On April 28, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, sitting en banc, considered in Blackstone Headwaters Coalition, Inc. v. Gallo Builders, Inc. et al. whether a state consent order settling claims under a state analogue to the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) barred a subsequent citizen suit brought under the CWA seeking injunctive and declaratory relief arising out of the same alleged discharges. Over 30 years before, in North and South Rivers Watershed Ass’n v. Town of Scituate, the First Circuit held that CWA enforcement barred subsequent citizen suits arising out of the same alleged violations, regardless of the type of relief sought. In Blackstone, the en banc First Circuit overruled Scituate and held that the prior state consent order bars only citizen suits seeking civil penalties. (more…)
On January 20, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) released its annual enforcement results for fiscal year 2021. OECA’s report provides some indication of the Biden EPA’s priorities for enforcement. Notably, OECA secured higher civil penalty amounts and financial commitments to injunctive relief in 2021 than in each of the previous four years, which supports the expectation that administrative enforcement actions in key priority areas will continue to increase during the Biden administration. (more…)
Todd Kim, Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), delivered remarks at the American Bar Association’s National Environmental Enforcement Conference on December 14, 2021. He provided insight into what DOJ plans to prioritize in environmental enforcement, centered on criminal enforcement, climate change, and environmental justice.
Kim emphasized that the purpose of enforcement is to ensure that businesses are properly incentivized to comply with the law through deterrence and to provide a level playing field, while protecting public health and the environment. He noted that DOJ has prioritized fighting corporate crime and is revising applicable polices, so ENRD will consider pursuing potential environmental and non-environmental crimes, as well as a business’s environmental and non-environmental track record in prosecution decisions.
Kim focused on methods of sector-wide enforcement, citing the Petroleum Refinery Initiative that involved settlements covering 112 refineries in 37 states since 2000. Kim also expressed an interest in more penetrating identification of all involved parties within a business, as well as in the full supply chain, where relevant. This focus could be especially impactful for importers of chemicals, pesticides, or wood products.
With these various tools in mind, Kim cited climate change and environmental justice as the two highest priority issues. For climate change, he indicated greater enforcement for air emissions from petrochemical plants and from facilities with refrigeration systems. For environmental justice, he provided a general assurance that ENRD is paying greater attention to potential violations in communities of color and low-income communities that may be disproportionately burdened by environmental hazards and harms.
This Sidley Update addresses the following:
- District court judge finds that FERC may not pursue joint and several liability and disgorgement in Coaltrain case – FERC seeks interlocutory appeal.
- FERC Report on Enforcement highlights increased enforcement activity in 2021.
- FERC approves settlement between Enforcement staff and Golden Spread.
- FERC orders penalties against GreenHat Energy, LLC and individuals.
- DOJ and CFTC charge Puerto Rico resident and his firm for misappropriation of nonpublic information and fictitious trading.
On November 30, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit denied cross-petitions for rehearing in United States v. Ameren Missouri, a case that addressed the reach of the new source review (NSR) requirements of the Clean Air Act (CAA). In denying the cross-petitions, the Eighth Circuit left in place an August 20, 2021, panel decision that, among other things, upheld the Eastern District of Missouri’s decision to impose injunctive relief for past NSR violations but reversed the District Court’s decision to require controls at a different power plant operated by Ameren as a way of offsetting past violations. As such, the court leaves in place precedent that sustains the United States’ authority to seek and obtain injunctive relief for wholly past violations — but may be cited as a limit on future government efforts to obtain relief beyond bringing a source into compliance. (more…)
On August 27, 2021, Volkswagen AG and several affiliates (petitioners) filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States seeking to overturn a decision of the Ohio Supreme Court that held the Clean Air Act (CAA) did not preempt state antitampering law. Petitioners assert that the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision was wrong because the CAA preempts state laws regulating emission controls. In support of their request to the U.S. Supreme Court, petitioners argue that there is a growing split among lower courts on the issue of CAA preemption, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (and now the Ohio Supreme Court) holding that the CAA does not preempt state emission control laws and the Alabama Supreme Court and intermediate appellate courts in Tennessee and Minnesota holding that it does. (more…)
On May 13, the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC or the Council) voted and agreed on recommendations to advance the Biden administration’s environmental justice (EJ) agenda. Housed within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the WHEJAC was established by Executive Order (EO) 14008 to recommend to the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council how to address current and historic EJ issues.
WHEJAC adopted recommendations of the three working groups: the Justice40 Initiative (Justice40), EO 12898, and Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool.
On April 30, 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Assistant Administrator for Enforcement, Lawrence Starfield, issued a memorandum outlining agency enforcement plans in communities with environmental justice concerns. Given the Biden administration’s focus on environmental justice both during the campaign and since the inauguration, this memorandum is not a surprise. The memorandum follows on Administrator Michael Regan’s message to EPA employees regarding the agency’s commitment to environmental justice, which was discussed on this blog on April 13.
Historically, the emissions standards for mobile sources promulgated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been viewed as more ambitious than European Union (EU) standards. The United States’ stringent enforcement of mobile source emission standards may result in significant financial penalties; extensive injunctive relief, such as recalls and high-cost mitigation projects; corporate compliance requirements; and in some cases, criminal indictment.
On the other side of the Atlantic, in the EU, mobile emissions compliance regulations are becoming more robust. In particular, the EU appears to be adopting a stricter approach on emissions through a growing body of case law on the interpretation and application of existing emissions compliance regulations. In a judgment on 17 December 2020, in CLCV and Others, the Court of Justice of the European Union (Court) adopted a potentially broad interpretation on the definition of defeat devices and appeared to limit the scope of exceptions for their use in vehicles sold, registered, or put into service in the EU.1 This judgment is likely to set the benchmark for other proceedings on the admissibility of defeat devices in the EU.
Notably, there are at least six cases pending before the Court on mobile source emissions and the concept of defeat devices for light-duty passenger and commercial vehicles under Regulation (EC) No 715/2007 (Regulation).2
Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued new guidance related to its policy on Incentives for Self-Policing: Discovery, Disclosure, Correction and Prevention of Violations (the Audit Policy), 65 Fed. Reg. 19618 (April 11, 2000). The new guidance, titled EPA’s Audit Policy Program: Frequently Asked Questions (the 2021 FAQ), provides an update to interpretive guidance from 1997, 2007, and 2015 for self-disclosure of potential noncompliance.