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Entries in perchloroethylene cleanup (4)

Tuesday
Sep122017

Temporarily Tapped Out: More Time to Consider California's Clean Water Funding Bill

Environmental Litigation AttorneyEnvironmental Litigation Defense Attorney

 

Stephen T. Holzer

818.907.3299

 

How deep does the clean water issue go in California? Let’s first take a look at some fairly recent and comprehensive findings:

There was good news and bad news regarding the cleanliness of California’s drinking water, according to a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study released in 2015.

California reservoir

The research comprised part of California’s Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment Program, more commonly called GAMA. It included 10 years’ worth of test data from untreated water in 11,000 wells across the state. GAMA considered area population and development to weight findings from the well tests.

First the good news: Contamination from nitrates, solvents, pesticides, etc. occurred in high concentrations in only five percent of California’s groundwater resources. The bad news was that naturally occurring contaminants like arsenic or uranium were found in about 20 percent of the state’s groundwater resources.

So what should be done about water contaminants?

According to the USGS, local and regional agencies are responsible for cleaning up the problem of high contaminant levels, particularly in high population areas like the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys near Los Angeles. And the State Water Resources Control Board regulates safety under several state clean water laws, including the California Safe Drinking Water Act and the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act.

But for some lawmakers, that may not be enough.

Temporarily Diverted: Clean Water Tax

Senate Bill 623, introduced by Senator Bill Monning (D-San Luis Obispo, Monterey and Santa Cruz), would impose the first-ever consumer tax on drinking water. 

The bill would levy a 95 cent per month tax on water meters “up to one inch or customers without water meters” (see Article 5 of SB 623).  The tax would increase, depending on the size of the water meter at issue, to as much as $10 per month for customers with water meters greater than four inches.

There would be exemptions from the tax for low-income customers, e.g. if the customer’s household income equals or is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or if the water meter exclusively measures flow of non-potable/recycled water.

The taxes, estimated at $110 - 140M per year, will be diverted to a Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund to clean up our drinking water sources.

But there are an interesting mix of groups and individuals both for and against the bill. As a result of the controversy, SB 623 is now on a two year track and won’t be decided until 2018, which gives us all time to contemplate.

Strange Water Bed Fellows

Farm Crop SprayerAccording to the Visalia Times-Delta, more than one million California residents live in communities with unsafe drinking water because of 300 state water systems that don’t meet federal criteria.

Many of the communities with bad water are in the middle of the state – the breadbasket of California, where agriculture is the main industry. Perhaps that’s why the farming industry is teaming up with environmentalists to support this clean water bill.

A spokesperson for the Western Growers’ Association released this statement regarding the clean water fund:

The use of organic and commercial fertilizers are necessary to replenish soil nutrients to allow for crop production. We believe it is in the best interests of the people of the state of California to have a safe and secure food supply grown in California for the benefit of people everywhere. . . SB 623 strikes the needed balance between providing the necessary resources for addressing critical drinking water needs, while protecting agriculture from certain nitrate related enforcement actions in the short-term. 

The Association of California Water Agencies, however, opposes SB 623 because the bill turns hundreds of water agencies into tax collectors, opens the door to more taxes on water in the future, and thus hinders the affordability of water, which is fundamental to life.

The Association thinks California’s General Fund and the income from the Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund should pay for cleaning up drinking water.

And not all environmental groups are on board with SB 623, as some contend the bill gives the agricultural industry a “pay to pollute” pass, as the bill would allow farmers to enroll in a waiver program by paying an applicable fee, potentially protecting them from environmental enforcement actions.

So one question that must be answered between now and a legislative vote in 2018: How best can we protect both our food and our drinking water suppliers? Will SB 623 take care of one challenge without sacrificing the other? 

Stephen T. Holzer is a Business Litigation Attorney and the Chair of our Environmental Practice Group.

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Tuesday
Aug082017

Property Needs Environmental Cleanup? Don't Scrap It, SCAP It!

Environmental Litigation AttorneyEnvironmental Litigation Defense Attorney

Stephen T. Holzer

818.907.3299

 

Environmental Soil SampleProperty owners in California may have access to state funds for environmental cleanup of smaller brownfields projects. The money comes from two pieces of environmental legislation passed in 2014.

The Proposition 1 Groundwater Sustainability Program authorized $7.545 billion in bonds for a variety of water projects, including storage, restoration and protection efforts. The State Water Resources Control Board (“Board”) was directed to distribute the funds amongst five separate programs; one of which includes the Groundwater Sustainability fund – it would receive $800 million.  

California Senate Bill 445 was an emergency measure also approved in 2014. The bill, essentially an amendment to the long-established Underground Storage Tank Cleanup Fund (“UST Fund”), provides for “. . . investigating and cleaning up contaminated sites without regard to the source of the contamination, particularly where there are no viable responsible parties . . .”   

Thus, unlike the UST Fund, the source of the contamination need not be an underground storage tank; and, unlike the case with the UST Fund, the contamination need not be petroleum-hydrocarbon based.

This part of SB 445 falls under SCAP, or the Site Cleanup Subaccount Program, funded with approximately $20 million in state money, plus local matching funds. That may not sound like a lot of money for environmental cleanup, but for some property owners, SCAP may provide the perfect solution.

Navigating Clean Water Resources

California Funding for Groundwater Cleanup

Cleanup projects eligible for SCAP funds include those properties that: 

  • May cause harm or potential harm from surface or groundwater contaminants

  • Have been polluted by human-made contaminants, e.g. nitrates (common in fertilizers), perchloroethylene (used in dry cleaning industry), pesticides, hexavalent chromium (commonly found in welding projects, paints, chrome plating), etc.

  • Received a directive from a regulatory agency

  • Are owned by responsible parties with limited resources

  • May include site characterization, source identification or implementation of cleanup. 

Certain applicants for SCAP funding will be given priority, including those that are significantly threatening to human or environmental health. Other priority projects include those in disadvantaged communities or those that cannot receive other cleanup funds.

The Board will also balance costs of cleanup vs. benefits.

Before applying for SCAP funds, property owners should first pre-apply for the Groundwater Quality Funding Program, through the Financial Assistance Application Submittal Tool (FAAAST). SCAP applicants will need to complete a grant agreement form, as well as forms describing the cleanup work to be done and the budget for such work.

Stephen T. Holzer is a Business Litigation Attorney and the Chair of our Environmental Practice Group.

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Tuesday
Sep132011

Perchloroethylene Cleanup Hangs Drycleaners Out to Dry

Litigation Los AngelesEnvironmental Litigation  

Stephen T. Holzer
818.907.3299

Drycleaners have been using perchloroethylene, a colorless liquid chemical also known as “PERC” or “PCE,” for decades. The chemical is also used in solvents, inks, shoe polish and other products, but it’s the dry-cleaning industry that accounts for 85 percent of its use.

PERC is a hazardous waste made with chlorine and other chemicals, and until modern-era environmental legislation regulating the disposal of PCE, the liquid leaked or spilled into the ground and seeped into water tables without much notice.

But federal and state-mandated clean ups are now hanging drycleaners out to dry financially, and insurance companies are also paying the price. In an attempt to find someone to pay for cleanup, some drycleaners are suing their machine manufacturers citing faulty designs and distributing use instructions that failed to warn drycleaners of potential perchloroethylene leaks and how to prevent them.

The drycleaner plaintiffs allege the machine manufacturers violated the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, or RCRA, which governs all handling of hazardous waste from generation to disposal. RCRA provides for liability on the part of:

“Any person . . . including any past or present generator, past or present transporter, or past or present owner or operator of a treatment, storage, or disposal facility, who has contributed or who is contributing to the past or present handling, storage, treatment, transportation, or disposal of any solid or hazardous waste which may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment . . . .”

The Plaintiffs in Hinds Investments v. Patricia McLaughlin relied on this language in RCRA. But last August, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected plaintiffs’ claims, stating:

“From the language Congress chose, it seems plain that Congress was concerned with those who handle, store, treat, transport, or dispose of the waste, not with manufacturers who design machinery that might generate a waste byproduct that could be disposed of improperly at hazard to the public.”

Despite the Appellate Court’s ruling, perchloroethylene cleanup remains controversial, because plaintiffs may still try to hold dry-cleaning machine manufactures liable under other, State-law theories.

But manufacturer defendants in the dry-cleaning industry can now argue that holding such defendants liable for what their customers is too far of a judicial reach even at the State level, when it comes to perchloroethylene leaks.

Stephen T. Holzer is the Chair of our Environmental Law Practice Group.  You can reach him via e-mail: sholzer@lewitthackman.com, or by calling 818.990.2120.

 

 
Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

 

 

Wednesday
Sep072011

California Environmental Law – How Much Cleanup is Too Much?

Litigation Los AngelesEnvironmental Litigation  

 

Stephen T. Holzer
818.907.3299

 

Nearly 3,000 acres of land in Ventura County is destined for open space use. . .if it’s ever cleaned up.

That vision may be put on hold, if the current mood of all parties involved give any indication. U.S. District Judge John F. Walter overturned Senate Bill 990 at the end of April, which practically guarantees the Boeing Company and the California Department of Toxic Substances (DTSC) will be legally wrangling for quite a while.

Here’s some background:  

Santa Susana’s Historic Roots

The land in question is known as the Santa Susana Lab, home to North American Aviation’s rocket and nuclear research and development projects established in 1947. Due to a series of company splits and sales occurring over the decades, the land is currently owned by Boeing, NASA and the Department of Energy.

There was a partial nuclear meltdown in 1959. And aside from the radioactive materials, a lot of other toxic chemicals (such as dioxins, trichloroethylene, PCBs and perchlorate) infuse the soil and groundwater from years of rocket testing.

The Environmental Law Twist

We don’t even need to go into decades of federal and state environmental law history to illustrate the problems with Santa Susana.

Let’s just go back to 2007 when the now retired Senator Sheila Kuehl pushed SB 990 to reassure Ventura County residents that Santa Susana and the immediate vicinity would be scrubbed as clean as possible. The bill even outweighed federal standards on its goals for cleanliness and safety, and the DTSC was named chief overseer of the work.

So who got on board with the bill? The Department of Energy and NASA. But in 2009 Boeing filed suit, protesting DTSC’s supervisory role. Boeing claimed, among other things, that Kuehl’s S.B. 990 is preempted by the federal Atomic Energy Act, 42 U.S.C. §2011 et seq.

Judge Walters agreed, saying that a federal installation (or, as here, a private one under contract with the feds) is “shielded by the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause from direct state regulation unless Congress provides clear and unambiguous authorization for such regulation.”

The DTSC and the California Environmental Protection Agency are disappointed with this ruling, to put it mildly. And when Judge Walter delivered the ruling, he mentioned probable scrutiny by appellate courts, according to an April 27th article in the Los Angeles Daily News.

Which only means that Simi Valley residents may have to hold their breaths a long time before the Santa Susana Lab gets the cleanup it needs, whether it’s by federal or state standards.

Stephen T. Holzer is a Environmental Attorney, Shareholder and Chair of our Environmental Law Practice Group. 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

 

 

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