During a recent live-stream presentation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, mentioned that the U.S. EPA will soon be turning 50 years old (the agency was formed on December 2, 1970).
Administrator Wheeler also presented many facts and statistics showing the significant strides that our country has made in air and water quality and environmental cleanup. The formation of the EPA, reasonable regulations, innovation, and growing awareness of environmental protection have led to a safer and cleaner environment (see “Is Humanity Headed toward an Increasing Desperate, Hungry and Hopeless Future?”).
While progress has been made and most companies that we work with are conscientious about their environmental practices, there are still companies that are not. Additionally, we are still dealing with historic practices employed by companies before environmental regulations were in place. The following are a few examples.
Largest-Ever CWA Settlement Filed by Private Citizens
Formosa Plastics agreed to pay $50 million over federal Clean Water Act (CWA) violations. This is the largest-ever CWA settlement filed by private individuals. According to reports, the Formosa plant in Point Comfort, Texas, discharged billions of plastic pellets into Lavaca Bay and Cox Creek.
The environmental group, Waterkeeper, challenged Formosa’s water discharge permit. The permit did not allow the discharge of “floating solids” or other trace amounts of plastics. Formosa argued that the permit did not define “trace amounts.”
Formosa used floating booms, mesh screens, nets, and vacuum trucks to try and stop the pellets and PVC powder from being discharged. However, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt ruled that these efforts were not adequate to remove the plastics prior to discharge.
The case for the plaintiffs was bolstered by members of Waterkeeper who collected nearly 2,500 samples of pellets and plastic powders in the water. They further documented their data with thousands of photographs. The plastic was also found in fish.
None of the $50-million settlement will go to the plaintiffs. The money will go toward projects that are aimed at reversing the damage done by the discharges.
Comment: It’s the day-to-day environmental compliance issues that, if neglected, have the tendency to lead to larger, more-complicated (and expensive) problems. We encourage our clients to have a robust environmental compliance program, including periodic compliance assessments.
Baltimore County to Sue for PCB Cleanup
Baltimore County is looking to retain three law firms to represent the county in a lawsuit against Monsanto (now owned by Bayer), Solutia (now owned by Eastman Chemical Co.), and Pharmacia (now owned by Pfizer) for cleanup of PCBs. According to an article in the Baltimore Sun, “The Maryland Department of the Environment stated that multiple water bodies in the county have been impaired by PCBs, including Gunpowder River, Middle River and Baltimore Harbor…”
The law firms above will be hired on a contingency basis and will only get paid if they are successful in litigation.
Comment: We have seen other government agencies retain law firms on contingency. For example, both New Hampshire and Michigan have retained, or are looking to retain, law firms (on contingency) to pursue settlements with PFAS manufacturers.
Some Good Energy News
We often share news about environmental enforcement and other regulatory developments in our blogs. Occasionally, it’s nice to share some good news.
According to Energy in Depth, the U.S. per capita carbon dioxide emissions are at their lowest levels since 1950. The overall carbon emissions are at their lowest levels since 1992 and have declined 13% since 2005.
Further, while carbon dioxide emissions are down about 21% since 2007, gross domestic product increased 4.5 percent during that time period. And the U.S. leads all “major nations” in carbon dioxide reductions this century. These are some impressive numbers!
Comment: The above numbers are a credit to a variety of factors, most of which can be attributed to the shale revolution. However, beyond energy, if you work in the environmental industry, you know the tremendous strides we have made in reduction in generation of hazardous waste, reduction in air pollution, fewer Superfund sites, etc. We really have made tremendous progress in creating a safer and cleaner environment while growing our economy.
Do you need advice on an environmental issue? Dragun can help. For more than 30 years, we have helped our clients find reasonable solutions. If you would like to discuss your current environmental challenge, you can contact me or call or office at 248-932-0228.
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