On November 7, 2020, Joe Biden became the projected President-elect of the United States. With an aggressive climate change plan that includes rejoining the Paris Agreement on the first day of his term, President-elect Biden and his administration will likely make significant changes to environmental, health, and safety rules and policies that will rollback Trump administration environmental actions and increase civil and criminal enforcement of environmental laws.

New Regulatory Rollbacks and Expansions

The Trump administration took deregulatory actions that weakened or repealed more than 100 environmental policies and regulations.  For example, President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which set targets for greenhouse gas emissions for existing power plants, was repealed and replaced with the Affordable Clean Energy rule, which removed emission targets and directed states to determine the best course of action for regulating power plant emissions.  The Trump administration issued the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Rule, which authorized the Department of Transportation to establish fuel economy standards and preempted similar state regulations, including California’s regulations regarding greenhouse gas emissions for new passenger cars and light trucks.  The Trump administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule significantly narrowed the “Waters of the United States” Rule under the Clean Water Act.  Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) repealed Obama-era methane and volatile organic compound emissions standards for new and existing oil and gas operations, and removed the most stringent requirements of newly promulgated revisions to the Risk Management Program rule.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), meanwhile, largely stalled new rulemakings that had been initiated under the Obama administration, including the Process Safety Management (PSM) standard, and has so far declined to initiate a rulemaking in response to COVID-19 under the current administration.

Continue Reading Swinging the Pendulum: Significant Shifts in Environmental and Safety Regulation under a Biden Administration

On July 9, 2020, the Fifth Circuit held that the mechanical integrity requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) process safety management (PSM) standard for highly hazardous chemicals applies to emergency stops that would only be activated after a release. The case—Sanderson Farms v. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC)—centered on the application of the PSM standard’s mechanical integrity element, 29 C.F.R. § 1910.119(j), specifically (1) whether that element applies to emergency shutdown equipment, and (2) the requirements to inspect and test such equipment. Petitioner, Sanderson Farms, Inc. (Sanderson), argued that the mechanical integrity requirements did not apply to emergency stops because they only activate after a release and are therefore responding to another component’s mechanical failure.

Continue Reading Fifth Circuit upholds OSHA’s interpretation of PSM standard