when they’re going to get their share of economic stimulus, it’s time to stop wondering. Last week, Cynthia Giles, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, announced that her office would be focusing on higher impact cases. Giles also noted that, by the end of this month, EPA would have more than 200 criminal investigators.
If it weren’t for one statement by Giles,… More
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.
EPA shows no signs of slowing down in its efforts to use the Clean Air Act’s PSD/NSR provisions as an enforcement club. The latest target in EPA’s crosshairs is the Detroit Edison Monroe Power Plant. Late last month, DOJ filed a complaint alleging violations of PSD/NSR requirements in connection with a project to replace the high temperature reheater and the economizer at Monroe Unit 2. … More
My apologies if this post is a mash note to Judge Wilkinson. Sometimes a decision is written with such clarity and simplicity that you have to sit up and take notice. Such is the case with yesterday’s decision in North Carolina v. TVA, reversing the District Court decision imposing an injunction against four TVA plants that would have required installation of additional controls for NOx and SO2 ,… More
Last week, in City of Pittsfield v. EPA, the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed denial of a petition by the City of Pittsfield seeking review of an NPDES permit issued by EPA. The case makes no new law and, by itself, is not particularly remarkable. Cases on NPDES permit appeals have held for some time that a permittee appealing an NPDES permit must set forth in detail in its petition basically every conceivable claim or argument that they might want to assert. Pretty much no detail is too small. The City of Pittsfield failed to do this,… More
Sometimes, the practice of environmental law just takes my breath away. A decision issued earlier last month in United States v. Washington DOT was about as stunning as it gets. Ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment, Judge Robert Bryan held that the Washington State Department of Transportation had “arranged” for the disposal of hazardous substances within the meaning of CERCLA by designing state highways with stormwater collection and drainage structures,… More
Last year, I analogized PRP efforts to have CERCLA’s unilateral administrative order provisions declared unconstitutional to Chevy Chase’s repeated announcements during the first year of Saturday Night Live that Francisco Franco was still dead. Eventually, that joke wore out. With yesterday’s decision by the D. C. Circuit Court of Appeals, in General Electric v. Jackson, upholding EPA’s UAO authority, these legal challenges may be similarly about to wear out.… More
When the Burlington Northern decision was first announced, I concluded that “never has the Supreme Court done so much by doing so little.” On May 5, Judge John Mendez, of he Eastern District of California, proved me at least half right. In United States v. Iron Mountain Mines, joint and several liability was imposed on the defendants in 2002. The 2002 decision stated that “given the nature of pollution at the site,… More
Last year, I noted that EPA had made its ECHO data base more user-friendly, creating a web-based map of enforcement actions. Last week, EPA took the effort a step further, at least with respect to Clean Water Act enforcement action. EPA’s Clean Water Act Annual Noncompliance Report, or ANCR, is available on the web in an interactive format that allows interested citizens to see where the noncompliance and enforcement action is taking place. … More
Last week, Judge Thomas Varlan handed the power plant sector a major win in the NSR enforcement arena, ruling that economizer and superheater replacement projects in 1988 at the TVA Bull Run plant were routine maintenance not subject to NSR/PSD regulations. Judge Varlan ruled for the TVA notwithstanding that:
The projects cost millions of dollars (but less than $10M each)
They extended the life of the plant by 20 years
The costs were identified as capital,… More
Last week, Judge John Darrah handed the government a defeat in a PSD/NSR enforcement action, when he ruled that the requirement to obtain permits under the PSD program prior to making major modifications was solely a pre-construction obligation and did not constitute a continuing violation.
United States v. Midwest Generation was one of the recent wave of government PSD/NSR actions, filed last summer. The problem with the government’s case was that Midwest Generation had purchased the six facilities at issue in the case from Commonwealth Edison in 1999 and all of the alleged changes but one were made prior to the purchase.… More
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued interpretive guidance yesterday which requires publicly traded companies to consider the impacts of climate change – both the physical damage it could cause, as well as the economic impacts of domestic and international greenhouse gas emissions-reduction rules – and disclose those risks to investors. As we noted when discussing the potential for this announcement in October, the disclosure requirements are likely to affect companies in a wide range of industries.… More
EPA announced yesterday that it had reached a settlement with Duke Energy to address allegations of New Source Review violations at Duke’s Gallagher coal-fired generating plant in New Albany, Indiana. A jury had already found Duke liable for certain NSR violations at the plant. The settlement obviates the need for a remedy trial, which had been scheduled for early 2010.
EPA has published its annual Compliance and Enforcement Annual Results FY 2009. It always makes interesting reading. This year, EPA has added something new: a web-based map showing the location of all enforcement actions, with links to summaries of the specific actions taken. It’s actually a little tricky to navigate. I had to find an area of interest and zoom in far enough for the dots to be replaced by flags to be able to click on particular sites and obtain the detailed information.… More
Desperate Times, Desperate Measures? Massachusetts Environmental Agencies Look to Reinvent Themselves
On the be careful what you wish for front, Massachusetts Energy and Environment Secretary Ian Bowles announced yesterday an effort to examine “options for changes in administrative structures and programs to meet environmental goals in light of budget challenges.” The announcement identifies three separate areas of investigation:
Public-Private Partnerships – This makes a lot of sense, but, based on the announcement, seems to be too narrowly focused. The announcement indicates that the review will focus on management of properties owned by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. However,… More
Late last week, Elliott Gilberg, Acting Director of EPA’s Office of Site Remediation Enforcement (OSRE) issued an Interim Policy on Managing the Duration of Remedial Design/Remedial Action Negotiations. Members of the regulated community may not be surprised by the contents of the memo, but they certainly will not be pleased. In brief, the memorandum fundamentally makes two points:
EPA wants to shorten the duration of RD/RA negotiation
EPA is going to use the heavy hammer of unilateral administrative orders,… More
In a story from today’s Daily Environment Report, Cynthia Giles, the new Assistant Administrator for Enforcement at EPA, stated that she was looking increase the number of criminal investigators at EPA, noting that
Criminal enforcement is a very important part of our arsenal in achieving compliance and has a powerful deterrent effect. It’s important to us that we’re out there and that we pursue the criminal cases.… More
In another sign that the NSR program is alive and well under the Obama administration, the United States (together with the State of Illinois, filed suit Thursday against Midwest Generation, alleging violations of NSR requirements at six coal-fired power plants. Although the action is not too surprising, given that the Bush EPA had issued a notice of violation to Midwest Generation in 2007, it remains noteworthy. Each new prosecution serves to remind generators that failure to comply with NSR rules can lead to significant costs.… More
As we have reported, EPA and MADEP have both been taking steps over the past year to broaden the scope of their stormwater programs beyond existing regulation under the rules concerning stormwater discharges associated with industrial or construction activity. EPA has proposed using residual designation authority in Maine and Massachusetts and the MADEP proposed sweeping rules governing existing private facilities.
In the regulated community,… More
EPA announced today that it had reached yet another six-figure penalty settlement in an anti-idling case. This time, the penalty was $650,000. This is one of the larger penalties EPA has obtained in this area. There appear to be several reasons for the magnitude of the penalty. First, the defendant, Paul Revere Transportation, LLC, was apparently a recidivist. It has been the subject of an anti-idling enforcement action in 2003.… More
I assume that environmental agencies’ focus on the annual dollar total of enforcement fines and penalties drives my clients as crazy as it does me. After all, the correlation between such figures and any environmental outcomes is pretty limited. Indeed, less enforcement may mean more compliance rather than more undetected violations.
It thus comes as at least limited good news from Inside EPA that EPA is looking at ways to measure the impact of enforcement efforts other than by measuring the amount of fines and penalties. Instead,… More
While some of my colleagues are laboring in the climate change vineyards (and we should have posts soon summarizing the House bill), I thought I would note another interesting enforcement decision issued this week. United States v. Oliver is, in some respects, a run of the mill decision. A mom-and-pop medical waste incinerator (the adjective is the court’s not mine; it does give one pause) failed for several years to comply with EPA regulations governing such facilities.… More
Last week, Judge Larry McKinney issued an order requiring to shut down three coal-fired generating units at its Wabash Station facility by no later than September 30, 2009. The decision actually struck me as a thoughtful analysis of injunctive relief issues in a situation where a violation of NSR regulations had already been proven. Although the decision has gotten most press for the order shutting down the units, it covers a number of issues important to injunctive relief situations,… More
Earlier this week, the jury reached a verdict in the Cinergy – now Duke Energy – NSR retrial. The short version is simple:
Condensor retubine – no need to go through NSR
Pulverizor replacement – requires NSR
I don’t know all of the details of the case. For example, I don’t know if the pulverizer capacity was expanded when they were replaced. If any readers know the details and want to share them,… More
One more note on the Burlington Northern decision. A client of mine has already noted that one impact of the decision will be to result in more litigation over divisibility, which will be good for private lawyers (ouch!). She’s right, as my clients always are, but she shouldn’t be.
Litigation should only increase if EPA does not adjust its settlement demands. If EPA responds appropriately, and makes demands which reflect a fair resolution of a divisible liability,… More
Those of us who have practiced in the Superfund arena for some time know that the government, in those rare cases where it has been forced to litigate, has used the same oral argument in every case: “Good morning, your honor. My name is ______. I represent the government in this action and we win.” Today, the Supreme Court made clear that that the government now needs a new oral argument template.
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,… More
We posted recently about the revival of EPA’s NSR enforcement program. Now, yet another shoe has dropped. The Center for Biological Diversity has announced the creation of the Climate Law Institute, the purpose of which is to use citizen law suits under existing laws to advance regulations intended to address climate change. The press release states that the Institute has $17 million in funding with which to pursue its mission.… More
In addition to our post yesterday and the items highlighted in the New York Times Green.Inc blog on the difficulties facing new and existing coal-fired power plants this week, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice have launched what they call a new national crackdown targeting coal-fired plants that violate the Clean Air Act.
The EPA and DOJ announced yesterday that Kentucky Utilities (KU), a coal-fired electric utility, has agreed to spend approximately $135 million on pollution controls to resolve violations of the Clean Air Act New Source Review program. KU will also pay a $1.4 million civil penalty plus $3 million in implementing supplemental environmental projects, or SEPs. Finally, KU will also surrender over 50,000 SO2 allowances shortly after entry of the consent decree, and annually surrender any excess NOx allowances resulting from the installation of pollution control equipment. … More
Readers of a certain age will recall Chevy Chase’s Weekend Update segment during the first year of Saturday Night Live, when, for a number of shows, he would report that Francisco Franco was still dead. (And isn’t it great that there is actually a Wikipedia article on the subject of Franco still being dead!).
This segment was brought to mind by the report of this week’s decision out of the District Court for the District of Columbia,… More
In a decision that could have significant impact on states’ efforts to limit cross-border pollution, Judge Lacy Thornburg of the District Court for the Western District of North Carolina issued an affirmative injunction against the TVA this week, requiring it to install pollution control equipment at its facilities located nearest to North Carolina and imposing specific emissions limits from those facilities. The basis for the injunction was a finding,… More
While many economists are worried about the possibility of deflation in the current economic crisis, EPA still is concerned about inflation – specifically inflation in the amount of statutory civil penalties under statutes enforced by EPA. In a Federal Register notice dated December 11, 2008, EPA announced increases in its civil penalties.
Some of the increases are not trivial. It is of course true that EPA rarely obtains,… More
Last week, I posted about the Pollard decision, which made clear that local boards to not have unlimited discretion to ignore evidence provided by project proponents. This week, the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak. In Macero v. MacDonald, the Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed a decision in favor of a project opponent, on essentially the same analysis as that in Pollard.… More
Developers and others who appear before local boards know what an uphill battle it is to challenge decisions of those boards. After all, there’s a reason for the existence of the phrase “You can’t fight City Hall.” Of course, it’s never a good idea to fight City Hall unless you absolutely have to do so, but a recent decision from the Massachusetts Appeals Court gives some hope to those forced into that position by a board taking an extreme position.… More
Hopefully, since I like to think the readers of this blog are largely law-abiding, this post will not be relevant to very many of you, but it seemed newsworthy nonetheless. On December 10, EPA announced a new web site dedicated to helping to locate and bring to justice fugitives from environmental crimes. The new web site includes profiles of 25 men wanted for a variety of environmental claims.… More
On the better late than never front, I finally got around to reviewing the still relatively recent decision in United States v. Cinergy Corp. regarding the scope of injunctive relief available with respect to violations of the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review, or NSR, provisions. Although the decision was issued in mid-October, its significance is great enough to mention here.
As most readers here will know,… More
Can a party found liable of violating the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review provisions be required to reduce future pollution more to mitigate emissions caused by past violations? According to a recent U.S. District Court decision, maybe.
In U.S. v. Cinergy Corp., S.D. Ind., No. 99-1693, decided October 14, 2008, the first court to rule on whether retroactive, as opposed to prospective relief, is available under Section 113 of the Clean Air Act found that the court does have the authority to grant such relief. Although the court stopped short of ordering this relief (procedurally,… More
As those of us who have practiced in the Superfund arena for some time know, in the early years of Superfund litigation, such litigation was, from the defendant’s perspective, brutish and short, if not nasty and mean. The DOJ attorney would, in essence, march into court, state “I am from the government; I win,” and the case would be over.
In recent years, that approach has not proven quite so uniformly successful.… More
EPA’s enforcement efforts under the New Source Review, or NSR, program have had more twists and turns during the past ten years than it is possible to catalogue, at least in a blog post short enough to avoid crashing the server. In brief, EPA began under the Clinton administration an ambitious effort to bring NSR cases against numerous power plants. Those efforts have had substantial, though not perfect, success in court.… More