By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
On February 1, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana granted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) January 31, 2021, unopposed motion to vacate and remand its January 6, 2021, final rule on “Strengthening Transparency in Pivotal Science Underlying Significant Regulatory Actions and Influential Scientific Information” (86 Fed. Reg. 469). EDF v. EPA, No. 4:21-cv-03-BMM. On January 11, 2021, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC), and Citizens for Clean Energy (CCE) filed suit against EPA, claiming that the January 6, 2021, final rule was unlawful and that EPA’s decision to make the final rule effective on publication was unlawful. On January 27, 2021, the court granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs, finding that EPA did not provide good cause to exempt the final rule from the Administrative Procedure Act’s (APA) 30-day notice requirement. The court stated that “EPA’s decision to make the Final Rule immediately effective on publication was ‘arbitrary, capricious’ and ‘otherwise not in accordance with law.’” In its January 31, 2021, motion, EPA states based on the court’s conclusion that the final rule constitutes a substantive rule and that EPA “lacked authorization to promulgate the rule pursuant to its housekeeping authority.” According to EPA, where EPA lacked the authority to promulgate the final rule, “remand without vacatur would serve no useful purpose because EPA would not be able to cure that defect on remand.” EPA notes that because the final rule was in effect for less than a month, and it had not applied the rule in any circumstance while the rule was in effect, “there would be no disruptive consequences in remanding and vacating the rule.”
Prior to EPA’s motion to vacate and remand the final rule, on January 20, 2021, President Joe Biden signed an Executive Order (EO) on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis. According to the EO, it is the policy of the Biden Administration “to listen to the science; to improve public health and protect our environment; to ensure access to clean air and water; to limit exposure to dangerous chemicals and pesticides; to hold polluters accountable, including those who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities; to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; to bolster resilience to the impacts of climate change; to restore and expand our national treasures and monuments; and to prioritize both environmental justice and the creation of the well-paying union jobs necessary to deliver on these goals.” The EO directs all executive departments and agencies to review immediately and, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, take action to address the promulgation of federal regulations and other actions during the Trump Administration that conflict with the Biden Administration’s national objectives, and to commence work immediately to confront the climate crisis. The EO calls for the heads of all agencies to review immediately “all existing regulations, orders, guidance documents, policies, and any other similar agency actions (agency actions) promulgated, issued, or adopted between January 20, 2017, and January 20, 2021, that are or may be inconsistent with, or present obstacles to,” the Biden Administration’s policy. For any identified actions, the EO directs the heads of agencies to “consider suspending, revising, or rescinding the agency actions.” In addition, for certain specified agency actions, the EO states that the head of the relevant agency “shall consider publishing for notice and comment a proposed rule suspending, revising, or rescinding the agency action within the time frame specified.” The specified agency actions include EPA’s January 6, 2021, final rule on “Strengthening Transparency in Pivotal Science Underlying Significant Regulatory Actions and Influential Scientific Information.”
As reported in our January 11, 2021, memorandum, the origin of EPA’s January 6, 2021, final rule is rooted in legislative proposals more clearly intended to challenge important regulatory requirements, particularly related to EPA’s air program. We predicted that the final rule would likely be among the first items subject to reversal or “clarifying” guidance making it consistent with previously established science policies (see Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.’s (B&C®) Forecast 2021 memo). With Democratic control of both houses of Congress, there might also be attempts to repeal the rule via action under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) of recently promulgated regulations.
By Timothy D. Backstrom
On May 30, 2018, two complaints were filed against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Both of these suits concern a decision by EPA to defer publication of a notice of availability (NOA) of training materials prepared pursuant to the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS), 40 C.F.R. Part 170. The WPS was originally promulgated in 1974, substantially amended in 1992, and then revised again in 2015. Although the 2015 revisions to the WPS are currently in effect, employers are not required to adopt new training programs for agricultural workers and handlers until 180 days after EPA publishes the NOA announcing the availability of the new training materials in the Federal Register.
On December 21, 2017, EPA issued a Federal Register notice indicating that it “expects to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in FY 2018 to solicit public input on proposed revisions to the WPS requirements for minimum age, designated representative, and application exclusion zones.” In this 2017 notice, EPA acknowledged that the WPS provisions it will propose to revise are already in effect and that training materials consistent with the 2015 rule have already been prepared, but stated that EPA does not expect to issue the NOA for these new training materials until after it completes a rulemaking concerning the proposed revisions to the 2015 WPS rule. The plaintiffs in both of the new district court cases are challenging the decision of EPA to defer issuance of the NOA, which has delayed the timetable for expanded training for agricultural workers and handlers contemplated by the 2015 WPS rule.
The first of two complaints was filed by Rural & Migrant Ministry, et al. (RAM) v. EPA, Case No. 1:18-cv-04743. RAM’s complaint includes four causes of action based on EPA’s failure to issue the NOA. RAM alleges that this failure is “arbitrary and capricious,” constitutes “agency action unlawfully withheld and unreasonably delayed,” and violates the publication requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the Federal Register Act. RAM requests a declaratory judgment that EPA has violated the APA and the Federal Register Act, and injunctive relief to require immediate publication of the NOA.
The second complaint was filed by the States of New York, California, and Maryland, New York v. Pruitt, Case No. 1:18-cv-04739. These State plaintiffs also contend that EPA’s failure to publish the NOA is “arbitrary and capricious,” and constitutes “action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed.” Like RAM, the State plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment and an injunction requiring that EPA immediately publish the NOA for the expanded training materials. EPA will presumably seek consolidation of the two cases, which both challenge the same EPA actions and seek comparable relief.
The principal question presented by these two WPS cases is whether EPA can lawfully defer full implementation of the expanded training required by the 2015 WPS while it undertakes and completes a new rulemaking to revise certain provisions of the same rule. Although EPA acknowledges that it has prepared the written materials needed to effectuate the expanded training required by the 2015 WPS, EPA will likely argue that it is both more efficient and less confusing for employers and workers to use the existing training materials until after EPA has finished revising the WPS. In contrast, the plaintiffs in these two cases will argue that the 2015 WPS is already in effect, and that the protection for workers associated with the expanded training required by this rule has been improperly delayed by EPA without any prior notice and comment rulemaking.
The decision by EPA to defer full implementation of the 2015 WPS while EPA considers potential revisions to the WPS may be deemed analogous in some respects to other EPA actions that delayed the effective date for a rule expanding requirements for certified applicators who apply restricted use pesticides (RUP). In a decision issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on March 21, 2018, the court vacated several EPA actions that had delayed the effective date for the RUP rule, holding that EPA was required to provide notice and opportunity for comment before taking such actions and that EPA lacked “good cause” for acting without notice and comment. See Order Granting Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment, Pineros Y Campesinos Unidoa Del Noroeste v. Pruitt, Case No. 17-cv-03434-JSW.
The current cases may be distinguished from the actions EPA took to defer the effective date for the RUP rule because EPA has declined to take affirmative action to effectuate certain requirements in the 2015 WPS, rather than deferring the effective date for any of the requirements in that rule. It remains to be seen whether the district court will consider this procedural distinction to warrant a different outcome.
More information on WPS issues is available on our blog under key words Worker Protection Standard, delay, guidance, and training.
By Lisa R. Burchi and Lisa M. Campbell
On January 2, 2018, State Attorneys General from eleven states (Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wisconsin) (collectively the States) filed a friend of the court brief in Nat’l Ass’n of Wheat Growers v. Zeise, E.D. Cal. (No. 2:17-cv-02401) (Brief), a case challenging California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s (OEHHA) decision to list glyphosate as a carcinogen under Proposition 65 (Prop 65).
OEHHA listed glyphosate under Prop 65 on March 28, 2017, but the effective date of the listing was delayed until July 7, 2017, following a decision from the Fifth District Court of Appeals that denied Monsanto’s request for a stay of such listing. OEHHA stated that its listing was required under its Labor Code listing mechanism, which OEHHA states requires it to list under Prop 65 certain substances identified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as known to cause cancer. Information about Monsanto’s earlier challenge is available in our blog item California Court Tentatively Dismisses Monstano’s Lawsuit Against OEHHA to Block Addition of Glyphosate to Proposition 65 List.
On November 15, 2017, a nationwide coalition of agricultural producers and business entities (including Monsanto) filed a Complaint against OEHHA on the grounds that its listing of glyphosate as a carcinogen and the Prop 65 warning requirement triggered by that listing: (1) violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by compelling Plaintiffs and other entities to make false, misleading, and highly controversial statements about their products; and (2) violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because OEHHA’s actions are not rationally related to any legitimate state interest; and (3) violate the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution by conflicting with, and being preempted by, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). Plaintiffs filed an amended Complaint on December 5, 2017.
On December 6, 2017, Plaintiffs also filed a motion for preliminary injunction (Motion), arguing that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the Prop 65 listing violates the First Amendment. The Motion argues that the warning will fail under any level of constitutional scrutiny, whether it is considered under “laws regulating commercial speech that generally receive at least intermediate scrutiny, i.e., they are prohibited if they do not directly and materially advance the government’s interest, or are more extensive than necessary,” or laws that require disclosure of information in connection with commercial transactions, which “are permissible only if the compelled disclosure is of information that is purely factual, uncontroversially accurate, reasonably related to a substantial government purpose, and not unduly burdensome or chilling. See Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, 471 U.S. 626, 651 (1985).” Motion at 23-36; Complaint at 26-28.
In agreeing with Plaintiffs that OEHHA’s Prop 65 listing of glyphosate forces businesses to issue “false and misleading” statements about their products and asking the court to grant the Plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, the Attorneys General state in their Brief:
- The First Amendment injuries identified by Plaintiffs are heightened because they adversely impact the sovereign interests of other States in at least two ways. First, by requiring false or misleading statements about glyphosate products, California’s speech mandate imposes confusing and potentially inconsistent obligations on nonresident businesses that are bound by other States’ consumer-protection laws not to make false and misleading statements about their own products. Second, the speech mandate impairs consumer-protection efforts of the States that require sensible health-and-safety disclosures by contributing to the well-known phenomenon of disclosure fatigue.
Brief at 4-5 (emphasis in original).
The States also argue that while there may be a presumption to California’s favor that its enforcement of its duly enacted laws reflects the public interest, the Court also “should weigh heavily the fact that California’s mandate interferes with federalism and the sovereign interests of other States when assessing the public interest factor.” Brief at 10.
This case raises significant constitutional and preemption arguments in a factual context that many in industry believe compelling. It will be closely monitored.
OEHHA answered Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint on January 9, 2018. It is expected to file its opposition to Plaintiff’s Motion for a Preliminary Injunction by January 22, 2018, and file its response to the two amicus curiae briefs filed on behalf of Plaintiffs by January 26, 2018. Following deadlines for Plaintiffs to file any reply in support of their motion for a preliminary injunction and any responses to amicus curiae briefs in support of Defendants, a hearing on Plaintiff’s motion will be held on February 20, 2018.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Timothy D. Backstrom
On December 16, 2014, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and its affiliate the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA), along with a coalition of other non-governmental organizations, brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The suit concerns a May 1, 2008, petition by these organizations requesting that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) take regulatory action concerning nanoscale silver (nanosilver) products, including classifying nanosilver as a pesticide under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Since receiving the CFS/ICTA petition, EPA has taken a number of incremental steps to regulate nanosilver. After inviting comment concerning the petition, EPA referred scientific issues concerning risks from and exposure to nanosilver to the FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP), announced that it would treat nanoscale pesticides (including nanosilver) as a separate pesticidal active ingredient, established new registration requirements for several specific nanosilver products, and initiated the registration review process for registered nanosilver products.
Notwithstanding these actions, EPA has not formally responded to the 2008 CFS/ICTA petition, and the petitioners have characterized the steps taken by EPA to date as “toothless.” Rather than contesting the suit, EPA may seek an agreement requiring EPA to respond formally to the petition by a specified date. Perhaps EPA will characterize the regulatory actions taken to date as a partial grant of the petition. On the other hand, many of the nearly 400 nanosilver products that CFS/ICTA claim EPA should regulate under FIFRA have no pesticidal claims or purpose or are being sold and distributed outside of the U.S. With respect to these products, EPA will likely respond that it has no authority to provide the relief sought by the petitioners.