On the weekend of June 24-26, 2011, the New Jersey Institute of Continuing Legal Education (“NJICLE”) in cooperation with the New Jersey State Bar Association (“NJSBA”), and New Jersey Corporate Counsel Association, held its annual Environmental Law Section Forum Weekend (“the Forum”). Taking place in Avalon, New Jersey, the Forum featured three days of seminars covering various hot-button environmental topics including, Funding for Remediating Sites, Vapor Intrusion, the LSRP Program, Non-Governmental Organizations’ Perspectives on Issues and Resolutions, the well-known NJDEP v. Occidental case also referred to as the Lower Passaic River litigation, Climate Change, and rounded out the weekend with two programs on Ethical Issues including Alternative Fee Arrangements and Multi-Party Settlements.
Reversing the Second Circuit, the Supreme Court on June 20, 2011 held, in American Electric Power Company v. Connecticut, that the Clean Air Act, along with EPA regulatory action that it authorizes, displaces any federal common-law right to seek abatement of emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from power plants. The Court’s decision means that for the foreseeable future, the debate over the proper scope of federal GHG regulation will take place in the executive and legislative branches and not the courts. It also leaves unanswered the question whether traditional state common-law remedies still have a role to play in GHG regulation.
The Supreme Court in Montana v. Wyoming –U.S.–, 131 S.Ct. 1765 (2011), rejected Montana’s claim that Wyoming’s usage of water depleted the amount of water available to it under the Yellowstone River Compact between Montana and Wyoming. Montana contended that Wyoming breached Article V(A) of the Compact which provided that “appropriative rights to the beneficial uses of the water of the Yellowstone River System existing in each signatory State as of January 1, 1950, shall continue to be enjoyed in accordance with the laws governing the acquisition and use of water under the doctrine of appropriation.”
Green or Not to Green, That is the Question? Whether it is Nobler to Build a Green Building or Suffer the Ignominy of an Ungreen One
With energy costs high and the focus on combating global warming, there is an impetus toward encouraging the development of Green Buildings. Buildings account for 39% of the total energy usage in the U.S., two thirds of the electricity consumption and 1/8 of the water usage. Building codes, setting minimum standards for construction, now include standards for energy efficiency. Green Codes are creeping in.
On June 9, 2010, USEPA announced that data centers will be eligible to earn the Energy Star label. The data center must be in the top 25% of its peers in energy efficiency as measured by EPA’s energy performance scale, the Power Usage Effectiveness metric. Unlike the Energy Star program for consumer appliances which relies on self-reporting, the Energy Star program for data centers requires a licensed professional to independently verify the energy performance of the building and sign and seal the application document that is sent to EPA for review and approval. Such data centers, which account for approximately 1.5% of electricity consumption, will be able to save money and energy and fight climate change. Moreover, with the increase in demand for “green” vendors by federal, state and local governmental agencies and corporations, a data center with an Energy Star label would have a competitive advantage in seeking such customers.
The United States officially notified the UN that it will abide by the emission reduction goal of the Copenhagen Accords. U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern submitted America’s target to the U.N. Framework Convention on climate change as part of a January 31 deadline negotiated in Copenhagen last year. Thus the U.S. promised that it will reduce global warming pollution about 17% below 2005 levels in the next decade. In doing so, Stern made a point of noting that the final figure could change depending on the outcome of U.S. legislation.
In response to prodding from institutional investors, on January 27, 2010, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission voted to provide companies with interpretive guidance on existing SEC disclosure requirements regarding the impact that business or legal developments related to climate change may have on its business. The interpretive guidance identifies four examples of where climate change may trigger disclosure requirements including the impact of legislation and regulation, the impact of international accords, the indirect consequences of regulation or business trends and the physical impacts of climate change.
On September 30, just days after finalizing its new rule on mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, EPA announced that it is proposing to use existing Clean Air Act provisions to limits such emissions from the largest sources of such emissions. The proposed rule, which focuses on sources that emit more than 25,000 tons of GHGs per year, would subject hundreds of new sources and modifications to existing sources to EPA review each year. In total, according to EPA, some 14,000 large sources would come under the proposed rule, which requires them to obtain operating permits that include limits on GHG emissions.