On Thursday, the Trump Administration announced that it will issue a draft regulation by the end of the year placing a limit on two chemicals frequently found in drinking water. The steps to eventually regulate two types of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”) known as PFOA and PFOS were announced by U.S. EPA head Andrew Wheeler. Other steps outlined Thursday include the initiation of a regulatory process to list PFOS and PFOA as hazardous substances under Superfund and a promise that EPA will “very soon” release interim groundwater clean-up recommendations for sites contaminated with PFAS. EPA is also looking into regulating other chemicals in the PFAS family.

PFAS are man-made chemicals that are resistant to water, grease, and stains and have thousands of consumer and industrial uses. They can be found in carpets, camping gear, fast-food wrappers, fabrics for furniture, water-repellent fabrics, cleaners, cookware, and more. Industry uses include O-rings and gaskets that prevent mechanical breakdowns, metal plating, and fire-fighting foams. Currently, many PFAS concentrated products end up in landfills which can seep into the ground in unlined landfills or pool at the bottom of lined landfills and often end up in wastewater treatment plants that are not equipped to remove PFAS.

EPA currently has a health advisory level for PFAS compounds in drinking water of 70 parts per trillion. However, EPA plans to consider setting federal maximum contaminant levels as part of its draft regulation, which would require increased monitoring and reporting efforts, and would ultimately give the agency more authority to pursue polluters. Likewise, the designation of PFOS and PFOA as hazardous substances under Superfund will give communities and states the power to recover costs of cleaning up the chemicals from polluters. In its 72-page Action Plan, EPA highlighted its intention to improve PFAS cleanup strategies, prohibit environmental release, improve monitoring, and increase enforcement of those in violation of federal PFAS standards.

According to POLITICO, even Republicans in Congress are concerned that the EPA will not move forward with a rulemaking to regulate PFOS and PFOA.  It appears acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has already approved a decision, contained in the agency’s forthcoming chemical management plan, not to add the chemicals to the group of contaminants regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act.  The decision follows controversy over the Trump administration’s suppression of a report from the Department of Health and Human Services which suggests that Perfluoroalkyl compounds, which include PFOS and PFOA, are more prevalent, and pose a greater risk to Americans’ health, than previously known.

The question now is whether Congress will take any action.  It has rare leverage at the moment, as Mr. Wheeler’s nomination to head the EPA as its permanent Administrator is in the hands of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.  A vote is scheduled for February 5th and, on a committee where the Republicans have only a one seat advantage, a defection by any one of them could potentially kill Mr. Wheeler’s prospects.  Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia has spoken out on the need to address Perfluoroalkyl contamination and may be the deciding vote.

Given the willingness of numerous elected Republicans to come out in favor of new federal regulations for PFOS and PFOA, some additional EPA action on the subject seems inevitable sooner or later.  And although EPA is likely to add PFOS and FPOA to the list of CERCLA hazardous substances, that will probably be viewed as inadequate by many, given how prevalent the chemicals are now understood to be.

But even if eventual federal regulation of PFOS and PFOA in drinking water were a certainty, further delay will likely have several significant effects.  Deferred  remediation expenditures is one obvious one.  Less straight forward, however, is the impact from parallel state action.  Some states already regulate the chemicals in groundwater and more will likely follow, particularly in the face of federal inaction.  If more of those regulatory regimes have time to be put into place and tested on a wide scale, they could indirectly shape federal regulation.  EPA may approach its regulatory role differently in a context where a contaminant is almost completely unregulated, compared to one where many states are effectively addressing a problem.  Furthermore, the Clean Drinking Water Act regulation must consider economic costs and benefits, and if states push ahead in this area they may spur the generation of substantial data on which the Agency can make that assessment.

We expect a lot more news and developments in this area and will be tracking it closely at Environmental Law Next.

The longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history continues to affect around 800,000 federal workers and major agencies, including the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”). Despite the shutdown, however, many EPA employees are being called into work without pay.

On January 14, 2019, EPA updated its contingency plan for shut down to increase the total number of “excepted personnel” to 891 or 6.37% of its total workforce. EPA’s contingency plan lists 486 HQ program employees as “excepted personnel” and 405 regional employees as “excepted personnel.” 22 of the excepted regional employees include those located in Chicago at Region 5.

“Excepted personnel” are those that are necessary to perform excepted activities and are excluded from furlough during the shutdown, but only for the hours/days it takes them to perform their excepted activities. “Excepted activities” include activities such as providing for homeland and national security or personal services necessary to respond to emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property, where the threat to human life or property is imminent. Such personal services include legal counseling, litigation, and law enforcement activities designed to protect human life and property from imminent threat. EPA has also stated that work in preparing for a congressional hearing is “excepted,” and, as such, EPA “excepted a limited number of employees” to help Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler prepare for his confirmation hearing, which the Senate held Wednesday.

As the partial government shutdown continues, it is expected that EPA functions and personnel responsibilities will continue to be limited to activities that are necessary to protect public health and safety. According to EPA’s contingency plan, once EPA receives notification that an appropriation has been approved or is imminent, it will contact EPA regional offices to begin resuming orderly operations.

The Chicago-Naperville, IL-IN-WI ozone nonattainment area failed to attain the 2008 ozone NAAQS by the attainment date of July 20, 2018.   The area, which is currently classified as “Moderate” for the 2008 ozone NAAQS, will automatically be bumped-up to a “Serious” classification upon the effective date of the final reclassification notice.  The Chicago area joins six (6) other Moderate areas that likewise failed to attain the standard, including Dallas-Fort Worth, TX; Greater Connecticut, CT; Houston-Galveston-Brazoria, TX; Nevada County (Western part), CA; New York-North New Jersey-Long Island, CT-NY-NJ; and San Diego County, CA.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) published a proposed rule of the reclassification on November 14, 2018.  The reclassification is based on ozone monitoring data for the years 2015-2017.  The bump-up to a Serious classification will give Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana until July 20, 2021 to attain the standard.  These states will be required to submit to USEPA the SIP revisions for these areas that meet the requirements applicable to “Serious” areas under Section 182(c) of the Clean Air Act.  USEPA is proposing in the rule to allow the states up to 12 months after the effective date of the final reclassification notice to submit SIP revisions for non-RACT requirements and until August 3, 2020 to submit RACT SIP revisions.

The effect of failing to attain the standard is significant for owners or operators of sources in the area that emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or nitrogen oxides (NOx).  The main impacts of the reclassification include:  (a) the Title V major source threshold will be going from 100 tpy to 50 tpy; (b) the new source review major modification threshold will be going from 40 tpy to 25 tpy aggregated over 5 years; (c) the emissions offset requirements will be going from 1.15 to 1, to 1.2 to 1; and (d) new RACT requirements may be implemented to control sources emitting between 50 to 100 tpy.

With the lowering of the Title V major source threshold, sources should begin to seek emission reductions and permit revisions to stay below the new 50 tpy threshold.  Sources that cannot stay below the major source threshold will need to apply for and obtain a Title V permit.  Sources should also be considering the new source review and major source threshold changes when planning upcoming projects at your facility.

USEPA is accepting comments on the proposed rule by December 14, 2018.  Assuming no public hearing is held, the automatic bump-up could happen as early as February 2019.  We will continue to keep you apprised of developments as they occur.

With EPA’s e-Manifest set to officially launch on June 30, 2018, companies need to begin preparing to register for the system.  Here is the latest information from EPA about how the registration will work.

All receiving facilities must have an EPA ID number by June 30, 2018, regardless of whether they will be using paper or e-Manifests.  The receiving facilities are the parties that will be responsible for payment of the user fees and the EPA ID number will be the means for tracking billing.  Generators will also need an EPA ID number if they want to sign electronic manifests or correct manifests post-receipt.  Transporters that do not already have an EPA ID number will need one if they want to sign electronic manifests.

Facilities can obtain an EPA ID number from their states, except that facilities in Iowa, Alaska and New York will need to request one from their EPA Regional office.  Facilities will need to complete EPA’s Site Identification Form 8700-12 to obtain the EPA ID number.  In states that have opted in to the EPA MyRCRAid electronic submittal program, the form can be submitted electronically.  Facilities will need to complete Items 1-10, 18 and 19 on the form.  Under the reason for submittal on the form, the party should mark “on-going regulated activity.”  If a facility already has an EPA ID, they do not need to do anything further.

The e-Manifest system will be linked to EPA’s RCRAInfo program.  Currently, RCRAInfo is used for electronic submittals of the Site ID Form (8700-12) and Biennial Report (8700-13), for states that have opted in to the electronic reporting.  Once e-Manifest launches, RCRAInfo will also be used for the electronic submittal of the Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest (8700-22) in all states.  The basic instructions for completing the e-manifest will not be materially different from submitting a paper manifest.  The data elements will remain the same, but the instructions will be updated to address completing the electronic form and signing the form electronically.

Companies can start registering site managers now under the RCRAInfo system for those states that have opted in to the Biennial Report and/or My RCRAid under the RCRAInfo system.  The site manager will have permission to view, prepare and sign forms for their sites, in addition to approving other users in their company.  EPA is recommending that each site register at least two (2) site managers, but they can register more and site managers can be registered for multiple sites.  If a company registers now, they will automatically gain access to the e-Manifest system when it launches.  EPA will announce when registration will be open in all states.

The takeaway is:

  • If you don’t have an EPA ID and will be receiving waste, you need to request an EPA ID from either your state or EPA regional office; and
  • Register now at least two (2) site managers for your company for those states that have opted into the Biennial Report and /or My RCRAid programs.

We will continue to keep you posted on developments as they become available.

Last May, the Trump EPA issued a 90-day stay of two Obama-era landfill methane rules, namely the Standards of Performance for Municipal Solid Waste Landfills (NSPS Subpart XXX) and the Emissions Guidelines (EG).  EPA was responding to concerns by industry groups to reconsider portions of the rules.  After the stay was put into place, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and others filed a petition in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for review of the stay.  While that petition was pending, the stay expired on August 29, 2017 and the rules went into effect.

This past week, the NRDC voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit following surprising stipulations by EPA that the stay did not affect the May 30, 2017 deadline for states to submit implementation plans for existing landfills or EPA’s obligation to approve or disapprove those plans by September 31, 2017 or promulgate federal plans for states that did not timely submit state plans by November 30, 2017.  In short, EPA conceded that the deadlines have past and weren’t met.

The environmental groups are claiming victory with EPA’s concessions.  However, it remains to be seen when EPA will begin enforcing the rules.  EPA’s website still states that it intends to complete the reconsideration process and comments from waste industry representatives indicate that they still intend to pursue rule revisions.  With EPA not actively enforcing the rules, more litigation is likely to come.  Check back here at Environmental Law Next for additional updates as they develop.

The cradle-to-grave scheme is at the heart of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. RCRA, after first defining what a “hazardous waste” is and requiring permits for facilities accepting these materials, then requires a manifest to accompany the movement of the waste from the point of generation – through transportation – and then finally to the “destination facility.” This manifest, completed by the generator, links a defined hazardous waste with a facility permitted to manage it.

On June 30, 2018, the cradle-to-grave scheme, like newspapers, books, and board games, will go digital. On this day, EPA’s new E-Manifest Rule will become effective. Here are twelve things you should know about this rule:

  1. E-manifest rule will take effect in all states, whether the state is authorized to run the RCRA program or not. Authorized states must amend their rules to adopt the program.
  2. The rule will cover not only the well-known federal RCRA hazardous wastes (i.e., the characteristic “D” codes and the listed “F,””K”, “P”, and “U” codes) but also state-only hazardous wastes (such as waste oil in Massachusetts) and PCBs.
  3. Paper manifests, at least for a time, may still be used, but at a price. Here are the current estimated costs for different types of manifest under the program: 
  4. Only the receiving facility pays the fee to the government not the generator or transporter. Undoubtedly, however, many of these receiving facilities may be looking to pass on the costs to their customers.
  5. EPA intends to institute a phase out of paper manifests after three years of operation. During this phase-out period, a generator may still use a paper manifest but the receiving facility will be expected to transfer the data in digital format to EPA.
  6. The receiving facility must pay the fee even if it rejects a waste shipment back to the generator. If the rejected shipment is sent instead to an alternate TSD, that facility pays the fee.
  7. EPA plans to revise the fee schedule every 2 years, which will include higher fees for paper manifests if electronic manifest use does not reach 75% in 4 years. The new fee schedules will not require rulemaking.
  8. EPA’s goal is to eliminate paper manifests after 5 years.
  9. EPA estimates the program will result in $66 million in costs savings, though most of the savings appear to result from decreased burdens on state and federal governments. See 83 Fed. Reg. at 446.
  10. Generators, at least for a time, will still need to prepare Biennial reports, though these are one of the burdens the rule is intended to eliminate.
  11. Users will register for the E-manifest system at RCRAinfo. This system is not up yet.
  12. Rule replaces 6-page manifest form with 5-page form. New top copy goes to e-manifest system instead of destination state. Moreover, copy 2 of current form, which goes to destination state, also eliminated because both destination state and generator state can get copy from electronic database. But 5-page form not yet finalized.

So now even the RCRA Manifest has entered the digital age. Stay tuned for further updates on this rule.

Continuing on our discussion of the electronic manifest (e-Manifest) system, EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, signed the e-Manifest User Fee Final Rule on December 20, 2017.  EPA expects the final rule to be published in the Federal Register in the coming weeks.  The pre-publication version of the final rule is attached here.

Under the final rule, user fees are only being assessed on the hazardous waste and state-only regulated waste receiving facilities.  The “billable event” is the submission of the final manifest copy signed by the receiving facilities.  In assessing the user fee on the receiving facilities only, EPA stated that it was simplifying the billing process and assuming that the receiving facilities will pass on the fees through to the generators by service agreements.

The users will pay different fees depending on the type of manifest submitted.  Given that the user fee is based on cost recovery and that paper manifests are expected to cost more to process, paper manifest fees will be considerably higher than electronic manifests.  EPA is projecting that an electronic manifest will cost $4/manifest, while a mailed copy of a paper manifest will cost $20/manifest.  Image uploads are projected to cost $13/manifest and data file uploads $7/manifest.  These fees are estimates only, based on projections of project costs.  Final user fees will be forthcoming when EPA has a final budget and contracts in place for the system.  EPA will also be publishing revised user fee schedules at two-year intervals.  Based on these estimated numbers, there is a significant incentive for receiving facilities to submit manifests electronically.

The final rule is effective June 30, 2018, which coincides with the launch of the e-Manifest system.  EPA will begin collecting fees on that date.   Receiving facilities will receive an invoice each month and will be directed to the Department of Treasury’s Pay.gov website to submit electronic payments.

We will continue to follow and provide updates from EPA on the e-Manifest system.

 

 

 

The New York Times published a report over the weekend detailing a fall-off in the EPA’s enforcement activities during Scott Pruitt’s tenure as EPA Administrator.  The changes are driven by top down directives from Washington to the regional offices.

The Times found that Scott Pruitt’s EPA started about 1,900 enforcement actions in the nine months since he was confirmed,  around a third fewer than the equivalent period during the Obama administration and a quarter fewer than during the same stretch of the George W. Bush administration.  The analysis found that the civil penalties the current EPA has sought are also less than they were under Pruitt’s predecessors.

Perhaps most significant has been the drop in demands for injunctive relief against alleged violators.  The $1.2 billion of requests made under Pruitt is just 12% of what was sought by the Obama administration in its first nine months.

Data of this kind over the relativity small time period of nine months can be misleading because enforcement actions take time to develop.  Final outcomes – penalties collected and compliance investments compelled – are a better gauge of how aggressive and effective an administration’s enforcement activities are. Nevertheless, several parameters strongly suggest a fundamental shift to a more lax approach to enforcement under Scott Pruitt.

The Times found evidence in addition to enforcement data that shows a purposeful decision by the Agency’s political appointees to rein in enforcement.  For example, it has moved to curtail some of its regional offices’ operating autonomy with respect to issuing information requests to regulated entities.  A confidential May 31, 2017 memorandum from the Director of the Office of Civil Enforcement instituted a new policy.  Now “HQ review is required prior to issuance of information requests under CAA § 114, RCRA § 3007 and CWA §308.”

In response to the New York Times article, EPA issued a release accusing the newspaper of distorting facts about enforcement under the current administration, although the statement does not dispute any specific factual statements in the article.  EPA’s response also asserts that, to date, “no request to gather enforcement information has been denied.”

The article did not include aggregate data on the number of information requests issued since the memorandum was delivered to each of the regional offices.  The Times did, however, discover that, in Region V, requests for information that include a monitoring or testing requirement fell from an average of 4.2 per month to only 1 since May 31st of this year.  It is probably too early, however, to tell if this is indicative of future levels or just a temporary slow-down due to new procedures.

How much control over information requests EPA exercises from Washington is something we will be watching very closely.  They are an essential tool for discovering violations and building enforcement actions.  Which individual information requests, if any, Pruitt’s administration declines to permit might also give an indication of what industries are likely to avoid enforcement generally.  Check back with Environmental Law Next in coming months for more information on this subject.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) e-Manifest system is anticipated to officially launch in June 2018.   The e-Manifest is a nationwide system for tracking hazardous waste shipments electronically and will establish the first national repository of manifest data.  This is a much overdue modernization and consolidation of the current paper system.  The anticipated benefits of the e-Manifest are many, including (1) a reduction of paperwork that is expected to save approximately $75 million annually; (2) nearly real-time shipping tracking capabilities; (3) higher quality data due to better legibility; (4) immediate notice of problems or discrepancies; (5) a unified data system for state and federal wastes; and (6) a single method for reporting manifest data to EPA and states.

Under this new system, EPA is required to collect manifests from any entity required to submit a manifest under federal or state law.  Tens of thousands of generators, transporters, and treatment, storage and disposal facilities will be required to register for the e-Manifest system to submit manifests directly to EPA.  EPA is authorized to collect reasonable fees to pay for the system.  The final rule establishing the user fee methodology is expected later this month. The program will become effective on the same date in all states.

EPA is authorized to develop and implement the e-Manifest system under the Hazardous Waste Electronic Manifest Establishment Act, which was adopted in 2012.  EPA issued a final rule in February 2014, implementing certain provisions of that Act.  We will post an update on the user fee rule as soon as it is available.