Emergency Preparedness and Prevention under the U.S. Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule

Written by Ryan W. Trail, Williams Mullen

Generators of hazardous waste have long understood the importance of emergency preparedness and prevention to regulatory compliance and facility safety.  Contingency planning and coordination with emergency service providers have been requirements of United States Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulations for many years.  For states that have adopted the Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule (HWGIR), however, new and more stringent requirements for emergency preparedness and prevention now apply.  These states include Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, as well as 28 other states.  All authorized states are required to adopt most aspects of the HWGIR, including those aspects discussed below, but many have not yet done so.

Under the old regulations, generators of hazardous waste (both small and large quantity) had to make arrangements with local emergency response entities, which may be called upon in the event of a release, fire, or explosion involving hazardous waste at the facility.  Facilities were required to make the emergency responders familiar with the layout of the site, the risks associated with the type(s) of hazardous waste onsite, the locations where employees would likely be throughout the site, and possible evacuation routes.  While not specified in the regulations, many facilities accomplished this by inviting local emergency response personnel to tour the facility.

Under the HWGIR, generators must still make arrangements with emergency response personnel. However, the associated recordkeeping requirements have changed.  Previously, there was no affirmative duty to document the arrangements.  Generators who were unable to make the necessary arrangements were required to document this shortcoming, but otherwise no recordkeeping obligation existed.  The HWGIR added a requirement that the generator must keep documentation of the fact that it made arrangements with local emergency responders.  The arrangements must be noted in the facility’s operating record.

Hazardous waste contingency plans are another essential element of emergency preparedness and prevention under both the prior regulations and the HWGIR.  A contingency plan ensures facility and emergency response personnel have complete and accurate information to respond safely and efficiently to an emergency involving hazardous waste.

The HWGIR created new obligations for facilities with hazardous waste continency plans.  One significant update is the requirement to produce a Quick Reference Guide as part of the contingency plan.  The Quick Reference Guide is intended to summarize the broader contingency plan and must include eight elements essential for local responders when an emergency occurs:

  1. Types/names of hazardous wastes and the hazard associated with each;
  2. Estimated maximum amount of each hazardous waste that may be present;
  3. Identification of hazardous wastes where exposure would require unique or special medical treatment;
  4. Map of the facility showing where hazardous wastes are generated, accumulated and treated and routes for accessing these wastes;
  5. Street map of the facility in relation to surrounding businesses, schools and residential areas for evacuation purposes;
  6. Locations of water supply (e.g., fire hydrant and its flow rate);
  7. Identification of on-site notification systems (e.g., fire alarm, smoke alarms); and
  8. Name of the emergency coordinator(s) and 7/24-hour emergency telephone number(s) or, in the case of a facility where an emergency coordinator is on duty continuously, the emergency telephone number for the emergency coordinator.

A facility that became a large quantity generator after the date the HWGIR became effective in its state must submit a Quick Reference Guide of its contingency plan to local emergency responders at the time it becomes a large quantity generator.  However, for large quantity generators in existence on the effective date of the HWGIR in their state, the Quick Reference Guide need only be submitted when the contingency plan is next amended.  A facility is required to amend its contingency plan if any of the following occur:

  • Applicable regulations are revised;
  • The plan fails in an emergency;
  • The facility changes—in its design, construction, operation, maintenance, or other circumstances—in a way that materially increases the potential for fires, explosions, or releases of hazardous waste or hazardous waste constituents, or changes the response necessary in an emergency;
  • The list of emergency coordinators changes; or
  • The list of emergency equipment changes.

Violations for inaccurate, incomplete or deficient hazardous waste contingency plans are common among RCRA enforcement actions.  With the HWGIR now in effect in many states, facilities may soon be amending their contingency plans.  New requirements for documenting arrangements with emergency responders and creating and maintaining a Quick Reference Guide could easily be overlooked.  It is important for hazardous waste generators to review emergency preparedness and prevention requirements of the HWGIR carefully to ensure continued compliance.

Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule81 Fed. Reg. 85732 (Nov. 28, 2016)

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About the Author

Ryan Trail represents companies facing complex environmental regulatory issues in the industrial, manufacturing, real estate and banking industries. He helps companies maintain compliance with constantly evolving environmental laws and regulations, and he counsels landowners, potential purchasers and lenders on environmental liabilities related to contaminated real estate. Ryan also helps clients obtain and comply with numerous environmental permits, including industrial wastewater discharge permits, stormwater permits and air permits.

Here’s the Deal: New Directions in Environmental Enforcement Under Biden?

Written by Gerald F. GeorgeDavis Wright Tremaine LLP

On December 23, 2020, the federal government published its inflation-adjusted civil penalties for a variety of environmental statutes, including the Clean Air Act (CAA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA). Those $25,000 per day or per violation penalties in the original statutes have now reached substantially higher levels, mostly in the $50,000-$60,000 range, but CAA penalties could reach $100,000.

That is a predictable change. What is less predictable is how enforcement will play out in the coming year with a new administration. Will the annual inflation adjustment to civil penalties be accompanied by greater enforcement?

The Trump Administration ended the year the same way it started its term in 2017, by attempting to roll back the environmental regulations and policies applied previously. The near-term result for enforcement is unclear, in part, because virtually every change made by the Trump Administration has been challenged in court, with a uniquely low success rate for the federal government.

With many of those challenges still pending, one wonders how the Biden Administration will approach these cases. The more important question for the regulated community is the approach the Biden Administration will take toward enforcement in general. Even with the Trump changes, the incoming administration retains a lot of regulatory authority.

Two reactions seem obvious. One is resurrection of an unspoken principle for challenging regulation: be careful. You may win this case, but you will still have to deal with the regulator when the case is over. Taking a hard-nosed approach can backfire if it means the regulators will be hanging on you like a cheap suit for the next four years, or you need agency approval for an essential expansion.

More optimistically, we are almost certain to see a resurrection of Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs), environmentally beneficial projects implemented by a violator in connection with a settlement. SEPs have been used in EPA settlements since 1984 to create semi-win-win resolutions for alleged environmental violations.

A violator might pay a penalty, but would offset some, if not most, of that by funding an environmentally friendly project. The community and the environment would benefit from the project; the company might even pay more out of pocket, but will see its money used for something positive, not just dumped into the U.S. Treasury general fund.

While questions about the propriety of SEPs have been raised over the years, the issue had always been resolved in favor of authorizing settlement projects directly related to the violations—part of the remedy, not unappropriated “free money” for boat ramps at the local reservoir. The Trump Administration took a harder line, resulting in the EPA and Department of Justice (DOJ)’s ending the use of SEPs in settlements.

The issue of SEPs then arose in the courts in two contexts. In Michigan, the federal government settled a long-running CAA case with the violator for a civil penalty. The private plaintiff in the case settled separately with the defendant, committing to further steps to improve air quality and to implementation of an SEP. The federal government objected to the settlement, but lost last year in the district court in U.S. v. DTE Energy Co.

In an unrelated case arising in Massachusetts, an environmental group challenged the implementation of the DOJ policy. In Conservation Law Foundation v. William Barr, the federal government argued not that SEPs were barred, but whether or not the government’s acceptance of an SEP in a settlement was within its discretion.

Whether one agrees with the policy, the prosecutorial discretion position makes sense. It also means that a decision favorable to the federal government would not bar it from reverting to its prior policy authorizing SEPs.

SEPs are extremely useful in structuring settlements. A minor loss of income to the U.S. Treasury is more than offset by the environmental benefits to the public, and the parties focus their discussions on addressing environmental problems, not on trying to save a few dollars in penalties.

Further, SEPs are particularly attractive in suits involving public agencies, where cash-strapped facilities can at least put their limited funds to work on real environmental problems important to their constituencies. It is galling to see a municipality paying money into the U.S. Treasury for failure to implement treatment improvements it cannot afford, making the cost of future compliance even more unaffordable.

In any event, fights over the size of penalties are a crapshoot for everyone and may well end up costing more than they save. E.g., Citgo’s effort to defeat a major penalty demand in connection with a spill from its refinery in Louisiana ($8 million penalty at District Court reversed by a Court of Appeals, $81 million penalty imposed on remand).

The next four years of environmental enforcement litigation will be interesting to watch. But aside from the litigation over old and new regulations, I predict enforcement will look more like what existed pre Trump, if not more aggressive.

It would behoove the regulated community to be ready to return to use of the traditional tools for defense of claims involving strict liability statutes. Watch the bottom line of your business, and avoid a hostile relationship with your (we hope) friendly, but ever present regulator.

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About the Author

Gerald George is a seasoned environmental attorney and litigator, with extensive experience in successfully resolving federal and state enforcement actions, natural resource damage actions, and citizen suits. Gerald also advises on regulatory matters involving air, water, waste, and environmental impact review laws. He has more than 40 years’ experience in civil lawsuits, including 30 years of handling major environmental litigation throughout the country.

$20 Million U.S. TSCA/Lead-Based Paint Penalty: Expensive Reminder to Manage and Audit Contractors’ Joint Regulatory Liabilities

Written by Patrick Larkin and Maram T. Salaheldin  Clark Hill PLC 

Renovation of homes built before 1978 frequently disturbs lead-based paint (LBP) and poses significant health risks, particularly for children. For this reason, companies that perform or subcontract renovation services are required to provide very specific, written LBP warnings and education materials to residents. Failure to comply with these obligations can result in significant penalties for non-compliance. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforces these rules on all companies that “perform renovations for compensation.” This means that retail sellers of renovation products (e.g., windows or woodwork) can face EPA enforcement for noncompliance even where they subcontract installation to third parties.

On Dec. 17, 2020, U.S. EPA and the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a nationwide settlement with Home Depot related to home renovations that occurred between 2013 and 2019. The settlement resolves alleged violations of the EPA’s Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) Rule involving renovations performed by Home Depot’s contractors across the country on homes built before 1978. EPA identified hundreds of instances in which Home Depot failed to contract renovations or repairs with certified contractors, as well as instances in which Home Depot failed to establish, retain, or provide the required documentation to demonstrate compliance with the RRP Rule.

EPA’s proposed settlement with Home Depot includes a $20.75 million penalty—the largest such penalty to-date under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

Compliance Lessons

Companies in the construction industry and beyond can learn several significant lessons from the Home Depot violations, including the importance of:

  1. Understanding Your Liability: Businesses sub-contracting regulated activities to third parties are not necessarily insulated from liability. Here, since Home Depot contracted with customers and received compensation to perform renovations of pre-1978 housing, it remained liable under the RRP Rule, regardless of its use of subcontractors. Home Depot failed to actively assess and control risk from noncompliance by itself and its subcontractors, resulting in a significant penalty. Understanding your liability, particularly in the context of subcontracting, is an important step towards reducing enforcement exposure for your business.
  2. Being Proactive about Compliance: Another important step to reducing your enforcement exposure is implementing a compliance management system to identify potential issues before they become a problem. A strategic option to reduce such exposure can be the use of environmental self-audit/self-disclosure programs, such as EPA’s Audit Policy. The EPA Audit Policy allows companies to reduce or eliminate penalty exposure from noncompliance at their facilities. In addition, under the LBP Consolidated Enforcement Response and Penalty Policy, renovators may succeed in receiving gravity-based penalty reduction for any RRP Rule violations that qualify for such reduction under EPA’s Audit Policy. While navigating the EPA self-audit program can be challenging, the benefits can often be great for businesses. Small businesses and new business owners, in particular, may wish to take advantage of the tailored incentives potentially available to them, including the ability for new owners to enter into audit agreements with EPA to receive affirmative resolution and negotiated timelines for completing corrective actions.

About the Authors

Pat Larkin practices exclusively in environmental law at Clark Hill PLC, including regulatory compliance, litigation, administrative law, and environmental counseling in business transactions. Pat regularly represents industrial, transportation, real estate and retail clients in air, water and waste permitting, compliance counseling and audits, voluntary site cleanups, government enforcement actions, and in agency rulemaking and associated stakeholder and guidance writing work groups.

Maram Salaheldin is an Associate in Clark Hill’s Washington DC office in the Environment, Energy & Natural Resources group. Her practice focuses on providing environmental management and regulatory compliance support to U.S. and multinational clients, with an emphasis on risks and liabilities arising under environmental, health, and safety (EHS) laws, particularly with regard to solid and hazardous waste management, including transboundary movements under the Basel Convention.