On May 5, 2020, the Illinois Attorney General filed a complaint against a developer and its contractors responsible for demolishing the smokestack of a former coal-fired power plant in Chicago. The suit provides a good reminder that careful planning for the control of fugitive dust emissions is critical during decommissioning activities—and that state legal offices
Under the Clean Air Act, a facility that emits air pollutants may not be constructed unless an air permit has been issued to the facility. For decades, EPA has interpreted the statute to prohibit almost any construction or modification activities until a permitting authority issues a final permit. But on March 25, 2020, EPA proposed new guidance to clarify that, according regulations adopted 40 years ago, the only construction prohibited prior to issuance of an air permit is construction on the emitting unit itself.
Continue Reading EPA Shifts Policy on Construction Prior to an Air Permit
On March 31, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA” and, collectively, the “Agencies”) released the pre-publication version of the final part to their joint Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (“SAFE”) Vehicles Rule. The new rule amends EPA’s greenhouse gas emission standards for passenger vehicles, light-duty trucks, and medium-duty passenger vehicles in model years 2021 and onward, and it simultaneously amends or creates NHTSA’s corporate average fuel economy standards for similar vehicles in model years (MY) 2021-2026. Under these harmonized regulations, each new model year will bring a 1.5% increase in stringency through MY 2026. Though a significant lessening of requirements from joint standards last set in 2012, this “steady ramp rate” is a notable change from the proposed version of the SAFE Vehicles Rule, which sought to maintain requirements as they applied in MY 2020. The new rule will take effect sixty days from its publication in the Federal Register.
Continue Reading Agencies Release Final Rule on Passenger Vehicle Fuel Economy
California regulators have announced that the comment period for a recent proposal, Supplemental Guidance: Screening and Evaluating Vapor Intrusion, has been extended to June 1, 2020, and public workshops and webinars originally scheduled for April have been postponed until further notice.
Vapor intrusion occurs when contamination moves from groundwater and soil beneath a structure into the air, accumulating in occupied areas where they can result in safety hazards or health effects. Common vapor-forming chemicals include volatile organic compounds including trichloroethylene (TCE), mercury, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), and certain pesticides. Testing for vapor intrusion is an important step in investigating a potential development site, and in ensuring the health and safety of existing residential and commercial buildings.
As reported previously, California agencies are providing clarification and directives to guide regulatory compliance following Governor Gavin Newsom’s state-wide “stay at home” order issued on March 19, 2020. More specific guidance has now been issued by the State Water Resource Control Board (SWRCB) for Public Water Systems, and by the South Coast Air Quality Management District for all regulated entities.
Notably, although EPA has announced that enforcement discretion will be exercised in cases where routine compliance is not reasonably practicable, the Agency recognizes the authority of states and tribes to determine their own enforcement policies. Thus, California-regulated companies also must track how California agencies are approaching compliance during COVID-19 to ensure ongoing compliance.
California agencies are beginning to provide clarification and directives to guide regulatory compliance following local “shelter in place” orders to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Governor Gavin Newsom’s state-wide “stay at home” order issued on March 19, 2020. While the State Department of Public Health is taking the lead in coordinating the state-level response, other regulatory agencies responsible for essential services and facilities have begun to issue their first formal directives related to environmental compliance and safety.
The emphasis of regulatory directives thus far are clear: all requirements related to critical infrastructure remain in effect, with special provisions for immediate notification if there are circumstances or current government directives that could impede timely compliance.
As the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak continues across the U.S., it is important for companies to proactively address the potential disruptions to their compliance programs. Environmental compliance is often a boots-on-the-ground activity; but what happens when those boots are at home, can’t travel as needed, or can’t observe operations at the plant level? Unprecedented staffing and operational issues associated with the coronavirus pandemic have the potential to cause significant gaps in environmental compliance programs. Staying ahead of those gaps is key to weathering these compliance challenges. Below we discuss some recommended strategies to maintain compliance.
Continue Reading Environmental Compliance in the Wake of the Coronavirus
On March 9, 2020, EPA published its final “risk and technology review” for the standards it adopted in 2004 to regulate emissions of hazardous air pollutant (HAP) from natural gas-fired combustion turbines. Like most other such reviews, EPA confirmed that the risks presented by HAP emissions from the source category are acceptable with an ample margin of safety. EPA also concluded that there are no new cost-effective controls for reducing those emissions.
Continue Reading EPA Review of Gas Turbines Confirms Ample Margin of Safety, Even Without Controls
Last week, EPA fulfilled a promise to reverse the expansion of its refrigerant management program during the Obama Administration. That expansion, which was finalized in 2016 and became effective in 2019, EPA extended the regulations for ozone depleting substances (ODS) to non-ODS “substitute” refrigerants, with the intent of reducing emissions of substitutes that consist of greenhouse gases (GHGs), including some with very high global warming potentials. Last week’s final rule returns the refrigerant management program to its original focus, at least with respect to appliance leak repair requirements, although some regulatory requirements for non-ODS substitute refrigerants will remain in place.
Continue Reading EPA Finalizes Rule to Limit Refrigerant Program to Ozone Depleting Substances
The Chemical Safety Board (“CSB”) recently issued a final rule that will add additional reporting obligations to certain releases, including those that previously did not require reporting. Last week, the CSB signed the pre-publication version of its final Accidental Release Reporting Rule. The Rule, which will become effective 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register, will require stationary source owners/operators to report to the CSB any “accidental release” resulting in:
Continue Reading New Reporting Rule for Accidental Releases