Category Archives: Chevron

Court Rejects BLM’s Efforts to Unbalance the Scales of Justice

Yesterday, Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte granted summary judgment to plaintiffs and vacated the Bureau of Land Management’s notice that it was postponing certain compliance dates contained in the Obama BLM rule governing methane emissions on federal lands.  If you’re a DOJ lawyer, it’s pretty clear your case is a dog when the Court enters summary judgment against you before you’ve even answered the complaint.

The case is pretty simple and the outcome should not be a surprise. … More

The Montreal Protocol Is Not a Climate Change Statute

Earlier this week, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down part of an EPA rule promulgated pursuant to the Montreal Protocol.  The section that was struck down would have required manufacturers of HFC-134a, which is not ozone-depleting and which had previously been determined by EPA to be an acceptable replacement for ozone-depleting compounds, to find other replacements, because EPA determined in 2015 that HFC-134a did not “reduce overall risks to human health and the environment.”  Why? … More

EPA Fails to Justify Its Use of Surrogates for Certain Hazardous Air Pollutants

Yesterday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals remanded EPA’s MACT standards for PCBs, polycyclic organic matter, and hexachlorobenzene to EPA.  Rather than setting specific MACT standards for these compounds, EPA regulated them through “surrogates,” commonly particulate matter.  The Sierra Club and others argued that EPA did not adequately justify the use of surrogates.

The three-part test for the adequacy of a surrogate is clear and worth repeating:

(1) the relevant hazardous air pollutant is invariably present in the proposed surrogate;… More

Does Chevron Ever Permit EPA to Rewrite a Statute? EPA’s Release Reporting Exemptions Are Struck Down

On Tuesday, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia vacated EPA’s final rule governing reporting of air releases from animal feeding operations.  The Court found that EPA had no statutory authority to exempt AFOs from the reporting regulations.

The decision is also important because it is another in a recent line of cases regarding the extent of agency authority to interpret statutes.  The issue was whether EPA had authority to exempt smaller AFOs from reporting requirements,… More

Promulgation of TMDLs Does Not Create a Non-Discretionary Duty to Require NPDES Permits

When EPA approved total maximum daily loads for the Charles River, but failed to require NPDES permits for persons discharging stormwater to the Charles, CLF sued.  CLF alleged that EPA violated a non-discretionary duty when it failed to require the permits.  Last Friday, Judge Richard Stearns dismissed CLF’s suit.

EPA’s regulations provide that it will issue NPDES permits where it:

Determines that the discharge,… More

The Conservative Case for Chevron Deference, Chapter 3 (Plus an Auer Bonus!)

The conservative cases in support of Chevron deference keep arriving.  This week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed EPA’s federal implementation plan for compliance with its regional haze regulations by the Navajo Generating Station, which is apparently the largest coal-fired power plant in the western United States.  Environmentalists challenged the FIP on a number of grounds, including EPA’s decision to grant Navajo Generating emission credits for some early NOx reductions as well as the amount of time the FIP gave the facility to attain the required reductions.… More

The Conservative Case for Chevron Deference: Chapter 2

In January, I argued that conservative opposition to the Chevron doctrine seemed inconsistent with conservative ideology and I noted, at a practical level, that opposition to Chevron does not always yield the results conservative want.

Last Friday, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia provided more evidence supporting my thesis.  The Court affirmed the decision of the Fish and Wildlife Service to delist the gray wolf as endangered in Wyoming,… More

Six 5th Circuit Judges Oppose USFWS’s Critical Habitat Designation: Sounds Like Certiorari to Me

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals just denied en banc review in a case involving the Fish & Wildlife Service’s designation of critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog.  There are only 100 of these “shy” frogs left, and none of them live in the area in Louisiana designated as critical habitat by the FWS.

The focus of the panel decision – and both the panel dissent and the dissent from the denial of en banc review – was whether private land could be considered critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog if no frogs live in the area and the area could not currently support the frog.… More

The Conservative Case For Chevron Deference

With GOP control of Congress and the White House, conservatives appear to have Chevron deference in their crosshairs.  Put simply, I don’t get it.  There are at least two good reasons why conservatives should prefer Chevron deference to no deference.

First, the alternative is for courts to decide all questions of agency authority.  But haven’t conservatives railed against unelected judges for years? … More

It’s Foreseeable That More Species Will Be Listed Under the ESA Due to Climate Change

The drumbeat of cases, either approving agency action under the ESA – or reversing agency refusal to act – due to habitat alteration resulting from climate change continues to grow.  In February, the 9th Circuit reversed a district court decision and approved the Fish and Wildlife Service’s designation of critical polar bear habitat.  In April, Judge Christensen of the District of Montana vacated FWS’s decision to withdraw a proposed listing of the wolverine. … More

FWS Goes Back to Square One On Listing the Wolverine. It’s Not Going to Be Any Easier This Time Around.

As we noted in this space in April, Judge Dana Christensen vacated the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to withdraw its proposed listing of a distinct population segment of the North American wolverine WolverineSnowas threatened under the ESA.  Bowing to the inevitable, the FWS has now published in the Federal Register a formal acknowledgement that the Court’s vacatur of the withdrawal of the proposed listing returns the situation to the status quo.… More

A Lumber Mill Biomass CoGen Need Not Consider Other Fuels In Its BACT Analysis. Other Sources Should Be So Lucky.

Ever since EPA began considering how BACT analysis would be applied to greenhouse gas emissions, there has been concern that EPA would use its BACT authority to “redefine the source” – with the particular concern that BACT for a coal plant would now be to burn natural gas instead.  In Helping Hands Tools v. EPA, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals this week gave some protection to biomass plants biomassfrom such redefinition of the source. … More

The Social Cost of Carbon Passes Its First Judicial Test

Earlier this week, the 7th Circuit affirmed the Department of Energy’s new energy efficiency requirements for commercial refrigeration equipment.  This is a big deal in its own right, simply because the numbers are really large – according to DOE, the rule will save 2.89 quadrillion BTUs over the lifetime of equipment purchased under the rule.  It’s a reminder that energy efficiency remains a key to reducing carbon emissions.… More

Chevron Deference Lives! EPA’s Boiler Rule (Mostly) Survives Review

On Friday, the D.C. Circuit largely upheld EPA’s Boiler MACT rule.  boiler-mactThe industry challenges were a complete washout.  The environmental petitioners won one significant victory and a number of smaller ones.

The environmental petitioners’ one significant victory is important.  EPA included within relevant subcategories any source that burns a fuel containing at least 10% of the “subcategory-defining fuel.”  However, for defining MACT, EPA included only those sources that burn fuel containing at 90% of the subcategory-defining fuel for existing sources,… More

BLM Has No Authority To Regulate Fracking, At Least For Now

Yesterday, Judge Scott Skavdahl of the District of Wyoming held that the Bureau of Land Management did not have authority to regulate the environmental impacts of fracking.  frackingI think Judge Skavdahl probably got it right, but I also think it’s a much closer question than the Judge acknowledged and I could imagine either the 10th Circuit or the Supreme Court reaching a different conclusion.

Judge Skavdahl first reviewed the various statutes cited by BLM as providing authority for the rule. … More

If You Don’t Like Nukes, Petition Congress: The D.C. Circuit Affirms the NRC’s GEIR On Nuclear Waste Storage

On Friday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected challenges by several states and the NRDC to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Generic Environmental Impact Statement analyzing the impacts of continued on-site storage of spent nuclear fuel.  Yucca MountainThe decision is largely a plain vanilla application of Administrative Procedure Act deference to agency decisionmaking, but there were a few interesting nuggets.

  • The Court agreed with the NRC that the GEIR itself was not a licensing action,…
  • More

Stop the Presses! EPA Still Thinks that the MATS Rule Is a Good Idea

Last week, EPA issued its “Supplemental Finding”, confirming that it still believes that its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards matsare “appropriate and necessary.”  I don’t have much to add to our post at the time of the proposed Supplemental Finding.  In short, the Supplemental Finding isn’t going to change anyone’s mind, but it should be sufficient to withstand judicial review as long as the courts still believe in Chevron deference.… More

Good Law Catches Up With Good Policy: The Supreme Court Upholds FERC’s Demand Response Order

The Supreme Court today affirmed FERC’s Order No. 745, which required that demand response resources be treated the same as generation resources when participating in wholesale electricity markets.  I’m feeling vindicated, because the post-oral argument prognosticators said that it looked bad for FERC, but I always thought that FERC had the stronger argument.

As I noted after the D.C. Circuit struck down Order No.… More

Does the Paris Agreement Provide EPA With Authority Under the CAA To Impose Economy-Wide GHG Controls? Count Me Skeptical

In a very interesting article, Michael Burger of the Sabin Center and his co-authors suggest that, following the Paris climate agreement, § 115 of the Clean Air Act provides authority for EPA to develop economy-wide GHG emissions reduction regulations that would be more comprehensive and efficient than EPA’s current industry-specific approach.  And what, you may ask, is § 115?  Even the most dedicated “airhead” has probably never worked with it.… More

I’ll Go Out On A Limb; The CPP Will Not Be Stayed

I finally caught up with the brief filed by the government last week, opposing the motion to stay the EPA Clean Power Plan rule, pending full judicial review.  I just don’t see the stay being granted (of course, I did not see it coming with the WOTUS rule, either, so I’m not quite infallible).  The motion should fail on both the irreparable injury and public interest prongs of the test for issuance of a stay.… More

MATS, Take Two: EPA Still Supports the Rule (And EPA Is Correct)

Late last week, EPA issued a Supplemental Finding, concluding that it is still “appropriate and necessary” to regulate hazardous air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired electric generating units.  The Supplemental Finding was necessary after the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that EPA’s original decision to regulate HAP emissions from EGUs was flawed because EPA did not consider costs in making the decision.  Is the Supplemental Finding enough to ensure that the Mercury and Air Toxics rule mercuryis upheld this time around?  … More

EPA Lowers the Ozone Standard to 70 PPB: Industry Isn’t Happy, But It Should Be

On Thursday, EPA finally released its final rule revising the ozone NAAQS to 70 ppb.  I do not spend much time peering into a crystal ball, fortune-teller with a shining crystal ballbut I will go out on a limb and say that the industry challenges to the rule will fail. Just ain’t gonna happen.

The environmental group challenges pose a more interesting question.  There’s a fair bit of evidence of health impacts below 70 ppb,… More

The Earth Once More Spins Calmly On Its Axis; EPA’s Updated Hex Chrome MACT Rule Is Affirmed

On Tuesday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed EPA’s update of its hexavalent chromium Hex chromeMACT rule.  Suffice it to say that this was a little easier than review of the power plant MACT rule.

The Court rejected both industry and environmental group challenges, in what was largely a straightforward application of Chevron.  The opinion is nonetheless useful in laying out what EPA must have in the record to justify ratcheting down MACT standards.… More

If Congress Wants to Limit EPA’s Discretion, Perhaps It Should Do a Better Job Legislating

Earlier this week, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected both industry and environmental group petitions challenging EPA’s determination of what is a solid waste in the context of Clean Air Act standards for incinerators and other combustion units.  It wasn’t actually a difficult case, but it does provide a lesson for Congress.  When the technical nature of EPA’s decisions was layered on top of the fundamental deference given EPA’s interpretation of the statute under Chevron,… More

Half a Loaf May Not Be Too Bad: The 9th Circuit Affirms Most of EPA’s Approval of the San Joaquin Valley SIP

Earlier this week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals granted part of a petition challenging EPA’s approval of California’s SIP for ozone and PM 2.5 in the San Joaquin Valley.  ca_san_joaquin (1)While the trade press has been focusing on the partial reversal, I think that EPA won much more than it lost.

What did it lose?  California’s plans for complying with the ozone and PM 2.5 NAAQS relied in part on emissions reductions to be attained as a result of California’s authority under the CAA to impose more stringent mobile source emissions standards than are applicable nationally. … More

EPA Is Not an Expert in Determining Electric System Reliability

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals just reversed and remanded EPA’s rule allowing backup generators to operate for up to 100 hours per year as necessary for demand response.  demand responseIt’s an important decision that could have lessons for EPA and the regulated community across a wide range of circumstances, including eventual challenges to EPA’s proposed GHG rule.

EPA said that the rule was necessary to allow demand response programs to succeed while maintaining grid reliability.  … More

News Flash: Courts Still Defer to an Agency’s Interpretation of Its Own Rules

The Supreme Court today ruled that, when an agency revises its interpretive rules, it need not go through notice-and-comment rulemaking.  Although the decision, in Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association, required the court to reverse a long-held line of D.C. Circuit cases, the decision was not difficult; it was, in fact, unanimous.  In short, the Administrative Procedure Act:

states that unless “notice or hearing is required by statute,” the Act’s notice-and-comment requirement “does not apply …… More

You Can’t Estop the Government — Even When It Wants to Be Estopped

Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision that arguably explains everything from why the Tea Party exists to why otherwise calm and sane executives suddenly lose all their hair. Perhaps most astounding, the decision is clearly correct. Perhaps the law is an ass.

In 2008, Avenal Power submitted an application to EPA for a PSD permit to construct a new 600 MW natural gas-fired power plant in Avenal,… More

83% of a Loaf Is Better Than None: The Supreme Court Affirms EPA’s Authority to Regulate “Anyway Sources”, But Rejects Regulation of Otherwise Exempt Sources

The Supreme Court today affirmed EPA’s authority to subject 83% of greenhouse gas emissions to its PSD and Title V Operating Permit programs. However, EPA’s rationale for the rule did not fare so well, and EPA does not have authority to regulate GHG emissions from facilities not otherwise subject to PSD review or the Title V program.

To EPA and the court below, the main issue – EPA’s authority – was not difficult.… More

More on EPA’s GHG Rule: I Am NOT Going To Set Odds on Whether the Rule Would Survive Judicial Review

Last week, in posting about EPA’s Clean Power Plan, I noted that some potential plaintiffs might face standing obstacles in seeking to challenge the rule, assuming it is promulgated as proposed. Today, I take a (very) slightly broader look at potential legal challenges.

First, I still think that the most obvious potential plaintiffs, owners of coal-fired power plants, might indeed have standing issues in challenging a rule which maximizes the options for attaining reductions in GHG emissions.… More

When Is An Agreement Not To Purchase Electricity a Retail Sale? The DC Circuit Strikes Down FERC Order 745

Last Friday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down FERC Order 745, which required that demand response resources be compensated in the same way as traditional generation resources, at the “locational marginal price”, or LMP. Why is this an environmental case? Because use of demand response at times of peak electricity demand substitutes for traditional generation and thus eliminates the emissions that would result from such generation.… More

The Wind Bloweth Where It Listeth — And the Supreme Court Says EPA Therefore Has Discretion in Regulating Wind-Borne Pollution

The Supreme Court today reversed the D.C. Circuit and affirmed EPA’s Transport Rule (known more formally as the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule). Whatever the hopes and dreams of the upwind states and the industry opponents, the decision does not surprise me. EPA pretty much did what it was told when the Bush era CAIR rule was struck down. Moreover, EPA crafted a rule that seems to me fully within its discretion under the Clean Air Act and which,… More

Cement Kiln Operators Better Hope that Their Control Technology Works: D.C. Circuit Vacates EPA’s Affirmative Defense Rule

Last week was hazardous air pollutant regulation week at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. First, as we reported, the Court affirmed EPA’s mercury air toxics rule, determining that EPA need not take cost into account in promulgating rules for electric generating units (EGUs) under § 112(n) of the CAA. On Friday, the Court affirmed the substance of EPA’s revised hazardous air pollutant rules for cement kilns,… More