CVS-LOGO-150x96In a settlement reached in mid-April, CVS Pharmacy Inc. (CVS) agreed to pay almost $14 million to settle claims that it improperly stored and disposed of hazardous waste at its drugstores in California. 

In a suit brought in Ventura County Superior Court, prosecutors representing 45 cities and counties across California, alleged that CVS violated California’s Hazardous Waste Control Law (HWCL) (commencing at Health and Safety Code sections 25100 et seq.) and other laws through its improper storage and disposal of various medical, pharmaceutical and photographic waste.  California’s HWCL is California’s state counterpart to the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).  HWCL has a broad impact and regulates hazardous waste from cradle (generation) to grave (disposal).  In addition to the monetary payment, the settlement agreement also requires CVS to properly store, dispose and record hazardous waste in the future and train its employees regarding these requirements.   

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gavel-250x300Last week, in Salmon Protection and Watershed Network v. County of Marin, the California Court of Appeals found that a public agency and a party disputing the adequacy of an environmental impact report (EIR) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) can enter into a tolling agreement to toll or suspend the CEQA statute of limitations. 

Petitioner SPAWN sought to challenge under CEQA the County of Marin’s general plan update on the grounds that the EIR’s cumulative impacts analysis was inadequate.  Generally, there is a short statute of limitations for challenging a public agency’s actions under CEQA.  Under California Public Resources Code section 21167, a petitioner only has 30 days from the date of the public agency’s filing of a notice of determination to challenge an EIR on the grounds that it does not comply with CEQA.  In an attempt to negotiate a pre-filing settlement, SPAWN and the County entered into a series of tolling agreements extending this 30-day limitation period.  However, when a settlement could not be reached, SPAWN brought its CEQA petition.

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buildings-300x200The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released today the annual list of metropolitan cities with the most Energy Star certified buildings for 2011.  To earn EPA’s Energy Star, commercial buildings must perform in the top 25 percent of similar buildings nationwide and must be independently verified by a licensed professional engineer or a registered architect. 

EPA first released the list in 2008.  For the third year in a row, Los Angeles topped the annual list.  Washington D.C. and Atlanta rounded out the top three.  California had the most cities in the top 25, with six cities – Los Angeles, San Francisco, Riverside, Sacramento, San Diego and San Jose. 

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supreme-court2-300x199On March 21st, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Sackett family has a right to challenge a pre-enforcement compliance order from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)before EPA initiates a formal enforcement action in Sackett v. EPA.

The Sacketts own about a half-acre vacant parcel of land in Idaho.  In early 2007, they filled the parcel with dirt and rock in preparation for building a house.  Later that year, EPA issued an administrative compliance order against the Sacketts alleging that the parcel of land is a wetland subject to the Clean Water Act (CWA) and that the Sacketts violated the CWA by filling in the land without obtaining a permit.  EPA ordered the Sacketts to return the land to its former condition or face over $30,000 in penalties per day for failure to comply.

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This week, in the case of Solutia, Inc. and Pharmacia Corp. v. McWane, Inc. (Solutia), the Eleventh Circuit held that a party that performs a cleanup in compliance with a consent decree has no right under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) section 107(a) to recover its cleanup costs.  This case represents a continuance of the courts’ clarification of when claims can be brought under CERCLA sections 107(a) and 113(f).  To understand the significance of this case, it is best to start by examining the United States Supreme Court cases that proceeded it, beginning with the Supreme Court’s decision in Cooper Indus., Inc. v. Aviall Servs., Inc., 543 U.S. 157 (2004).

In Cooper v. Aviall, the Supreme Court turned decades of CERCLA jurisprudence on its head.  Relying on the plain language of CERCLA section 113(f), the court held that a potentially responsible party (“PRP”) can only seek contribution under section 113(f) from other parties “during or following” a civil action under CERCLA section 106 or 107.  Therefore, a party that had not been sued and had not entered into a settlement could not seek contribution under CERCLA section 113(f).  The court did not address when a party could bring an action under section 107. 

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california-water-resources-control-board-300x220Last week, the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) gave notice of public opportunity to comment on its proposed April adoption of the Water Quality Control Policy for Low-Threat Underground Storage Tank Case Closure (Low-Threat Closure Policy). This should come as welcome news for the thousands of underground storage tank (UST) sites in California because the Low-Threat Closure Policy will hopefully make it easier to obtain closure. 

The Low-Threat Closure Policy recognizes that many petroleum release cases pose a low-threat to human health and the environment. The policy’s purpose is to establish consistent California statewide case closure criteria for low-threat petroleum UST sites. To potentially qualify for closure, the site must satisfy eight general criteria (applicable to all sites), as well as media-specific criteria as it pertains to groundwater, vapor intrusion to indoor air and direct contact, and outdoor air exposure. Below is a brief description of each of these criteria.

The general criteria are as follows:

  • Site must be in a service area of a public water system:  The policy recognizes that while new water supply wells are unlikely to be installed in the shallow groundwater near former UST release sites, it is difficult to predict whether this will always be the case, particularly in rural areas that are undergoing new development. Therefore, the policy is limited to areas with available public drinking water supplies. Continue reading

nuclear-power-plant-9igh-300x198Earlier this month, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released for the first time comprehensive greenhouse gas (GHG) data through EPA’s GHG Reporting Program. The 2010 GHG data includes publicly accessible information from sources in nine industry groups that directly emit large quantities of GHGs or supply certain fossil fuels. 

The GHG Reporting Program came as result of EPA’s October 2009 issuance of the Mandatory Reporting of GHG Rule (74 FR 56260).  The rule requires certain large sources and suppliers of products that would emit GHGs if released or combusted to report their GHG data and other relevant information starting in 2010.  EPA’s online data publication tool allows the public to review the GHG data in multiple ways including by facility, industry, location or gas. 

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SouthIn a landmark agreement, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) reached a “government-to-government” agreement with the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians to enforce some of the SCAQMD’s air quality regulations on tribal land. 

The SCAQMD is the air pollution control agency for all of Orange County and the urban portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, but does not have jurisdiction over tribal lands. Under the agreement announced yesterday, the tribe has voluntarily agreed to allow the SCAQMD inspectors to conduct air sampling, monitoring and inspection activities on the 640-acre Cabazon Resource Recovery Park industrial park near Mecca. It also requires facilities operating within the park, including Western Environmental Inc., to comply with applicable SCAQMD rules. The agreement will also allow the SCAQMD to enforce permits issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to facilities operating within the park.

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Supreme-court1-199x300On Monday, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument on Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency (docket no. 10-1062).  At issue is whether a party who was issued a pre-enforcement compliance order from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the right to have the order judicially reviewed before EPA initiates an enforcement action. 

The Sacketts own about a half-acre vacant parcel of land in Idaho.  In early 2007, they filled the parcel with dirt and rock in preparation for building a house.  Later that year, EPA issued an administrative compliance order against the Sacketts alleging that the parcel of land is a wetland subject to the Clean Water Act (CWA) and that the Sacketts violated the CWA by filling in the land without obtaining a permit.  EPA ordered the Sacketts to return the land to its former condition or face over $30,000 in penalties per day for failure to comply. 

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houses1-300x209On Tuesday, the Natural Resources Defense Counsel (NRDC), Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles and Communities for a Better Environment brought a suit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for EPA’s approval of the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s (SCAQMD) 2011 Annual Air Quality Monitoring Network Plan on November 1, 2011 (the Air Monitoring Plan). 

The SCAQMD is the air pollution control agency for all of Orange County and the urban portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.  The Air Monitoring Plan describes the network of ambient air quality monitors within the SCAQMD’s jurisdiction (click here for the final plan).  Federal law requires EPA to review the Air Monitoring Plan annually to identify the need to make any changes to the air monitoring requirements. 

Although the environmental groups’ opening brief is not due until the end of March, according to NRDC’s press release, the focus of the suit will be that EPA violated the Clean Air Act by approving the Air Monitoring Plan even though it does not require air quality monitoring along Southern California freeways.  NRDC contends that such monitoring is necessary to “better inform the local air district about the hazardous levels of particulate air pollution, and to arm them with the information necessary to take action to protect the region’s residents.”  The environmental groups are seeking the installation of air monitors along the region’s highways.