Natalie Reed

EPA ISSUES NEW SUPERFUND GUIDANCE

Contaminated Property

Settlement plays a fundamental role in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) Superfund enforcement program. Potentially Responsible Parties (“PRPs”) seeking to resolve their liability through the settlement process should take note that EPA recently issued two new guidance memoranda on its settlement procedures.  One memorandum sets forth revised procedures for managing the duration of remedial design/remedial action negotiations and notably encourages the use of orders known as Unilateral Administrative Orders (“UAOs”) in the face of unsuccessful negotiations.

The recent memorandum, entitled Revised Policy on Managing the Duration of Remedial Design/Remedial Action Negotiations, and dated September 21, 2012, is aimed at strengthening EPA’s negotiation practice, shortening the duration of negotiations, and achieving timely settlements.  Of note to PRPs is that EPA’s new guidance strongly endorses use of UAOs, stating: “We encourage use of EPA’s UAO authority in appropriate cases as a key component to expediting the RD/RA negotiation process.”  The Guidance further cautions that “Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs) should know during negotiations that EPA is willing and ready to issue a UAO if they unreasonably delay settlement.”  The memorandum is available here for further review.

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Is Your Vehicle a CERCLA Facility?

Contaminated Property

While we tend to think of a CERCLA “facility” as the real property where environmental contaminants have come to be located, it is important to remember that CERCLA’s definition of “facility” is actually much broader than that and can serve to open the door to “Potentially Responsible Parties” not considered in your initial cost recovery analysis.

Pursuant to CERCLA, the owner of a facility from which hazardous substances have been released is liable for the costs of responding to the release.  Two recent CERCLA cases  involving motor vehicles illustrate how CERCLA’s broad definition of “facility” expands CERCLA “owner” liability beyond ownership of contaminated real property to ownership of equipment and vehicles from which contaminates have been released.  These cases also provide us with an answer to the question:  Is your vehicle a CERCLA facility?  And the answer is:  It depends.

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CEQA EXCEPTION FOR BIKE LANES NEARING THE FINISH LINE

Green Building

While most attempts to push-through last-minute CEQA reform were parked until next year, one bill, AB 2245, glided through the legislature and now heads to the finish line on Governor Brown’s desk for signature.  The bill, which provides streamlined environmental review for certain bike lane projects, was unanimously passed by the State Assembly on August 24th after receiving only one dissenting vote in the Senate.

AB 2245 exempts from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) bike lane projects in urbanized areas that require repainting of streets and highways, as opposed to widening, when the restriping is consistent with a prepared bicycle transportation plan.  CEQA is the state’s landmark environmental law that requires a public agency to identify significant environmental impacts of projects it proposes to carry out or approve.  CEQA’s procedural and substantive requirements aim to prevent damage to the environment and encourage informed-decision-making.  Recently, the law has come under increasing fire for its potential to be misused for non-environmental purposes.  The law frequently results in extended project delays, and when the project being delayed is considered “green” or one that will reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, the law can seem counterproductive.

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LITIGATION UPDATE: Writ of Certiorari filed in Solutia, Inc. v. McWane, Inc.

Environmental Litigation

Recently, Solutia Inc. and Pharmacia Corporation filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to overturn the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling that a Potentially Responsible Party (“PRP”) conducting a cleanup pursuant to a consent decree is foreclosed from bringing a cost recovery action against other PRPs under CERCLA Section 107, and may only seek contribution from other parties under CERCLA section 113.  This ruling is significant because 1) unlike CERCLA section 107, section113 does not provide for joint and several liability against other PRPs, 2) under CERCLA section 113, PRPs that settle with the government are given contribution protection, and 3) the statute of limitations under section 107 and section 113 differs.

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LITIGATION UPDATE: CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT GRANTS REVIEW OF L.A. LIGHT RAIL CASE

Environmental Litigation

On August 8th, the California Supreme Court granted review of the Second District Court of Appeal’s decision in Neighbors for Smart Rail v. Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority.  As previously blogged in April, the Second District found that a lead agency’s use of projected future conditions to measure the environmental impacts that a long-term infrastructure project would have on traffic and air quality did not violate the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  The Second District’s decision put it at odds with holdings of the Fifth and Sixth District Court of Appeals, making the issue of whether CEQA prohibits the use of projected future baselines ripe for review.

Public agencies have long argued that using current-conditions to measure the impacts of major infrastructure projects that will not be completed for many years to come is not helpful in determining the true traffic and air quality impacts the project will have once operational.  The California Supreme Court will now decide whether CEQA allows public agencies to have the discretion to select a future baseline for long-term projects.  Our blog will keep you updated on the court’s decision.

City Adopts Progressive General Plan Addressing Link Between the Built Environment and Public Health

Green Building

Recently, the City of Richmond, a bay area industrial and commercial hub, approved an innovative General Plan that includes a comprehensive element dedicated to community health and wellness.  The city’s General Plan, which will guide development in the city through the year 2030, is one of the first in the nation to recognize that where people live, work and play has a fundamental effect on their health.  Development of this unique General Plan element was made possible by a $225,000 grant from The California Endowment and took place over an 18-month planning process, which coincided with the City’s overall general plan update process.

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Second Appellate District Approves Use of Projected Future Baseline to Measure Environmental Impacts in L.A. Light Rail Case

Environmental Litigation

On Tuesday, the Second District Court of Appeal issued its decision in Neighbors for Smart Rail v. Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority, ruling that a lead agency’s use of projected future conditions to measure the environmental impacts that a long-term infrastructure project will have on traffic and air quality did not violate the California Environmental Quality Act  (CEQA).  The court’s decision places it in fundamental disagreement with the rulings of the Sixth District and Fifth District Court of Appeals, which have each held that lead agencies are required by CEQA to evaluate project impacts against actual existing environmental conditions, and that agencies do not have the discretion to solely assess project impacts against future conditions expected to exist at the time a project will come into operation.  Although the decision is positive news for the many public agencies that historically engaged in this type of impact analysis to assess traffic and air quality impacts for long-term projects, the defensibility of CEQA documents that solely rely on projected future baselines will remain uncertain until the California Supreme Court takes the issue up for review.

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Supreme Court Settles Riverbed Battle

Environmental Litigation

The Supreme Court recently issued its opinion in the closely watched case of PPL Montana, LLC v. State of Montana, 565 U.S. __ (2012), unanimously reversing and remanding a controversial Montana State Supreme Court decision granting Montana ownership of riverbeds underlying ten hydroelectric facilities on three of the state’s rivers.  The Supreme Court’s ruling relieved PPL of its obligation to pay the state of Montana $41 million in back rent for use of the riverbeds, and likely quelled any fears in the hydropower industry that similar ownership theories would be advanced by other states seeking to fill empty coffers with millions of dollars in back rental payments.  The Supreme Court’s opinion, while providing clarity on the proper application of the federal navigability-for-title test, limits its reasoning on navigability to those instances in which property rights between the states and the federal government are in question, and is explicitly inapplicable to determinations of whether waters are “navigable” for purposes of federal regulatory programs.

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Ninth Circuit Invalidates EPA’s Approval of Valley’s 2004 One-Hour Ozone SIP Based On Failure to Address “Stale” Emissions Data

Environmental Litigation

Recently, Honorable Judge Ronald M. Gould, writing for a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, found the Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) 2010 approval of the San Joaquin Valley’s 2004 1-hour ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard plan (“2004 SIP”) was arbitrary and capricious, citing EPA’s failure to adequately address the potential staleness of mobile source emissions data used to formulate the plan’s emissions inventory.  The court’s decision invalidates EPA’s approval of the plan and requires the agency to conduct its review process anew.  The case potentially signals EPA’s more stringent review of the accuracy and currency of emission inventories during its plan approval process. 

Following EPA’s approval of the 2004 SIP, Sierra Club and several environmental groups petitioned the Ninth Circuit Court Appeals to review EPA’s approval on the basis that mobile source data, current at the time the plan was submitted to EPA in 2004, was outdated and inaccurate by the time the plan, which was amended in 2006 and clarified in 2008, was approved in 2010.  During the six-year period between plan submission and approval, California had replaced the computer modeling tool it used to estimate mobile source emissions with the next generation of that modeling tool, which was better able to capture emissions from heavy-duty trucks.  Also during that time period, California had presented EPA with the Valley’s 2007 SIP for the 8-hour ozone standard (“2007 SIP”), which relied on data compiled through the use of the updated tool.  The court noted that a comparison of the emissions inventories in the 2004 and 2007 plans revealed apparent disparities in emissions estimates for nitrogen oxides (NOx), with the 2004 SIP potentially underpredicting total daily NOx emissions in the Valley.  In the court’s opinion, these disparities, which the court attributed to the state’s change in modeling tools, undermined the accuracy and currency of the 2004 SIP emission inventory data.

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Don’t Sink That Battle Ship: New Suit Demands Tighter Rules on Navy’s Disposal of Vessels at Sea

Environmental Litigation

BattleshipEnvironmental groups filed suit last week in California federal court against the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) alleging the agency failed to adequately regulate a federal ship sinking program, which the groups assert pollutes the sea with toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

The federal program, known as SINKEX, allows the Navy to engage in live fire exercises on decommissioned naval warships to practice gunnery, torpedo accuracy, and missile drills, while simultaneously disposing of obsolete ships. Basel Action Network (BAN) and the Sierra Club allege in their complaint that the ship disposal activities of the federal program pose a substantial and unreasonable risk to human health and the environment because PCBs present in electrical cable insulation, fiberglass bulkhead insulation, paints, adhesives or rubber mounts and gaskets aboard the old vessels eventually leach into the marine environment. Once these PCBs enter the marine environment they accumulate in the bodies of fish and other marine organisms that humans consume.

The groups have asked the court to compel EPA to initiate rulemaking under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which authorizes EPA to regulate the disposal of PCBs, to more stringently regulate the Navy’s remediation of vessels designated for sink exercises, or, alternatively, to revisit the program’s ocean dumping permit.

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