Real Estate & Land Use

On December 7, 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) released its proposed 2020, 2021, and 2022 Renewable Volume Obligations (“RVOs”). RVOs determine the amount of renewable fuel (typically, ethanol) certain fuel refiners and others involved in the transportation fuel supply chain (“Obligated Parties”) are required to blend into their own fuel production during a given year. Obligated Parties failing to meet their RVOs for any year must buy Renewable Identification Numbers (“RINs”) or other credits, or risk default under the Renewable Fuel Standard (“RFS”).

Pursuant to the Renewable Fuel Standard (“RFS”), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“U.S. EPA”) issues annual renewable volume obligations (“RVOs”), which set the minimum aggregate volume of renewable fuel that refiners must blend with transportation fuel for the following calendar year.

Refineries producing transportation fuel meet their RVOs by blending the required volume of renewable fuel into gasoline or diesel fuel or by acquiring credits (called renewable identification numbers, or “RINs”). The RFS permits “small” refineries – those producing fewer than 75,000 barrels of fuel per day – to claim an exemption by showing that meeting their RVOs would cause them “disproportionate economic hardship.”

The American Society for Testing and Materials (“ASTM”) is expected to release a revised international standard for Phase I Environmental Site Assessments (“ESAs”) in December of 2021 that will clarify a number of key components of the standard and elevate the importance of per/poly-fluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”).

Phase I ESAs are conducted by many parties when they become involved in the sale, acquisition, development, or financing of a piece of land, including developers, owners, and parties who provide loans for or serve as tax equity investors on renewable energy projects.  The Phase I ESAs allow those parties to get a glimpse into the environmental condition of the land and identify any potential contamination on-site.  Some of those parties – by acquiring an ownership or leasehold interest in the land, or by becoming an operator of the site – take on potential environmental liability if there have been releases on-site, including liability under the strict liability scheme of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”).  A defense to CERCLA liability is available if the party conducted certain diligence that complies with the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s All Appropriate Inquiries (“AAI”) standard, and if the party exercises appropriate care with respect to issues identified.  Environmental consultants prepare those Phase I ESAs and use the current ASTM standard as a guideline to prepare a thorough report and comply with AAI.

Senior Associate Megan McLean has published “Biden Administration Promises to Double Down on Environmental Justice” in Rock Products Magazine. 

In the article, Megan outlines President Biden’s stance on environmental justice, the actions the EPA is taking to address environmental justice, and what companies need to do to mitigate foreseeable risks.

Read the article here.

Senior Counsel Coty Hopinks-Baul has published an article in Coal Age titled “CWA’s Permit Shield Spans SMRCA”.

In the article, Coty details a recent decision in the case of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards v. Red River Coal Co. Inc., where the Fourth Circuit upheld a district court’s dismissal of a citizen suit to enforce

Recent Regulatory Steps

On January 14, 2021, on the eve of President Biden’s inauguration, EPA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking, seeking comment on whether PFOA and PFOS should be regulated under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (“RCRA”). This will likely lead to the designation of PFOA and PFOS as “Hazardous Substances” under CERCLA and RCRA. Such a designation will likely lead to EPA and the state agencies taking more aggressive action to investigate and identify new sites where PFAS may be a concern and also to review the status of existing sites where PFAS may be a concern that was not addressed in previous investigations or response actions and to potentially pursue response actions at such sites.  At this moment though there is only the interim policy that EPA provided to assist in addressing PFOA and PFOS groundwater contamination. The comment period on this advance notice just closed and we anticipate a proposed rulemaking in the near future.

Senior Counsel Coty Hopinks-Baul recently published “The Tide Turns: Recent Developments In Federal Regulation Of Discharges To WOTUS” in Rock Products, discussing the changes the Biden Administration is expected to make to the federal regulation of discharges to waters of the U.S. (WOTUS).  The article provides a brief round-up on some of these actions and

Recently, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) proposed to amend the Proposition 65 regulations related to short form warnings. Proposition 65, also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, requires businesses to provide “clear and reasonable” warnings before knowingly and intentionally exposing Californians to listed chemicals. These warnings are required to appear on a wide range of products, including foods.

The Texas legislature recently passed House Bill 2845 (“HB 2845”) imposing specific requirements on wind energy leases and wind developers’ decommissioning obligations for wind energy projects. While wind leases typically impose obligations on project companies relating to the removal of wind projects, HB 2845 mandates that wind leases must include specific provisions describing such obligations.