If the Fat Lady is off the stage, why is the band still playing?

Earlier this year, MassDEP quietly let it be known in an advisory committee meeting that it would be re-visiting old MCP sites with trichloroethylene (TCE) releases to determine if the level of TCE on the property complied with the evolving standards that have lowered the threshold values for TCE.  In particular, MassDEP is concerned with the possibility that vapor intrusion of TCE into indoor air could have an impact on human health, particularly with vulnerable populations.  While the ripple from this announcement caused an initial shock that MassDEP’s actions would undermine investment backed expectations on achieving lasting solutions to hazardous contaminants, MassDEP has always retained the ability to act to protect human health.  Thus far, we have not seen a torrent of activity from MassDEP on this front, but more time will tell how extensive its review will be.  It is a good reminder to be mindful of the long-tail complications that can arise from contaminated properties – even after extensive remedial activities and achieving an RAO and Permanent Solution under the MCP.

While the initial focus of MassDEP’s recent comments was on TCE, we are also witnessing emerging “contaminants of concern,” like Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (“PFOS”), Perfluorooctanoic acid (“PFOA”) and 1, 4 Dioxane, that may result in re-opening sites that were closed after addressing the initial releases that brought the properties under the MCP.  PFOS and PFOA do not have federal regulatory detection limits, but there are health-related studies showing that they are toxic and carcinogenic.  MassDEP has set a regulatory guideline for 1, 4 Dioxane in drinking water, as well as groundwater and soil cleanup standards in the MCP.  As more information is developed about all three of these contaminants, the regulatory requirements are likely to increase, which may result in returning to sites that were previously closed under the MCP and M.G.L. c. 21E. Read More → “If the Fat Lady is off the stage, why is the band still playing?”

Environmental Law Update – Summer 2016

In June, President Obama signed into law a revised version of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  Originally passed in 1976, TSCA was designed to have EPA evaluate chemicals to determine if their use required further regulatory control.  As TSCA was implemented it came under considerable criticism because it required the government to have evidence that a chemical posed a risk before it could require testing which could result in greater regulatory control. The new TSCA changes this approach and mandates a review of chemicals in commerce and a requirement that all new chemicals must be assessed against health-based standards – rather than under a cost-benefit standard in the original legislation.  On June 29, 2016, EPA released its First Year Implementation Plan under the revised TSCA.  The aggressive plan includes a timeline for establishing new rules under the legislation including regulations for setting criteria to identify high priority chemicals and an “Inventory Rule”, that would require industry to report the chemicals it manufactured or processed in the previous ten years.  The First Year Implementation Plan also set a schedule for the continuation of on-going projects to identify risks from TCE and chemicals involved in paint removing applications, especially the chemicals methylene chloride (MC) and methylpyrrolidone (NMP).

One of the few times that the Obama administration and Congress were able to find common ground last year resulted in a dramatic increase in fines under federal environmental statutes.  The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 included a provision to amend the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990 (Sec. 701 of Public Law 114-70).  The amendment included a “catch-up” provision that enabled agencies to adjust their penalties to account for inflation since the date the specific penalty was enacted or previously adjusted.  There was a 150% cap placed on the rate of increase, but many of the penalties under the environmental statutes administered by EPA increased dramatically.  For example, penalties under the Clean Water Act for permit violations under § 1319(d) increased from $25,000 per day of violation to $51,570.  Similarly, administrative penalties under CERCLA increased from $25,000 to $53,907 and from $75,000 to $161,721 respectively.  On July 1, 2016, EPA released the Interim Final Rule that includes the Table that will be incorporated in 40 C.F.R. § 19.4 with a complete rundown of the environmental statutes and fees.  Going forward we will likely see continued increases because the Act implements annual reviews of statutory civil penalties and allows agencies to make annual adjustments without going through the rulemaking protocols of the Administrative Procedures Act.  We will also see settlements demands dramatically increase in NPDES citizen suits under the CWA.

This Spring, Governor Baker announced that he is directing MassDEP to proceed with the steps to have the state administer the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).  Massachusetts is one of just four remaining states that do not administer the federal NPDES program at the state level.  Taking over the local administration of the NPDES program will be a multi-year process, but MassDEP has started the process.  Hopefully more local control will lead to more responsive interactions between the regulators and the regulated community, as the state and industry work together to implement best stormwater management practices for the benefit of our water resources.

In May, the Supreme Judicial Court reviewed the state’s compliance with the requirements of the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) in Kain v. DEP.  The SJC held that MassDEP failed to implement the GWSA because the agency did not “promulgate regulations that address multiple sources or categories of sources of greenhouse gas emissions, impose a limit on emissions that may be released, limit the aggregate emissions released from each group of regulated sources or category of sources, set emissions limits for each year, and set limits that decline on an annual basis.”

In August, MassDEP released proposed draft revisions of the Air Regulations at 310 CMR 7.00.  The topics addressed by these proposed regulations include: (a) establishing thresholds for greenhouse gas emissions that will require a Plan Approval; (b) requiring Plan Approvals for non-major modifications of existing Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permits; (c) updates to Reasonably Available Control Technology (RACT) requirements for volatile organic compounds; and (d) revised procedures for administrative review of an air permit issued by MassDEP.  The comment period on the proposed regulations closes on Monday, September 26, 2016.

High Court Declares MassDEP Deficient in Regulating Greenhouse Gases

Yesterday, in Kain v. Department of Environmental Protection the Supreme Judicial Court declared that the MassDEP had failed to properly implement the requirements of the Global Warming Solutions Act. Specifically, the Court found that the department is required “to promulgate regulations that address multiple sources or categories of sources of greenhouse gas emissions, impose a limit on emissions that may be released, limit the aggregate emissions released from each group of regulated sources or category of sources, set emissions limits for each year, and set limits that decline on an annual basis.”

The Court found that although the MassDEP’s Regional Greenhouse Gas (“RGGI”), low emission vehicle (“LEV”) and sulfur hexafluoride leak regulations were “important to the overall scheme of reducing greenhouse gas emissions over time, they do not fulfill the specific requirements of” the Global Warming Solutions Act.

It remains to be seen how the MassDEP and the legislature will react to the decision. Will the MassDEP begin a whole new round of regulatory initiatives mandating greenhouse gas emissions reductions over a wide array of sources or will the legislature reconsider the economic and environmental impact of a the mandate of the Global Warming Solutions Act?  Which ever way the Administration and legislature eventually choose to go, this case opens up a whole new spectrum of issues for project proponents, opponents and regulators.  At a time where the MassDEP’s budget is continuing to shrink, has lost many senior staffers to early retirement and is proposing to take on the NPDES permitting program, one wonders how it will take on the herculean task of regulating greenhouse gas emissions across a broad array of sources.  One saving grace in the decision, on which the Department may hang its hat, is the Court’s observation that “there is nothing in the statutory language to indicate that the department must regulate every source of emissions in the Commonwealth” and that “the department has discretion to select what sources of emissions it will regulate . . .”

If you would like to discuss any of these observations, please do not hesitate to contact us.

For questions, call or email Tom Mackie.

Status of MassDEP Regulatory Review Under EO 562

Shortly after his inauguration, Governor Baker ordered all state agencies to review “each and every regulation” against an ambitious set of criteria to “reduce the number, length, and complexity of regulations, leaving only those that are essential to the public good.” Executive Order: 562 “To Reduce Regulatory Burden” required that each Agency shall sunset all its regulations on or before March 31, 2016.

Despite this opportunity, the regulated community submitted only a handful of written requests for regulatory changes to the EOEEA (which administers over 125 environmental regulations). Thus, it is not surprising that MassDEP’s Preliminary Regulatory Recommendations apply to only 19 of the 64 regulations it administers.
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Renewables Corner – Fall 2015

The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) is preparing draft regulations to include renewable thermal in the Massachusetts Alternative Portfolio Standard (APS) pursuant to Chapter 251 of the Acts of 2014.

The MassDEP has still not finalized its evaluation of wind turbine noise, which some wind energy advocates claim is stymying development of land based wind energy. In 2012 the MassDEP issued a Wind Turbine Health Impact Study  that stimulated a spirited discussion over the health effects of wind turbines including significant public comments and additional information. In response, in 2013 MassDEP convened the Wind Turbine Noise Technical Advisory Group (WNTAG) to provide advice on recommended changes to MassDEP noise regulations and/or policies as they apply to wind turbine noise. In July 2013, the MassDEP issued a Discussion Document entitled Potential Revisions to MassDEP Noise Regulations and Policy to Address Wind Turbine Noise.  Some in the field believe that the wind noise measurement techniques discussed by the MassDEP would inappropriately overstate the noise impact of turbines.  Unfortunately, since the Baker Administration has come into office, the MassDEP has not reconvened the WNTAG.

In May, the Baker-Polito Administration announced the launch of a new $10 million initiative aimed at making Massachusetts a national leader in energy storage. The Energy Storage Initiative (ESI) includes a $10 million commitment from the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and a two-part study from DOER and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) to analyze opportunities to support Commonwealth storage companies, as well as develop policy options to encourage energy storage deployment.

In October, Entergy announced that Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station will close by June 1, 2019. Coupled with the planned shut down of large coal fired generating stations in the Commonwealth, this could open up the market for more renewable power.  However, it is likely that renewable energy producers in Massachusetts will face competition from Canadian hydro-power and new imports of natural gas, if the current Administration’s policies succeed.

Over the summer, Governor Charlie Baker filed two pieces of energy legislation that, if passed, will affect the renewable energy market.  In July, he filed An Act Relative to Energy Sector Compliance with the Global Warming Solutions Act, to diversify the state’s energy portfolio through the procurement of cost-effective, hydropower generation.  Among other things, the legislation will permit Massachusetts utilities to collaborate with other New England states, including Connecticut and Rhode Island, in the procurement of hydroelectric resources. Critics question whether a large amount of Canadian hydropower will crowd out other Massachusetts based renewable energy sources.  Ironically, others criticize republican Governor Baker’s proposal as a massive “re-regulation” of the deregulated energy market place and a “subsidy” for Canadian hydro-power.  In August, Governor Baker filed  An Act Relative to a Long-Term, Sustainable Solar Industry  to raise the private and public net metering caps two percent each, to six and seven percent, respectively. This represents a 50% increase for public entities, and a 40% increase for private entities, in the allowable amount of solar energy available for net metering credits. This increase will provide immediate support for projects being developed in service territories where the caps have already been reached, and provides the Department of Public Utilities with the authority to raise the caps further, as needed in the future.  Previously, the Administration announced a coordinated process with Rhode Island and Connecticut to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) for clean energy resources. At the same time, the Governor instructed the DOER to commence a proceeding at the DPU to consider how the electric utilities can pursue gas capacity contracts that would improve winter reliability and lower winter electricity costs.  On October 2, the DPU issued its Order Determining Department Authority under G.L. c. 164, 94A that utilities can enter into such long term gas contracts to reduce electricity costs.