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April 11, 2014

Industry and Consumer Update: Responsible Electronics Recycling

By: Maggie Macdonald — Filed under: Compliance, Emerging Issues, Enforcement, RCRA, Solid Waste — Posted at 3:53 pm

Changes are happening in the electronic equipment recycling field; by next year, these changes will significantly affect recyclers, municipalities, property managers, and even individual homeowners.  These include, most notably, an absolute ban on disposing electronic equipment throughout New York State and national changes to the R2 Responsible Recycling and e-Stewards standards, which affect recyclers nationwide.


The potential environmental impact of improper electronic waste disposal is severe.  Perhaps the most compelling presentation of the need to address this issue came in the 2008 60 Minutes piece called “Electronic Wasteland.”  Since then, electronic waste disposal in many jurisdictions has been regulated to prevent adverse impacts; in New York State, electronics recycling is governed by the 2010 Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act.  On a federal level, the enforcement of hazardous waste exporting requirements under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act has helped to ensure that hazardous materials contained in electronic equipment are managed properly.

Disposal Ban

Under New York State’s law, disposing of electronic waste at a solid or hazardous waste facility has been banned in stages.  In April 2011, manufacturers and retailers were banned from disposing of electronic waste. In January 2012, all other entities except for individuals and households were similarly banned.  This ban on disposal extends to individuals and households starting on January 1, 2015.

Responsible Recycling

All companies carrying out electronics recycling must be licensed with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and must file annual reports stating the origin, destination, and weight of material collected, processed and resold.

In addition to complying with state law requirements, many recyclers have chosen to become certified under independent industry standards through accredited auditing agencies.  The standards for electronics recycling are the R2 Responsible Recycling Standard and the E-Stewards Standard.  Working with a recycler that has attained and maintained certification to either of these standards provides additional assurance that the materials being recycled will not end up polluting the environment.

New Requirements for Certified Recyclers

Last year, the R2 Standard went through a round of updates which take effect this year.  All R2 certified recyclers must now obtain either RIOS certification (another independent standard for recyclers) OR obtain both ISO 14001 (environmental management standard) and ISO 18001 (worker health and safety standard).  R2 recyclers must transition to the R2:2013 standard by December 2014.

Similarly, the e-Stewards Standard was revised in the last year, and all recyclers certified under the e-Steward standard must be re-certified under the e-Steward 2.0 Standard starting May 1, 2014. Notable changes in the e-Steward standard include heightened data security requirements and air quality and noise restrictions.

For more information on electronics recycling, contact Michael Bogin or Maggie Macdonald.

November 6, 2013

OSHA Recommends Use of New Permissible Exposure Limits for Chemicals in the Workplace

On October 24, 2013, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) announced the availability of a new annotated table of Permissible Exposure Limits (“PELs”) for chemicals in the workplace, along with alternative standards that “may serve to better protect workers” than the existing federal limits.  OSHA has, in the past, issued regulations establishing mandatory PELs for various chemicals, but most of these regulatory standards have not been updated since they were first issued decades ago.  According to its October 24 press release, OSHA now believes that many of the regulatory PELs are out of date and do not sufficiently protect employee health.

Rather than issue new regulations, OSHA is recommending that employers consider using the alternative PELs presented in the new annotated PEL tables.  These tables present, side by side, OSHA’s existing regulatory PEL, the PEL established by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (“Cal/OSHA“), the Recommended Exposure Limits (“RELs”) established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (“NIOSH“), and the Threshold Limit Values (“TLVs”) and Biological Exposure Indices (“BEIs”) established by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (“ACGIH“).

The alternative standards are generally more stringent than OSHA’s PELs. For example, the OSHA PEL for perchloroethylene (PCE) is 100 parts per million, while the Cal/OSHA PEL and the ACGIH TLV for PCE are both 25 parts per million.

Even though the alternative PELs are not federally enforceable, they may encourage state regulators to adopt the stricter exposure limits.  Even without official state adoption of the stricter exposure limits, OSHA’s endorsement of those limits could encourage regulators to press for more stringent cleanup standards at contaminated sites, and could broaden the scope of conditions recognized as problematic in Phase I and Phase II due diligence reviews.  OSHA’s recognition of the stricter exposure limits could also increase pressure on employers to adopt stricter voluntary standards for chemical exposure in the workplace.  As recently discussed on our blog, similar consequences could follow from other agencies’ actions with respect to chemical exposure, such as the New York State Department of Health’s recently-issued guidance revising the maximum recommended concentration of PCE in indoor air to 30 mcg/m3, or 4.4 parts per billion.

OSHA’s new annotated PEL tables are accessible here.  For more information, contact Christine Leas.

October 25, 2013

DEC Announces New Environmental Audit Incentive Policy

By: Priya Murthy — Filed under: Emerging Issues, Enforcement, New York Environmental Law — Posted at 5:02 pm

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“NYSDEC”) announced last week that the agency has finalized its new Environmental Audit Incentive Policy. This policy, which was proposed last March, will reward businesses that implement good environmental self-management by, under certain circumstances, waiving some civil penalties for violations that are discovered while self-auditing. It will come into effect on November 18, 2013.

The new audit policy marks the first change in NYSDEC’s penalty and compliance policies in over ten years and suggests greater flexibility for regulated parties and the potential for leadership in environmental compliance from within the business community.

Many members of the regulated community already use environmental management systems and pollution prevention. The new policy supports those efforts and encourages widespread use. It also encourages new owners of regulated entities to disclose, correct, and prevent the recurrence of violations, and implement pollution prevention. It does so in several ways, including:

  • Lengthening the disclosure period for new owners and provides a penalty waiver for disclosure of violations discovered within 60 days of acquiring a new property;
  • Waiving a component of civil penalties for existing owners who voluntary disclose and timely correct violations;
  • Providing financial and technical incentives for the use of environmental management systems and pollution prevention

The policy is not a total departure from NYSDEC enforcement norms. It states that it will not reward entities with a history of non-compliance. Certain violations are also excluded from the policy, including recurring violations and those involving criminal activity or serious harm to human health or the environment.

For more information about DEC’s Environmental Audit Incentive Policy, please contact Michael Lesser.

September 23, 2013

Who’s Who Legal 2013 Recognizes Five SPR Attorneys as Foremost Legal Practitioners in Environmental Law

By: Priya Murthy — Filed under: Emerging Issues, New York City Environmental Law, New York Environmental Law — Posted at 10:26 am

According to the newly-released 2013 edition of Who’s Who Legal, five Sive, Paget and Riesel attorneys have been recognized by their peers as among the world’s “foremost legal practitioners” in environmental law: Michael S. Bogin, Mark A. Chertok, Jeffrey B. Gracer, David Paget, and Daniel Riesel.

SPR has the highest number of recognized experts in environmental law of firms in New York State, and has more environmental lawyers listed than any other single-office firm in the nation.  Lawyers recognized by Who’s Who Legal have been selected based upon “comprehensive, independent survey work with both general counsel and private practice lawyers worldwide.”

July 9, 2013

Second Circuit Denies Relief in Bhopal Water Pollution Case

By: Ed Roggenkamp — Filed under: Emerging Issues, Solid Waste — Posted at 5:47 pm

On June 27, 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a lower court decision in Sahu v. Union Carbide Corporation, denying relief to a group of Indian citizens who had sued Union Carbide over water pollution allegedly stemming from operations at the infamous Bhopal plant.  In 1984, the Bhopal plant was the site of a disastrous gas leak that killed thousands of local residents and led to the plant’s closure. The Sahu plaintiffs claimed that the Bhopal plant’s operations had also contaminated soil and groundwater, causing a variety of ailments in local residents.

A key issue in the case was the relationship between the Union Carbide Corporation (“UCC”) and Union Carbide India Limited (“UCIL”), an Indian subsidiary of UCC which operated the plant. The Bhopal plant was originally used only to mix certain chemical components into a pesticide. In the 1970s, UCIL, with the approval and assistance of UCC, retrofitted, or “back-integrated,” the Bhopal plant in order to manufacture the pesticide components, not just mix them. Union Carbide sold its stake in UCIL in 1994; the Sahu case was filed in 2004, although several of the Sahu plaintiffs were also plaintiffs in an earlier class action filed in 1999 and dismissed in 2004 pursuant to the statute of limitations.

The Bhopal plant’s operations generated hazardous waste, including solid waste disposed of in pits and storage tanks and wastewater pumped into lined evaporation ponds.  According to the Sahu plaintiffs, the Bhopal plant’s waste seeped into the groundwater, where it contaminated local residents’ drinking water wells. The Sahu plaintiffs sought monetary damages and an injunction requiring both remediation and medical monitoring expenses from UCC.

The Sahu plaintiffs’ claim was based on New York state law, which allows suit against entities that participated in the creation or maintenance of a “nuisance,” defined as conduct or omissions that endangering the health and safety of a considerable number of people.  There appeared to be little dispute that the contamination at the Bhopal plant, itself, constituted a public nuisance under New York law. Nevertheless, the Second Circuit concluded that none of the actions taken by UCC – approving the plan to back-integrate the Bhopal plant, transferring the technology used to manufacture the pesticide, providing a basic design for waste treatment at the plant, and some limited involvement in remediation of the pollution – legally amounted to creation or maintenance of the nuisance itself. The Second Circuit also upheld the lower court’s rejection of veil-piercing and agency-based arguments by the plaintiffs that UCC should be held liable for UCIL’s actions.  Interestingly, both the parties to the case and the court agreed that New York law, rather than Indian law, should be applied to the case, despite the fact that the contamination in question occurred overseas.

For further information, contact Jeff Gracer or Ed Roggenkamp.

June 18, 2013

Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) Raises Record Amount in Latest Carbon Allowance Auction

By: Willis Hon — Filed under: Climate Change Law, Emerging Issues, Renewable Energy & Energy Development — Posted at 7:38 pm

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (“RGGI”) raised a record $124.4 million in its June 5, 2013 carbon emissions auction, with the clearing price of emissions allowances reaching a three-year high of $3.21 per ton of carbon dioxide (“CO2”).  The increase reflects expectations that the nine-state, cap-and-trade regime for power plant CO2 emissions will impose more stringent emissions limitations in 2014, as proposed earlier this year.

RGGI is the first market-based regulatory program in the United States aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, originally established in 2005 by a Memorandum of Understanding between seven states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. RGGI held its first carbon auction in September 2008, with emissions allowances selling for $3.07 per ton.  Between 2010 and 2012, however, the combination of relatively modest emissions caps, reduced electricity demand due to the economic recession, and an increase in lower-carbon power generation spurred by low natural gas prices depressed the price of RGGI emissions allowances and raised questions about the future of the program.

In response to those trends, in February 2013 RGGI concluded a two-year program review with a series of proposed changes to the trading program, including a 45 percent reduction in the regional CO2 cap from 165 million tons in 2013 to 91 million tons in 2013.  RGGI also released an Updated Model Rule implementing those proposed changes, which must be implemented by each RGGI state this year.  After 2014, the RGGI cap is expected to decrease 2.5 percent each year from 2015 to 2020, requiring additional emissions reductions from regulated entities.

The next RGGI carbon emission allowance auction is schedule for September 4, 2013.  For more information on RGGI and state and federal climate regulation, contact Jeffrey Gracer.

June 3, 2013

Challenge to Fresh Direct Project Dismissed

By: Steven Barshov — Filed under: Emerging Issues, New York Environmental Law, Project Updates, SEQRA — Posted at 4:37 pm

Fresh Direct, the direct delivery retail grocer, has proposed relocating its operations from Long Island City to the Harlem River Yards and occupying space originally intended for the New York Wholesale Flower Market.  A coalition of community groups challenged the project’s approvals, alleging violations of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) and challenging the constitutionality of the sublease by Harlem River Yards Ventures, Inc. (“HRYV”) to Fresh Direct, as well as the overlease between HRYV and the New York State Department of Transportation (“NYSDOT”).  On May 24, 2013, Bronx Supreme Court Justice Mary Ann Brigantti-Hughes dismissed the hybrid petition-complaint in its entirety and denied the challenger’s motion for leave to amend.  Sive, Paget & Riesel represented HRYV in the litigation.

The decision upheld the environmental review undertaken by the lead agency, the New York City Industrial Development Agency (“NYCIDA”), and concluded that the NYCIDA had appropriately issued a negative declaration after taking the required “hard look” at the Project’s environmental impacts.  In particular, the Court sustained the NYCIDA’s determination that no supplemental environmental impact statement (“SEIS”) was required because Fresh Direct’s projected traffic impacts would be no greater than those which would have been generated by the previously approved wholesale flower market.  The Court also held that the extant EIS, which dated from 1993, was not required to be supplemented, in part, because the relevant traffic data had been updated in the environmental assessment relied upon by the NYCIDA.  Given an increasing number of lawsuits demanding preparation of an SEIS due to the passage of time, it is noteworthy that the Court adhered to the rule that the mere passage of time alone is not a sufficient basis for securing such relief.

The constitutional attack against the overlease was dismissed as time barred.  The attack on the HRYV – Fresh Direct sublease, while timely, was dismissed for failure to plead any legally cognizable claim against the over-landlord, NYSDOT.  Leave to amend was denied as futile.

For further information, contact Steven Barshov, who was lead counsel for HRYV.

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