News Article | April 28, 2017
This story was originally published by the New Republic and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. Most analyses of President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office have focused on what he hasn’t accomplished. But when it comes to the environment, he’s been active indeed. He has signed at least eight anti-environmental executive actions. His Environmental Protection Agency has ordered delays and reviews of anti-pollution rules. And he has appointed a Supreme Court justice with an anti-environmental bent. These actions aren’t just symbolic. With a few strokes of his pen, Trump has made decisions that could have environmentalists in court for the entirety of his presidency — and which may impact the environment for decades to come. Here are a few ways that Trump, in just 100 days, has already cemented a long-term environmental legacy. In his first week in office, Trump signed executive actions to revive the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, both of which had been in limbo. President Barack Obama had rejected construction of Keystone XL, saying the pipeline would transport relatively dirty Canadian tar sands oil that would undermine U.S. leadership in global climate talks. Trump’s orders changed that. “His decision led to the nearly immediate completion of Dakota Access,” said Vermont Law School Professor Patrick Parenteau. (Oil is now flowing through the pipeline.) With Keystone, it’s a bit more complicated. Environmental groups have filed a legal challenge to Trump’s decision, and are hopeful they can further delay the project. But Parenteau says it’s very unlikely that their challenge will succeed. “Keystone is a done deal,” he said. “Those are major, huge infrastructure investments that mean these oil and gas resources are going to be burned,” Parenteau said. “These pipelines are going to add emissions for probably 40 years.” Trump himself has cited Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation as his biggest accomplishment thus far. Pat Gallagher, the director of the Sierra Club’s environmental law program, agrees. When I asked him to name a Trump decision with the longest-lasting impact on the environment, he said, “Neil Gorsuch. Duh.” Gallagher and other environmentalists argue that Gorsuch has a history of ruling against environmental groups, often by concluding that they don’t have legal standing to bring their suits. Put another way, Gorsuch has historically favored dismissing lawsuits brought by environmental groups because it’s hard for them to prove they’ve suffered actual injury. “You’re talking about a 30-, 40-year legacy of decisions like this,” Gallagher said. “That dwarfs the impact of any executive order.” Trump signed an executive order lifting Obama’s temporary ban on new coal leasing on public lands. While other orders merely begin the process of rolling back environmental regulations, this one was immediate: Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke lifted the Obama-era ban as soon as Trump signed the order. Right now, federal land accounts for 40 percent of U.S. coal production, according to The Hill. That translates into 13 percent of America’s energy-related carbon emissions. With Trump’s decision, 600 million tons of coal buried under federal lands are now open for mining. That’s not to say the coal industry is rushing to do so. “Practically, lifting the ban is not going to unleash a whole flood of coal burning, because the market’s already saturated,” Gallagher said. Indeed, the market has been saturated of late — that’s why so many coal companies are going bankrupt. But as Trump continues to deregulate coal power plants, it’s possible that demand could rise, at least temporarily. A lot of Trump’s orders have to do with killing regulations. But they don’t do so immediately; rather, they kickstart a long, fraught process of undoing, or rewriting, those regulations. That doesn’t mean, however, that those actions don’t have immediate impacts on the environment, said Melina Pierce, the Sierra Club’s legislative director. Take Trump’s decision to reexamine Obama’s fuel efficiency standards for cars. While those standards won’t be reconsidered for some time, Pierce says the mere fact that they’re likely to be weakened will impact how automakers make their cars right now. Cars are one of the largest contributors to air pollution and carbon dioxide in the U.S. “Trump’s actions to review miles-per-gallon standards and tailpipe standards to cars; that sends a market signal to automakers about what their fleet should look like,” Pierce said. “With the uncertainty of that review, I think it would have a chilling effect on automakers’ decisions about how efficient to make their cars.” Some of the lasting impacts of Trump’s environmental agenda are cultural; they have less to do with actions he’s taken than the tone he has set. Blan Holman, a managing attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said that by proposing to cut the EPA by 31 percent — including the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance — Trump sends a signal to polluters that federal regulators might go easy on them. “A lot of people have pulled back on purchasing equipment or undergoing cleanups because they think that the standards are going to be weakened,” Holman said. “There is an overall change in political weather just by virtue of that big momentum … People are starting to think, well perhaps the people who are running the place aren’t going to be giving out gold stars for protecting the most wetlands.” In just 100 days, Trump has waged environmental battles that will have lawyers in court for years. He pledged to review pollution regulations for cars and light trucks; promised to undo the greenhouse gas–cutting Clean Power Plan; and vowed to kill the Obama administration’s Waters of the United State (WOTUS) rule, which expands the definition of protected waters under the Clean Water Act. Environmentalists have threatened to take Trump to court over all of these actions, and have set the stage for what E&E News called “prolonged, fierce battles in environmental law.” Parenteau thinks the longest case will be over the WOTUS rule, because there are multiple layers of challenges. Trump will face legal action not only to repealing Obama’s rule, but to whatever he replaces it with. Both will likely reach the Supreme Court. “I’ve never seen anything quite like this, nor have lawyers who have been working on these types of cases for a while,” Parenteau said.
News Article | May 1, 2017
WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Sidley Austin LLP is pleased to announce that Richard Alonso has joined the firm as a partner in its Washington, D.C. office. He will be a member of the firm’s Environmental practice. Mr. Alonso brings a wealth of knowledge of the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulatory process and experience with environmental compliance and enforcement issues, including federal and state enforcement defense strategies. Prior to building a private practice, Mr. Alonso served as chief of the Stationary Source Enforcement Branch at the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. He had earlier served at the EPA in the Water Enforcement Division. During his tenure with the EPA, he had responsibility for enforcing the Clean Air Act (CAA), Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. He managed and negotiated CAA enforcement cases, including New Source Review (NSR) cases, with power plants and manufacturing facilities and was instrumental in developing CAA policies and regulations. Mr. Alonso also held key roles in cases relating to defeat devices and engine certification requirements under the CAA’s Title II mobile source program. He is known as a national authority on EPA automotive and fuel regulatory programs, including the Renewable Fuels Standard program. “Rich’s firsthand experience in both private practice and the public sector will make him a valuable asset for our clients looking for advice in addressing their complex environmental challenges at both the federal and state levels,” said David Buente, co-leader of Sidley’s Environmental practice. “We are delighted to welcome Rich to our outstanding team of lawyers dedicated to assisting clients with every aspect of environmental law.” Mr. Alonso represents clients including large trade associations, manufacturers and energy companies in environmental compliance and enforcement matters before both state and federal agencies. He focuses his practice on CAA issues, including NSR applicability and permitting, EPA rulemaking efforts, legal challenges to EPA actions, and CAA enforcement defense and compliance counseling. Mr. Alonso’s CAA experience includes the development of State and Federal Implementation Plans, permitting programs, and policies applicable to stationary sources, fuel regulations, automotive engine certifications and regulation of ozone depleting substances. He has tackled cutting-edge environmental issues for a variety of industrial sectors, including the implementation of climate change regulations, permitting of greenhouse gas emissions, and regulation of methane emissions from oil and gas operations. With 1,900 lawyers in 20 offices around the globe, Sidley is a premier legal adviser for clients across the spectrum of industries. Follow Sidley on Twitter @SidleyLaw. For purposes of the New York State Bar rules, this press release may be considered Attorney Advertising and our headquarters are Sidley Austin LLP, 787 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10019, +1 212 839 5300; One South Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60603, +1 312 853 7000; and 1501 K Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005, +1 202 736 8000. Sidley and Sidley Austin refer to Sidley Austin LLP and affiliated partnerships as explained at www.sidley.com/disclaimer.
News Article | January 4, 2016
The civil complaint against the German automaker, filed on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency in U.S. District Court in Detroit, alleges the company illegally installed software designed to make its "clean diesel" engines pass federal emissions standards while undergoing laboratory testing. The vehicles then switched off those measures in real-world driving conditions, spewing harmful gases at up to 40 times what is allowed under federal environmental standards. "Car manufacturers that fail to properly certify their cars and that defeat emission control systems breach the public trust, endanger public health and disadvantage competitors," John C. Cruden, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, said in a statement. "The United States will pursue all appropriate remedies against Volkswagen to redress the violations of our nation's clean air laws alleged in the complaint," he said. The company is in the midst of negotiating a massive mandatory recall with U.S. regulators and potentially faces more than $18 billion in fines for violations of the federal Clean Air Act. The company and its executives could also still face separate criminal charges, while a raft of private class-action lawsuits filed by angry VW owners are pending. Volkswagen Group of America spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan said Monday that the company "will continue to cooperate with all government agencies investigating these matters." In past statements, high-ranking VW executives have sought to blame only a small number of software developers in Germany for the suspect computer code designed to trick emissions tests. The company has hired a U.S.-based law firm to conduct an internal investigation into the scheme. The findings of that review have not yet been made public. The company first acknowledged in September that the cheating software was included in its diesel cars and SUVs sold since the 2009 model year, as well as some recent diesel models sold by the VW-owned Audi and Porsche brands. Worldwide, the company says cheating software was included in more than 11 million vehicles. The federal lawsuit alleges that Volkswagen intentionally tampered with the vehicles sold in the U.S. to include what regulators call a "defeat device," a mechanism specifically designed to game emissions tests. Under the law, automakers are required to disclose any such devices to regulators. Because Volkswagen kept its suspect software secret, the lawsuit alleges the company's cars were sold without a valid "certificate of conformity" issued by EPA to regulate new cars manufactured or imported into the country. In addition to producing far more pollution than allowed, experts say the excess nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions from the more than half-million VW vehicles had a human cost. A statistical and computer analysis by the Associated Press estimated the extra pollution caused somewhere between 16 and 94 deaths over the last seven years, with the annual toll increasing as more of the diesels were on the road. "With today's filing, we take an important step to protect public health by seeking to hold Volkswagen accountable for any unlawful air pollution, setting us on a path to resolution," said Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "So far, recall discussions with the company have not produced an acceptable way forward. These discussions will continue in parallel with the federal court action." Justice Department officials said on Monday the case was filed in the Eastern District of Michigan because that is where "significant activity" related to the company's cheating scheme occurred. EPA's primary emissions-testing lab is located in Ann Arbor and Volkswagen also has facilities in the Detroit metro area. However, as the legal case proceeds, the venue is expected to move to Northern California, where hundreds of the class-action cases have been consolidated and state regulators played a key role in uncovering VW's deceptions. Explore further: More VW trouble: 2016 diesels have new suspect software
News Article | November 3, 2015
The Volkswagen Group denies a new report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that drags Porsche and Audi, two of its most profitable brands, into the enormous emissions cheating scandal the German automaker has admitted to in September. The latest report says at least 10,000 vehicles in the United States with a 3-liter diesel engine are also equipped with software that can cheat emissions tests. The number, however, could still go higher if the same software is found in the same models sold in other markets. The new models affected include the 2014 Volkswagen Touareg, the 2015 Porsche Cayenne, and the 2016 models of the Audi A6 Quattro, Audi A7 Quattro, Audi A8 and Audi Q5. Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, says the luxury vehicles caught in the scandalous web are fitted with software that automatically turns on "temperature conditioning mode" when it detects that the vehicle is about to undergo testing. In this mode, the higher temperatures warm up the catalytic converter, allowing the vehicles to pass the stringent emissions tests in the U.S. However, they immediately go back to "normal mode" just one second after testing, says Giles. "We have clear evidence of these additional violations and we thought it was important to put Volkswagen on notice and to inform the public," Giles says. The affected vehicles, which are alleged to emit nine times more nitrogen oxide than prescribed levels in the U.S., could net Volkswagen another $375 million in fines for violating the Clean Air Act, on top of the $18 billion the automaker already faces for admitting rigging emissions test results in 11 million of its vehicles, including several models of the Jetta, Passat, Golf and Beetle. Volkswagen spokesperson Mario Guerreiro, however, says no cheat device has been installed in the newer vehicles, without fully categorically denying the finding. "Volkswagen AG wishes to emphasize that no software has been installed in the 3-liter V6 diesel power units to alter emissions characteristics in a forbidden manner," he says. Nearly half a million Volkswagen vehicles discovered to have rigged emissions tests are found in the U.S., but majority of the affected vehicles are found in Europe and Asia, Volkswagen's biggest markets. Matthias Müller, former CEO of Porsche, has taken over the helm as CEO of Volkswagen as then chief Martin Winterkorn was forced to resign as the fallout over the cheating scandal ensued.
News Article | December 21, 2016
It was a busy year for the Environmental Protection Agency. While President-Elect Donald Trump was telling thousands of people he wanted to get rid of the government agency altogether, the EPA trounced some of the worst polluters and added stricter pesticide regulations. The biggest pollution-related wins of the year were suits against BP and Volkswagen, resulting in billions of dollars in fines and promised remediation projects. Volkswagen will be on the hook for a $14.7 billion agreement for emissions-reducing projects after it was discovered the company had rigged certain models to cheat emissions tests, according to an EPA report released Monday. "EPA's enforcement work continues to hold violators accountable and deliver investments to reduce pollution in our communities," Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in a release. "The American public depends on EPA to enforce the law, protect our communities from pollution and help ensure a level playing field for responsible companies." The EPA also announced Tuesday that it is banning an additional 72 chemicals from being used in pesticides. The substances had previously been listed as safe for pesticide use. Manufacturers who want to use these chemicals in their products have to prove they're safe with scientific studies before the EPA will consider allowing them, the EPA stated in a release. The agency, of course, is far from perfect. A prime example is a recent report by the department that contradicted its earlier claims that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract oil doesn't pose environmental hazards, plus concerns from communities of color that the EPA doesn't punish polluters affecting urban cores harshly enough. But even with its flaws, the EPA has done some groundbreaking work. It's unclear if oversight will continue to such a stringent level under the incoming Trump administration. Trump's choice for EPA director, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, is a climate change denier and has ties to the fossil fuel industry. Donald Trump has been an outspoken opponent of the EPA, saying he wants to dismantle the department because its efforts to protect environmental resources inhibit job creation and urban development. The EPA reached a $20.8 billion settlement with BP to resolve Clean Water Act violations from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig spill that dumped an estimated 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. BP agreed to give $20 billion of the settlement to Gulf Coast cities and municipalities affected by the oil spill. That's bound to make Trump's Big Oil cabinet members cranky. The agency also secured an additional $13.7 billion in investment promises from companies caught violating environmental regulations. The EPA is requiring these companies to properly treat, store and dispose of hazardous waste. Mosaic Fertilizer is one such company the EPA will be expected to keep an eye on this fiscal year after reaching a settlement for their eight facilities across the South. Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.
News Article | January 4, 2016
The Obama administration stepped up its legal attack against Volkswagen on Monday, filing a lawsuit that accused the German automaker of violating U.S. air-pollution laws with its scheme to install emissions-cheating software in its diesel engines. The civil complaint filed by Justice Department officials in Detroit seeks unspecified damages stemming from the car company’s use of “defeat devices” on more than 600,000 diesel engines sold in the United States under the Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche brands. “Car manufacturers that fail to properly certify their cars and that defeat emission control systems breach the public trust, endanger public health and disadvantage competitors,” John C. Cruden, the attorney general for the department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said in a statement. “The United States will pursue all appropriate remedies against Volkswagen to redress the violations of our nation’s clean air laws alleged in the complaint.” The suit is the latest legal salvo against Volkswagen, which acknowledged in September that some of its light-duty diesel vehicles had been equipped with software that thwarted emissions-control tests. The software allowed the engines to burn more cleanly when the vehicles’ computers detected that an emissions test was underway. The lawsuit alleges that the defeat devices allowed Volkswagen models to emit far higher levels of nitrogen oxide than the law allows, violating the Clean Air Act and resulting in “harmful air pollution” in the United States. The emissions scandal, which prompted the resignation of chief executive Martin Winterkorn last fall, was initially limited to 2.0-liter diesel engines. Subsequent investigations expanded the list of affected vehicles to more than 11 million worldwide, including a number of 3.0-engine models. The Environmental Protection Agency, which filed the initial notice of violation against Volkswagen in September, said the additional action was warranted because the car company still had not responded adequately to fix the problem. “So far, recall discussions with the company have not produced an acceptable way forward,” said EPA assistant administrator Cynthia Giles, of the agency’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance office. “These discussions will continue in parallel with the federal court action.” There was no immediate response to the lawsuit from Volkswagen. Company officials have acknowledged that “misconduct” occurred, and have earmarked more than $7 billion for making repairs to affected automobiles. The lawsuit filed on Monday seeks “injunctive relief” and unspecified civil penalties, according to a Justice Department statement. The Obama administration has stopped short of filing criminal charges against Volkswagen, although U.S. officials say additional legal measures are possible. Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor, said it could take many more months to complete the ongoing criminal probe and sort through claims of fraud and economic loss being explored by attorneys and government officials in the United States and Europe. “The civil case shows how seriously the government takes these defeat devices and VW’s underlying behavior,” said Tobias, who holds the university’s Williams Chair in Law. He said the penalties sought would likely be in the billions of dollars, as a “message to VW and any others in the auto industry that may be tempted to engage in similar behavior.” “The bottom line is the U.S. wants to make clear that it will strictly enforce pollution laws and severely punish violators,” he said. The affected vehicles include five Volkswagen models and six Audis made between the 2009 and 2016 model years, as well as Porsche Cayenne diesel models made in the last three model years. EPA officials said all the vehicles were designed to pass U.S. emissions tests, while emitting levels of nitrogen oxide up to 40 times above federal limits during normal driving. Nitrogen oxide has been shown to contribute to asthmatic attacks and respiratory diseases, particularly among children and the elderly, and is a contributor to urban smog. Environmental and public health groups called on the Obama administration on Monday to seek hefty penalties. “Volkswagen endangered the health of people and our planet with deceitful marketing and toxic pollution,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, an environmental nonprofit. “Now, it’s time that Volkswagen focus on building clean electric vehicles that don’t make our families sick and our air dirty. You can’t cheat on tailpipe emissions tests if there are no tailpipes.”
News Article | February 9, 2017
This story was originally published by the Huffington Post and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. The Trump administration is considering closing down the enforcement division of the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a report Wednesday evening from Inside EPA. The new administration is reportedly looking to close the Office of Enforcement & Compliance Assurance, or OECA, and instead let individual program offices (such as the air program, the water program, and others) handle enforcement. The outlet Inside EPA quoted “a source familiar with the plan” who says the Trump administration intends to “disassemble the enforcement office … take it, break it up, and move it back into the program offices.” In a statement emailed to the Huffington Post, the agency’s press office said the “EPA does not have a confirmed administrator and we cannot speculate on future plans for the agency.” Closing the office would almost certainly mean less enforcement work happens at the agency. OECA handles both civil and criminal enforcement of the country’s core environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Oil Pollution Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act. The office is an independent body with about 3,000 employees who “work to advance environmental justice by protecting communities most vulnerable to pollution.” “Dissolving OECA would have a disastrous effect on EPA’s ability to do its job,” said Nicholas Conger, who served as communications director for OECA from July 2013 through March 2016 and later worked in the EPA administrator’s public affairs office. Conger is now the press secretary of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Americans depend on a strong federal enforcement presence, and that depends on having a program that is directly focused on holding polluters accountable and ensuring they fix their problems.” Myron Ebell, a climate change denier who led the Trump administration’s transition at the EPA before returning to the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, noted in an email with HuffPost that most environmental enforcement efforts were largely the responsibility of individual offices before the creation of the OECA in the 1990s. Ebell has previously recommended the agency slash its workforce by two-thirds, from about 15,000 to 5,000 employees, and cut the EPA budget in half. Environmental advocates were quick to point out that Scott Pruitt — the Oklahoma attorney general Trump picked to lead the EPA — made almost the same move back home. Pruitt closed his office’s Environmental Protection Unit not long after he took office in 2011. Pruitt’s online biography describes him as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda,” and says he “established Oklahoma’s first federalism unit to combat unwarranted regulation and overreach by the federal government.” Republicans voted Pruitt’s nomination out of committee last week over a Democratic boycott; he is expected to go up for a vote in the full Senate, though a date for the vote has not been scheduled. “Scott Pruitt endangered the health and welfare of Oklahomans when he closed his own environmental enforcement unit there, and now it looks like he wants to do the exact same thing at the EPA, imperiling families across America,” Liz Perera, climate policy director at the Sierra Club, said in a statement. Republican-led efforts in Congress have already begun to roll back much of the environmental progress made under the administration of President Barack Obama. Last week, leaders in the House voted to overturn a rule meant to protect waterways from coal mining operations and another that requires energy companies to disclose payments from foreign governments.
News Article | December 19, 2016
GATINEAU, QUEBEC--(Marketwired - Dec. 19, 2016) - Ghislaine Saikaley has been appointed as Commissioner of Official Languages in an interim capacity by the Governor in Council. Mrs. Saikaley is an experienced federal government executive who was previously Assistant Commissioner for the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages (OCOL), Compliance Assurance Branch. Mrs. Saikaley, under the Official Languages Act, can serve a term of up to six months. She will exercise all authority accorded to her position, ensuring normal and continued operations of the Commission's mandate until a new Commissioner is appointed. Mrs. Saikaley's biography can be found on OCOL's website, at www.officiallanguages.gc.ca. The selection process for a permanent Commissioner of Official Languages ends on January 9, 2017. For more information, please visit the Governor in Council Appointments website at www.appointments.gc.ca. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook
News Article | February 15, 2017
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News Article | February 15, 2017
"U.S. EPA's enforcement shop could soon be on the chopping block, a prospect that's spurred an outcry among greens and former agency officials. As the Trump team prepares to follow through on its plans to scale back the size and scope of EPA, one source familiar with the administration's thinking told E&E News that the agency will likely break up the enforcement office, leaving program offices like the air and water branches to crack down on polluters. Another source close to the transition's thinking said that EPA enforcement originally came from the agency's program offices and the idea would be for it to return to them. The source said the potential reorganization was about managing the agency and not about stopping enforcement. But reports that EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance may soon be in the crosshairs for the new administration quickly sparked a backlash. Inside EPA first reported yesterday that the administration is considering shuttering the enforcement office." "What Would Happen To Florida If The EPA Really Did Go Away?" (Tampa Bay Times)