After Sackett, the question on everyone’s mind was “How far does it go?” The first test of that question was the decision by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals – not known as a bastion of liberalism – in Belle Company v. Corps of Engineers, holding that a Corps jurisdictional determination is not final agency action subject to judicial review. Late last week, however, in Hawkes Co. v. Corps of Engineers, the 8th Circuit disagreed, creating a circuit split.
Category Archives: Citizen Suits
When a number of citizen groups petitioned EPA to determine that it is necessary under the Clean Water Act to promulgate water quality standards for nutrient pollution in the Mississippi River Basin and the Northern Gulf of Mexico, EPA did not decide to issue the standards. It did not decide not to issue the standards. It decided not to decide. Litigation ensued.
Earlier this week, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, reversing the District Court, found that EPA has no obligation to make a so-called “necessity determination”, so long as:
Last week, District Judge Ralph Beistline allowed the summary judgment motion filed by the United States Forest Service, and dismissed citizen claims challenging the Forest Service decision to approve an logging project in an old growth area in the Tongass National Forest known as Big Thorne. The case seems interesting because of the deference Judge Beistline showed to the Forest Service. Reading between the lines of the record, my sense is that the Forest Service may not have gotten it right. The point is that they were not… More
In Black Warrior Riverkeeper v. ACOE, decided this week by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Court was faced with a quandary. “On the eve of oral argument”, in a case challenging The Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permit 21, which allows certain surface coal mining activities without an individual permit, the Army Corps of Engineers informed the Court that it had significantly underestimated the acreage that would be affected by NWP 21. Moreover, the Corps acknowledged that this error was sufficiently significant that it needed to revisit NWP 21. More
In a potentially significant opinion last week, in Little Hocking Water Association v. DuPont, Judge Algenon Marbley gave hope to citizen plaintiffs everywhere, with a remarkably expansive reading of the imminent and substantial endangerment language in RCRA’s citizen suit provision. The decision covers a lot of ground, and is well worth reading (and, in fairness, Judge Marbley did reject some of plaintiffs’ claims).
The most significant holding was that DuPont’s emissions of perflourooctanoic acid, or C8, into the air could constitute “disposal” of a “solid… More
Even assuming that the “significant nexus” test from Justice Kennedy’s concurring opinion in Rapanos defines waters of the United States subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction, the question remains what establishes a significant nexus. In a decision earlier this week, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals provided some important guidance in answering this question. The news is good for EPA and the Corps, not so good for developers.
The Court laid out four general precepts that apply to all cases:
Either qualitative or quantitative evidence may demonstration jurisdiction. Here, the Court rejected the developer’s argument that, because the… More
Fully five years ago, I noted that the cavalier treatment by government officials of FOIA requests made by opponents of government policy revealed a degree of self-righteousness that was both offensive and self-defeating – because it undermines support for the very policies that those officials were pursuing.
It now seems as though little has changed – except that now a federal judge has taken the time to put on record his dissatisfaction with how EPA responds to FOIA requests. In a decision yesterday, Judge Royce Lamberth actually denied… More
In Paradise Lost, John Milton wrote that “easy is the descent into Hell, for it is paved with good intentions.” A modern environmental lawyer might say that the road to waste, inefficiency, and obstruction is paved with good intentions. Nowhere is that more apparent than with citizen suit provisions, as was demonstrated in the decision earlier this week in Nucor Steel-Arkansas v. Big River Steel.
Big River Steel obtained a permit from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality to construct a steel mill in Mississippi County, Arkansas. Nucor… More
On Sunday, the Boston Globe had a fairly comprehensive look at the causes of the current failings of the MBTA. Interesting reading for those who like to belabor the obvious. The short version? Lack of political will and combined with a typical willingness to spend money we didn’t have.
As an environmental lawyer, I found the article interesting, because a discussion of the origin of the Big Dig transit commitments – a story I know pretty well – for the first time turned on a light bulb for me. … More
Déjà Vu All Over Again: CLF and CWRA Try Once More to Get EPA to Regulate Stormwater Discharges to the Charles River
In 2008, EPA made a preliminary determination to use its residual designation authority (RDA) under the Clean Water Act to designate stormwater discharges from two or more acres of impervious surfaces in the Lower Charles River Watershed and released a draft general permit to cover such discharges. However, EPA never finalized that designation.
In 2013, the Conservation Law Foundation and other groups petitioned EPA Regions 1, 3, and 9 to use RDA to address a number of watersheds in those regions, including the entire Charles River watershed in Region 1. In 2014,… More
On Tuesday, Chief Judge Robert Chambers ruled that Fola Coal Company violated the Clean Water Act by discharging mine waste with sufficiently high levels of conductivity to cause or materially contribute to impairment of Stillhouse Branch. The decision appears designed to be bullet-proof to any appeal. Judge Chambers thoroughly explained why the opinion of the defendant’s expert should not be given “great weight,” why the plaintiffs’ experts were reliable, and why EPA’s “Field-Based Aquatic Life Benchmark for Conductivity in Central Appalachian Streams” is entitled to substantial Chevron deference.
In short, Judge Chambers found on a number of independent… More
On Tuesday, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the “permit shield” provisions of the Clean Water Act protected ICG hazard from Sierra Club claims that effluent from ICG Hazard’s Thunder Ridge mine caused exceedances of Kentucky water quality criteria for selenium. Thunder Ridge is covered by a general permit, not an individual site permit, and the Sierra Club argued that the shield should not apply. However, this seems like a classic case of a distinction without a difference, and the Court agreed.
The statute provides that “compliance with a… More
On Wednesday, Judge David Hittner, of the District Court for the Southern District of Texas, in a decision long enough to require two separate pdfs, declined to impose an injunction or penalties (plaintiffs sought $642,697,500) against ExxonMobil in a Clean Air Act citizens’ suit brought by Environment Texas and the Sierra Club concerning the ExxonMobil facility in Baytown, Texas. The plaintiffs lost even though Judge Hittner did find a number of violations of the CAA. Why did plaintiffs lose? Here are some of the reasons:
On Monday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that EPA does not have an obligation to amend PSD regulations for a criteria pollutant within two years of revising the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for that pollutant.
WildEarth Guardians had sued EPA under section 304(a)(2) of the Clean Air Act, which authorizes suits against the Administrator for a failure “to perform any act or duty … which is not discretionary….”
What was the basis for the alleged nondiscretionary duty? It was section 166(a) of the CAA:
(a) Hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, photochemical oxidants, and nitrogen oxides
In the case of… More
Transportation Projects Get A Lot Of Deference in Demonstrating Compliance With Air Quality Standards
In a decision late last month, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals made clear just how much deference agencies can get under the Supreme Court decisions in Chevron and Auer. The question in NRDC v. USDOT was whether, in determining whether a project to connect the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to I-405 was in conformity with the California SIP, DOT reasonably performed a qualitative analysis of PM concentrations based on a receptor five miles from the project area.
The regulations require the proponent to demonstrate that the project will not “increase the frequency or… More
Do Takes of the Utah Prairie Dog Affect Interstate Commerce? Only When McDonalds Starts Serving Prairie Burgers
Earlier this week, in a suit brought by the beautifully named People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners, Judge Dee Benson ruled that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service could not regulate takes of the Utah prairie dog on private land. Relying on the Supreme Court decisions in United States v. Lopez and United States v. Morrison, the court conclude that, because the Utah prairie dog exists only Utah, and because it is a homely little creature that does not stimulate tourism and is not yet… More
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has stayed its mandate vacating FERC Order no. 745, regarding demand response. The mandate is stayed at least until December 16, 2014, by which point FERC must petition the Supreme Court for review. If FERC does seek cert., the stay will continue until the Supreme Court denies the petition or rules against FERC on the merits.
I don’t know if FERC will seek cert. I know that the Commissioners supporting the order were disappointed that the D.C. Circuit did not grant en banc review, given the strong dissent by Judge Edwards. Since FERC sought… More
Notwithstanding Congressional gridlock on climate change legislation, cap-and-trade remains the tried and true efficient method for reducing air emissions. Although the acid rain provisions of the Clean Air Act are the most well-known example, the CAA also provides for cap-and-trade programs to implement its regional haze regulations. On Monday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the cap-and-trade program adopted by New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.
Given that conservatives have abandoned their support for market-based regulation in opposing climate change legislation, it is perhaps comforting to return to the… More
I have previously noted that standing is a double-edged sword. Most commonly, the regulated community uses standing to keep citizen plaintiffs out of court. However, as the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals demonstrated yesterday, the regulated community is sometimes hoist on its own collective petard.
The decision in Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers v. EPA in the challenge to EPA’s E15 rule wasn’t surprising. After all, it was the second time that the Court concluded that the industry petitioners don’t have standing. The Court stated that both plaintiffs “failed to… More
Opponents of EPA’s Clean Power Plan have not been willing to wait until a final rule has been promulgated before challenging EPA’s authority. On Monday, Nebraska’s challenged was dismissed – not surprisingly – as premature.
Nebraska’s claim was simple – the Clean Power Plan relies in part on technology demonstrated with funding pursuant to the Energy Policy Act of 2005. However, that statute precludes EPA from finding that technologies have been adequately demonstrated for the purposes of § 111 of the Clean Air Act based “solely” on use of the technologies by facilities funded under the Energy Policy Act.
The last frontier of citizen climate litigation has been state-based litigation alleging that states have a public trust obligation to mitigate climate change. As I have previously noted, I’m skeptical that these cases are viable. A decision last month by the Supreme Court of Alaska suggests that such skepticism is well-founded.
In Kanuk v. Alaska, a number of minors living in Alaska brought suit, claiming that Alaska had violated its public trust obligation to protect the atmosphere. While finding that the plaintiffs had standing, the Court held… More
In July, we noted that the Clean Water Act’s permit shield defense would be construed narrowly, applying only where a permittee had clearly disclosed that the relevant pollutant to the agency. This week, in Alaska Community Action on Toxics v. Aurora Energy Services, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals treated the stormwater general permit in a similar manner, rejecting the defendants’ arguments that periodic discharges of coal from their coal-loading facility were authorized under the stormwater general permit.
To the Court, this was a straightforward, plain meaning interpretation of… More
Last week, Judge Walter Smith, Jr., ordered the Sierra Club to pay more than six million dollars – yes, you read that correctly – to Energy Future Holdings and Luminant Generation, after finding that the Sierra Club’s Clean Air Act citizen suit against them concerning the Big Brown (great name for a coal-fired facility!) plant was “frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless.”
The Sierra Club had avoided a motion to dismiss, which in the long run was a disaster, because the defendants incurred millions of dollars in discovery and expert witness fees…. More
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, California. Although section 165(c) of the Clean Air Act requires EPA to act on such applications within one year, EPA failed to do so.
Subsequently, and before… More
EPA Publishes Final 316(b) Rule: Flexibility for Generators Means Litigation By Environmental Groups
Last Friday, EPA finally published its § 316(b) rule in the Federal Register. As we noted in May, the rule is more significant for what it does not do – require closed cycle cooling – than for what it does.
Indeed, the rule provides a lot of flexibility for generators. It allows several different options for compliance with the impingement requirements. The entrainment requirements, which apply to facilities using 125 million gallons of water per day, will be based on site-specific analyses.
Of course, this very flexibility has… More
In an important decision last week, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals made clear just how high the hurdles are in the way of building highways in wildlife refuges. The decision in Defenders of Wildlife v. North Carolina DOT sent the Federal Highway Administration and the North Carolina DOT back to the drawing board in their efforts to find a solution to transportation problems on Hatteras Island.
After a multi-year planning process that reviewed multiple options, FHWA and NCDOT together decided on a plan to replace the Bonner Bridge, which… More
In two related decisions last week, the Supreme Judicial Court issued three important rulings, and handed the Brockton Power Company one major problem in its long-running effort to build a combined-cycle gas plant in Brockton.
First, in City of Brockton v. EFSB, the SJC rejected all of the challenges by the City of Brockton and certain citizens to the Energy Facilities Siting Board approval of the Brockton Power project.
In a holding that will cheer environmental advocates but strike fear into developers of all stripes, the SJC found that the EFSB’s application of the Commonwealth’s Environmental Justice policy is… More
Early last month, we noted that the decision in Luminant v. EPA suggested that the reach of the Supreme Court decision in Sackett is not unlimited. The Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit agrees. In Belle Company v. Corps of Engineers, the Court ruled that a Corps Jurisdictional Determination, or JD, is not final agency action subject to judicial review.
That had always been the law, but the plaintiffs argued that Sackett changed the landscape. Not so, said the Court. The Court agreed that the JD was the “consummation of the Corps’s decisionmaking process.” However,… More
Who Gets to Review EPA Actions? The Court of Appeals? The District Court? (Hint: The Answer Is Not “Neither One”)
The general rule under the Clean Air Act is that any:
person may bring suit in district court against the EPA Administrator for an alleged failure to perform a nondiscretionary act or duty, and the district court has jurisdiction “to order the Administrator to perform such act or duty,” as well as to “compel . . . agency action unreasonably delayed.” By contrast, “judicial review of final action by the EPA Administrator rests exclusively in the appellate courts.
Is Selenium the Coal Industry’s Kryptonite? Citizen Groups Obtain Summary Judgment Based on Water Quality Criteria Exceedances
Earlier this week, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and other NGOs obtained summary judgment that Alex Energy had violated both its NPDES permit and its Surface Mining Permits due to exceedances of the West Virginia water quality standard for selenium. The permit did not contain effluent limitations for selenium. Nonetheless, the state NPDES permits incorporate by reference regulations stating that:
discharges covered by a WV/NPDES permit are to be of such quality so as not to cause violation of applicable water quality standards promulgated by [West Virginia Code of State Rules § 47-2].
Similarly, the West Virginia surface mine… More
Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed EPA’s approval of Nevada’s State Implementation Plan for regional haze against a challenge by WildEarth Guardians. The decision isn’t earthshaking. However, because it found that WildEarth Guardians did not have standing to challenge EPA’s reasonable further progress determination for measuring visibility improvements, but did have standing to challenge EPA’s determination regarding the Best Available Retrofit Technology for the Reid Gardner Generating Station in northeast Nevada, it provides a handy way to compare and contrast what must be alleged by citizen groups to establish standing.
First, the reasonable further progress determination…. More
EPA Wins Two Clean Water Cases in One Day: The Fourth Circuit Affirms a Narrow Construction of the Permit Shield Defense
Yesterday, I noted that the D.C. Circuit rejected challenges to EPA’s Enhanced Coordination Process and Final Guidance on Clean Water Act permitting for mining activities. It was not EPA’s only CWA victory. On the same day, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a decision narrowly construing the CWA’s permit shield defense.
Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards sued A&G Coal over discharges of selenium from A&G’s Kelly Branch Surface Mine in Virginia. The case was not really difficult and was only ever going to have one outcome.
According to the record, at the time of A&G’s NPDES permit… More
The D.C. Circuit Rejects Challenge to EPA’s Final Guidance on CWA Coal Mining Permits: EPA Action Has to Be Really, Really, Final to Be Appealable
On Friday, the D.C. Circuit reversed Judge Reggie Walton’s decision from 2012 and affirmed EPA’s authority to adopt the “Enhanced Coordination Process” governing coordination with the Army Corps of Engineers in the processing of Clean Water Act permits. The Court also rejected challenges to its 2012 Final Guidance document regarding appropriate conditions on such permits.
The decision on the Enhanced Coordination Process seems rather obvious. As the Court noted:
this kind of inter-agency consultation and coordination is commonplace and often desirable. Indeed, restricting such consultation and coordination would raise significant constitutional concerns.
Indeed, one of… 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. PSD applies to “any regulated air pollutant.” Once EPA issued the tailpipe rule, GHGs became a regulated pollutant. Thus, EPA had not just discretion to regulate… More
On Monday, EPA finally announced promulgation of its long-awaited rule governing cooling water intake structures at existing facilities. The rule is certainly important, but it’s not earthshattering and it may be more significant for what it does not do than for what it does.
What does it do?
• Facilities that withdraw at least 2MGD must reduce impingement based on a finding that use of modified traveling screens with fish returns constitutes the best technology available (BTA). However, the rule also authorizes regulated facilities to use six alternative compliance options – up from just one one… 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, but vacated EPA’s affirmative defense based on unavoidable malfunctions. The decision is notable for two issues that will be of concern even outside the universe of cement kiln operators.
D.C. Circuit Affirms EPA’s Utility Air Toxics Rule: An “Appropriate” Rule Need Not Be Justified By Cost-Benefit Analysis
Yesterday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed EPA’s rule setting limits for emissions of mercury and other air toxics from fossil-fuel-fired electric steam generating units. The focus of the decision – and the issue on which Judge Kavanaugh dissented – was whether EPA was required to consider the costs that would be imposed by the rule. EPA said no and the majority agreed.
Section 112(n) of the Clean Air Act required EPA to perform a study of the health hazards related to hazardous emissions from EGUs prior to regulating them. How was EPA to utilize the results of… More
Enforcement of Municipal Stormwater Ordinances Is Tricky Business: Failure to Enforce an Ordinance Required Under a Permit Is Not a Violation of the Permit
Stormwater pollution has become an increasingly important problem. Part of the difficulty in solving it is that it’s not obvious who should be responsible. Should cash-strapped municipalities be on the hook or should it be developers and others who own and maintain large properties with acres of impermeable surfaces? Often, the answer given by EPA and state regulators is that municipal separate stormwater sewer systems, or MS4s are responsible, but they have the authority – and sometimes the obligation – to impose appropriate requirements on property owners.
That was the case in Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future v. Pittsburgh Water… More
Dispatches From the “Sue and Settle” Front: Trade Groups Do Not Have Standing to Challenge Settlements Regarding ESA Listing Procedures
Last week, a federal court, for the fourth time, found that property owners’ groups do not have standing to challenge a settlement between the administration and conservation groups under which the administration agreed to make listing decisions under the Endangered Species Act on more the 250 candidate species by 2016. Judge Emmet Sullivan, who entered the original settlements, ruled that settlements imposing procedural deadlines on the Fish and Wildlife Service did not cause any redressable injuries to the plaintiffs.
The Endangered Species Act is a powerful tool for the protection of threatened and endangered species and their habitats. Just how powerful was made clear last week when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals largely reversed a trial court opinion and essentially sustained actions taken by the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the delta smelt. The “reasonable and prudent alternatives” identified in the Biological Opinion issued by the FWS will result in substantially less water being exported from northern California to southern California.
The decision is massive (153… More
Late last week, in Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility v. Beaudreu, Judge Reggie Walton gave Cape Wind and its federal co-defendants an almost across the board victory in a series of challenges by Cape Wind opponents to a variety of environmental decisions made by federal agencies. We’ll see how many more of these victories Cape Wind can take. Their opponents certainly aren’t going away. In fact, the opponents declared victory themselves.
Judge Walton agreed with the opponents on two issues. First, he found that the Fish and Wildlife Service erred in essentially delegating to the Bureau of Ocean Energy… More
The Federal Tail Should Not Wag the Non-Federal Dog: The Sixth Circuit Concludes that the Corps’ Review of Mountaintop Removal Projects Is Limited
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled, in Kentuckians for the Commonwealth v. Army Corps of Engineers, that the scope of review by the Army Corps of Engineers of § 404 permit applications for fills related to mountaintop removal mining is limited to impacts directly related to the filling operations that require a permit, rather than the overall impacts of the mining project.
The case concerned a mountaintop removal project by Leeco in Perry County, Kentucky. Prior to issuing a § 404 permit, the ACOE performed its NEPA review, issuing a Finding of No Significant Impact after completion… More
Yes, Virginia, NSR Really is a Preconstruction Permitting Program: Another NSR Enforcement Case Fails on Statute of Limitations Grounds
The trend of cases holding that the NSR provisions of the Clean Air Act constitute a one-time preconstruction review requirement got stronger earlier this month, as the decision in Sierra Club v. Oklahoma Gas and Electric Company dismissed claims by the Sierra Club related to facility modifications that occurred more than five years prior to entry of a tolling agreement between the parties. The decision may not break any new ground, but it does help solidify some issues:
The statute of limitations begins to run when construction commences (“the last possible moment at which a preconstruction violation occurs is… More
Last week, in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed EPA’s 2012 New Source Performance Standards for particulate matter emissions from fossil-fuel-fired steam electric generating units. The opinion is largely a plain vanilla administrative law decision, but does provide some useful guidance on the appeal of CAA regulations. It is also a useful reminder of the extent of deference to EPA in an ordinary case.
First, the procedural issues. Both petitioners, UARG and the State of Texas, filed petitions for reconsideration of EPA’s rule. Indeed, perhaps the most important substantive question, whether EPA… More
I previously noted that the record of the Bush administration in defending its rulemaking decisions was dangerously near the Mendoza Line. Indeed, even four years after Bush left office, it was continuing to lose decisions. Now, we can say that the record has extended to five years. Last week, in National Parks Conservation Association v. Jewell, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia vacated the 2008 rule issued by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, which had itself revised the 1983 stream buffer zone rule.
The ground for the vacatur was… More
One of the critical elements of NEPA is that project proponents must assess the feasibility and impacts of not only the preferred alternative, but also a range of alternatives. However, there is a tension in NEPA, because it is widely understood that the proponent, and not either courts or opponents, get to define its own project. On the other hand, the proponent may not define the project so narrowly that its preferred alternative is the only one remaining.
Earlier this week, in HonoluluTraffic.com v. Federal Transit Administration, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals addressed this tension and made clear… More
As I have previously noted, the government’s record in NSR enforcement cases has been going downhill, particularly with important defeats before the 3rd and 7th Circuits’ Courts of Appeals. The latest governmental defeat came late last week, in Pennsylvania v. Allegheny Energy, when Chief Judge Conti granted judgment for the defendants on claims alleging both NSR and NSPS violations.
At some level, the decision is not a big surprise, since the court had previously ruled in Allegheny’s favor on the critical legal issue, concluding that whether projects constitute “routine maintenance, repair, and replacement”, or RMRR, must… More
Last fall, the District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania affirmed EPA’s TMDL for the Chesapeake Bay. As I noted at the time, Judge Rambo pointed to the sometimes “messy and cumbersome” nature of cooperative federalism in affirming the TMDL, stating that:
It is unavoidable that states and the federal government will occasionally disagree. EPA worked with the states to ensure that the proposed allocations were sufficient to achieve water quality standards. Complete unanimity between the states and EPA in resolving all the complex issues involved here is likely impossible. Disagreements between the states and the federal… More
Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiffs that the Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to support oil and gas leasing in the Chukchi Sea was flawed. Although the decision was split and the Ninth Circuit’s track record on appeal is less than perfect, I think that they probably got it right. Moreover, the flaws identified by the court provide a useful lesson to agencies in performing environmental analysis of probabilistic outcomes.
The issue on which BOEM got reversed was its use of a 1 billion barrel estimate of… More
Cape Wind Survives a Legal Challenge to FAA Approval: Is the Opposition Strategy to Play Whac-A-Mole?
On Wednesday, the Court of Appeals rejected a challenge by the Town of Barnstable to the FAA’s “no hazard” determination for Cape Wind. As background, the same court had determined in 2010 that a prior no hazard determination by the FAA had not been adequately supported. This time, the FAA did better, in part because the facts on the ground were better. One significant concern in 2010 had been the potential impact of the turbines on the radar system at Otis Airfield. However, that concern was largely addressed in the interim by the addition of a digital processor to… More
Citizens Are Not Harmed By the Concept of Pollution Trading: A Challenge to the Chesapeake Bay TMDL Is Dismissed
On December 13, the District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed plaintiffs’ challenge in Food and Water Watch v. EPA to the Chesapeake Bay TMDL’s discussion of pollution trading and offsets. As I had previously noted, the TMDL itself already survived judicial challenge.
In this case, plaintiffs alleged that they would be harmed by trading of effluent discharge rights, because such trading would create “hotspots” that would damage their enjoyment of the water bodies where the elevated discharges would occur.
Judge Contreras was having none of it. First, he found that the plaintiffs did not have… More
Last month, I noted that shrinking EPA budgets would lead to greater focus on citizen enforcement. This week, an article in Law360 concerning EPA’s draft 2014-2018 strategic plan has driven that message home. While talking about increased use of technology to monitor compliance more efficiently – all well and good and certainly for real – the strategic plan acknowledges a likely significant decrease in the number of enforcement actions to be brought by EPA. We’re talking an almost 50% decrease.
Now, I’ve long been an advocate of focusing on outcomes. More enforcement doesn’t necessarily mean a cleaner… More
Hoist on Its Own Petard: The Ninth Circuit Reverses EPA’s Approval of Nanosilver Pesticides in Textiles
Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals remanded EPA’s approval of two nanosilver pesticides for use in textiles. The case, NRDC v. EPA, is a fascinating application of the issue of “how safe is safe” and, in particular, how much conservatism must be applied to risk estimates when there is significant uncertainty in the analysis.
EPA sets the acceptable exposure to pesticides under FIFRA by determining the risk and then addressing uncertainties. In this case, EPA had to account for three different sources of uncertainty: interspecies uncertainty, since the underlying data was based on studies in animals other… More
In September, I noted that Judge Mark Wolf had dismissed CLF’s law suit challenging EPA’s approval of the TMDLs for the Cape Cod embayments, ruling that CLF did not have standing. CLF, as is its wont, is not going gentle into that good night. It is still raging, raging, at EPA’s decision. More to the point, it has refiled its complaint.
Presumably, this time around, CLF will be prepared with expert affidavits to address the shortcomings that Judge Wolf identified the last time around. I’m still skeptical. The first problem that Judge Wolf identified was that CLF… More
As the EPA budget continues to get squeezed by the ongoing sequester and a GOP-controlled House that is, shall we say, less than sympathetic to EPA’s mission, it is not surprising that EPA would try to shift more of the enforcement burden to citizen groups. According to a report in Greenwire yesterday, that is precisely what EPA has in mind.
Greenwire quotes Cynthia Giles, EPA’s enforcement czar as saying that “we have far too much noncompliance, widespread noncompliance in some of the largest sectors.” Noting budget problems, Greenwire states that “EPA is looking for new ways to catch violations… More
Last Friday, in American Farm Bureau Federation v. EPA, Judge Sylvia Rambo upheld EPA’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL. As Judge Rambo noted in her conclusion, while the environmental problems associated with the Chesapeake Bay are massive and the issues complicated, her review was not that difficult.
Notwithstanding the expansive administrative record, and the complexity of the numerous issues implicated herein, the court’s scope of review in this case is relatively narrow. In accordance with the deferential standards applicable to a court’s review of an agency’s actions, this court must give EPA’s… More
Last week, in Conservation Law Foundation v. EPA, Judge Mark Wolf ruled that CLF did not have standing to challenge EPA’s approval of total maximum daily loads promulgated for certain waters in and around Cape Cod. Given the increasing number of citizen suits involving TMDL promulgation, the decision is important.
CLF asserted two claims. First, it alleged that EPA wrongly classified certain sources, including septic systems, storm water systems, and waste water treatment facilities as non-point sources, rather than point sources. Second, it alleged that the TMDLs failed to take into account the need for additional stringency due to… More
What Is the Burden In Proving a Violation of a Stormwater Permit? If It Walks Like a Stormwater Discharge …
Those of us who do NPDES work know that enforcement, including citizen enforcement, against industrial point sources can often be all to straightforward. The plaintiff marches into court with a pile of the defendant’s discharge monitoring reports and the liability phase may be over quickly. Stormwater cases are different, as last week’s 9th Circuit decision in NRDC v. County of Los Angeles demonstrates.
Mississippi v. EPA: Support of the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee is Not Necessary to Affirm EPA’s NAAQS
On Tuesday, in Mississippi v. EPA, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed EPA’s 2008 NAAQS for ozone of 0.075 ppm. However, it remanded EPA’s decision to set the secondary NAAQS, for public welfare, at the same 0.075 ppm level. With respect to the primary standard, the Court gave short shrift to industry and red-state challenges that the standard was too stringent. This is not surprising, since the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee had recommended a range of between 0.060 and 0.070 ppm.
The interesting part of the decision is the Court’s explanation of why it rejected… More
One Step At A Time Is Just Too Late: The DC Circuit Strikes Down EPA’s Deferral of GHG Regulation of Biomass Emissions
On Friday, in Center For Biological Diversity v. EPA, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down EPA’s rule deferring regulation of GHG emissions from “biogenic” sources. EPA had promulgated the rule, delaying regulation of emissions from biogenic sources from July 20, 2011, to July 21, 2014, on the ground that the carbon cycle is sufficiently complex that EPA is not yet in a position to judge what the actual carbon impact of different biogenic sources might be. In fact, the record before the Court indicated that EPA believes that some biogenic sources may on net reduce GHG levels… More
Everyone who represents PRPs in Superfund settlements has his or her own horror stories regarding the scope of EPA’s oversight cost claims. We all know that oversight costs can end up as an appreciable percentage of total site costs. We’ve all cringed to go to meetings with EPA and see not just multiple EPA employees in the room, but several disembodied voices from EPA’s Ada, Oklahoma, lab. Insult to injury is when there are 3 or 4 representatives of EPA’s outside oversight contractor. Further insult to injury is added for those of us from states such as Massachusetts or New… More
It has not been a good run for plaintiffs in private climate change litigation. As we noted last week, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal in Comer v. Murphy Oil. Now, on Monday, the Supreme Court denied certiorari in Native Village of Kivalina v. Exxon Mobil. Kivalina ended more with a whimper than a bang, since the simple denial of cert. carries no opinion or precedential weight.
Given the increasing number of expensive disasters, as well as the costs imposed by long-term sea level rise, I actually expect more and more private claims to be… More
A Nice, Straightforward Administrative Law Decision: HHS’s Decision to List Styrene as Reasonably Anticipated to Cause Cancer is Affirmed
Last week, in Styrene Information and Research Center v. Sebelius, Judge Reggie Walton of the District Court for the District of Columbia rejected challenges to the decision by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to list styrene as “reasonably anticipated” to be a carcinogen. The case does not really break any new ground, but is a solidly written summary of several recurring issues in administrative law relating to review of agency decisions.
One important issue addressed by Judge Walton was how focused a comment on an agency decision must be to avoid arguments by the agency that the comment was waived… More
Jarndyce v. Jarndyce Has Nothing On Comer v. Murphy Oil: The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal
Readers of this blog will recall the bizarre history of Comer v. Murphy Oil. In 2005, Plaintiffs brought tort claims against major GHG emitters, claiming that those emissions, by causing global warming, led to plaintiffs’ damages from Hurricane Katrina. The District Court dismissed, ruling both that plaintiffs had no standing and that the claims were really non-justiciable political questions. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded. However, before the mandate issued, six of the court’s nine active, unrecused judges voted to hear the case en banc. That vote also vacated the panel decision, leaving the District… More
In a decision that should not have come as a surprise to anyone, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday, in Conservation Northwest v. Sherman, that the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies implementing the Northwest Forest Plan could not amend the NFP without complying with the procedural requirements of the Federal Land Policy Management Act. The rationale of the decision should apply far more broadly than just the FLPMA, however. It should apply to any action by any agency purporting to amend agency regulations that would otherwise be subject to procedural requirements, such as notice-and-comment… More
As we noted last month, the Supreme Court has determined that logging roads are not point sources subject to stormwater regulation under the Clean Water Act. On Wednesday, in Ecological Rights Foundation v. Pacific Gas and Electric, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, relying in part on the decision in Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, held that releases of pentachlorophenol and other pesticides from in-place utility poles also do not constitute point source discharges. As the Court concluded:
Utility poles simply are not “discernible, confined and discrete conveyances” that “channel and control” stormwater.
The Court further… More
EPA Loses Another Battle in the War Over Guidance: The Eighth Circuit Vacates EPA Policies on Mixing Zones and Bypasses
On Monday, EPA lost another battle in the war over guidance. In Iowa League of Cities v. EPA, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated two letters that EPA had sent to Senator Charles Grassley concerning biological mixing zones and bypass of secondary treatment units at POTWs (also referred to as “blending”, because the POTWs blend wastewater that has not be subject to biological secondary treatment with wastewater that has, prior to discharge). The Court concluded that both letters constituted promulgation by EPA of effluent limits under the Clean Water Act and that they constituted legislative, rather than… More
Logging Road Runoff Does Not Require an NPDES Permit: The Supreme Court (For Now) Defers to EPA’s Interpretation of Its Own Regulations
Yesterday, in Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, the Supreme Court ruled that runoff from logging roads does not constitute a discharge from a point source that requires an NPDES permit. The decision upholds EPA’s interpretation of its own regulations and overturns – what a surprise! – a 9th Circuit decision which had held that permits were necessary for logging runoff.
What Makes One Invalid Rule More Valid Than Another? The Court of Appeals Declines to Rehear CSAPR, and Leaves CAIR In Place
Today, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia declined EPA’s petition for rehearing en banc in EME Homer City Generation v. EPA, leaving the original panel decision striking down EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule in place. Environmental groups had hoped for a rehearing based on Judge Rodger’s emphatic dissent, but a request for en banc review is always an uphill battle.
The notable – and ironic – aspect of the case is that the Court’s decision vacating CSAPR leaves in place the Bush-era Clean Air Interstate Rule, or CAIR, which the Court struck down in 2008,… More
In Sierra Club v. EPA, issued today, The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected EPA’s rules governing “significant impact levels” and “significant monitoring concentrations” for determining PSD permitting requirements for new sources of PM2.5. Both the SIL and SMC provisions provided important exemptions from the PSD permitting regime. The Court ruled that neither provision was justified given the inflexible language of the Clean Air Act.
The SIL is “the level of ambient impact below which the EPA considers a source to have an insignificant effect on ambient air quality.” However, it is possible for a source… More
EPA Formally Withdraws Numeric Turbidity Standards from Its Stormwater Rule for Construction and Development Sites
Daily Environment Report announced yesterday that EPA notified BNA that, late last year, EPA reached a settlement with the Utility Water Act Group and the National Association of Home Builders resolving litigation over EPA’s rule imposing effluent limitations on the “Construction and Development Point Source Category” and over its Construction General Permit.
The most contentious aspect of EPA’s regulatory efforts in this area was EPA’s inclusion of numeric turbidity limits. The regulated community had severely criticized the data on which EPA relied in imposing the standard. EPA, to its credit, had acknowledged the data flaws and stayed the… More
In a curious, but unsurprising, decision yesterday, in Los Angeles County Flood Control District v. NRDC, the Supreme Court held that the flow of water containing pollutants from part of a river that has been culverted into a part of the river which still maintains natural banks is not a “discharge of a pollutant” within the meaning of the Clean Water Act. The decision appears to be controlled by the Court’s prior decision in Florida Water Management District v. Miccosukee Tribe, in which the Court had similarly ruled that pumping of polluted water from one part of a… More
On Friday, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected EPA’s approach to implementation of the PM2.5 NAAQS. The fine particulate NAAQS was first published in 1997, and EPA issued implementation rules in 2007 and 2008. Those rules specified that EPA Subpart 1 of Part D of title I of the CAA – the general implementation provisions – rather than Subpart 4, which applies specifically to PM10. Because the Subpart 4 rules provide less flexibility and are more stringent, environmental groups sued, challenging EPA’s position.
Can Wind Energy Serve As Baseload Power? The First Circuit Agrees with the NRC That, For Now, The Answer Is “Not Yet.”
In an interesting decision issued last Friday, the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in Beyond Nuclear v. NextEra Energy Seabrook, affirmed the decision by the NRC rejecting a challenge to Seabrook’s relicensing posed by a coalition of environmental groups. The decision seems clearly correct, but raises an important policy issue that is likely to recur as renewable energy technologies advance, so seemed worth mention.
The issue in the case was that the environmental groups, known collectively as “Beyond Nuclear,” contended that the relicensing proceeding should include wind… More
In Burlington Northern, the Supreme Court made clear that, in order to impose liability on a defendant as an “arranger” under Superfund for the sale of a product, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant
must have entered into the sale of [the product] with the intention that at least a portion of the product be disposed during the transfer process.
Although courts do not seem thus far to have taken to heart the Supreme Court’s allocation discussion in Burlington Northern, there is growing evidence that the arranger discussion is taking hold in the lower courts. I… More
1. Because, in 2009, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals rejected EPA’s prior effort to keep the PM2.5 standard at 15 ug/m3.
2. Because, as I have previously noted, the Court of Appeals pretty much told EPA that it could not ignore the advice of its Clean Air Science Advisory Committee in setting the NAAQS.
There have been so many developments recently on the air front (and I’m so far behind due to an appellate brief) that I thought I would combine a few recent items.
First, oral arguments were heard Monday on the challenges to the Bush EPA ozone NAAQS of 0.075 ppb. As I have previously noted, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has made pretty plain that EPA cannot ignore the recommendations of the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee in setting the NAAQS. Monday’s argument confirmed that view, with Judges Tatel and Griffith both posing tough questions to EPA regarding how… More
Late last month, in Wildearth Guardians v. Lamar Utilities Board, Judge David Ebel ruled that Lamar violated the Clean Air Act by not obtaining a MACT determination, given that its potential emissions of hydrochloric acid were 10.3 tons per year, above the 10 tpy limit for any single hazardous air pollutant. The decision provides an abject lesson on the costs imposed by regulatory uncertainty.
The facts, in bullet form, are as follows:
In 2000, EPA determined that coal- and oil-fired electric generating units would be subject to MACT. In 2004, Lamar decided to upgrade an existing small natural gas-fired… More
Another Nail in the Public Nuisance Litigation Coffin: The 9th Circuit Affirms Dismissal of the Kivalina Claims
On Friday, in Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals may have sounded the death knell for public nuisance litigation concerning the impacts of climate change, affirming dismissal of the damage claims brought by the City of Kivalina and the Native Village of Kivalina against major greenhouse gas emitters.
As most readers will know, last year, in American Electric Power v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court determined that public nuisance claims for injunctive relief have been displaced by the comprehensive federal regulatory scheme embodied in… More
I finally had an opportunity to review the recent Final Decision in In the Matter of Palmer Renewable Energy, concerning the proposed Palmer biomass facility. Last week, MassDEP Commissioner Ken Kimmell affirmed the Recommended Final Decision by Presiding Officer Timothy Jones, rejecting challenges by the Conservation Law Foundation to the air permit issued to the project by MassDEP. For practitioners, the case is important, but a decidedly mixed bag.
First, on the issue of broadest importance, I’m sorry to say that MassDEP missed a real opportunity to conform its standing requirements to the actual meaning of Chapter 30A. Instead,… More
After my post on judicial restraint – and the lack thereof – in Texas v. EPA, the opinion issued last week by Judge Robert Chambers, in Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition v. United States Army Corps of Engineers, affirming the Corps’ § 404 permit for Highland Mining’s Reylas Surface Mine, seemed particularly notable. I cannot recall of similar example of a judge who was almost visibly restraining himself, issuing a decision that he plainly did not want to issue, for one reason: because he thought that the proper application of the law dictated the result, however distasteful to… More
EPA Loses Another Battle in the War Over Guidance: Judge Walton Rejects EPA’s Final Guidance on Mountaintop Removal Permits Under the CWA
Yesterday, Judge Reggie Walton issued his final decision in National Mining Association v. Jackson. The decision is another blow to EPA’s efforts to regulate through guidance rather than notice and comment rule making.
The decision is not a surprise to anyone who has been following the case. As I noted early last year, Judge Walton telegraphed his views when he stated that even EPA’s Interim Guidance “qualified as final agency action because … it is … being applied in a binding manner.”
Nothing in the intervening 18 months caused Judge Walton to alter his views. EPA… More
Score a victory for EPA in its long-running set of disputes with the State of Texas and generation facilities in Texas. Yesterday, in Luminant Generation Co. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed EPA’s decision to partially approval and partially reject the Texas SIP, essentially rejecting both environmentalist and industry challenges to EPA’s determination regarding excess emissions during startup, shutdown, and malfunction/maintenance (SSM). In short, the Court agreed with EPA’s decision to allow sources to assert an affirmative defense to an enforcement case related to excess emissions during unplanned SSM events, but… More
More Tea Leaves to Read: EPA Announces an Eleven-Month Delay in Its Cooling Water Intake Structure Rule
Earlier this week, I noted that EPA had announced that it was reconsidering parts of the Utility MACT rule and staying its effectiveness for three months. Yesterday, EPA announced that it was delaying for 11 months final promulgation of its cooling water intake structure rule for existing facilities under the Clean Water Act.
Reaction was predictable. Reed Super, plaintiffs’ attorney was “disappointed,” but clearly resigned. Senator Inhofe characterized the delay as:
President Obama’s decision to punt on yet another job-killing EPA regulation before the election.
Of course, short of committing collective More
On Friday, EPA announced that it was reconsidering part of the Utility MACT rule. As part of the reconsideration, EPA will stay the effectiveness of the new source emission standards in the rule for three months.
EPA stated that:
We anticipate that he focus of the reconsideration rulemaking will be a review of issues that are largely technical in nature. Our expectation is that under the reconsideration rule new sources will be required to install the latest and most effective pollution controls and will be able to monitor compliance with the new standards with proven monitoring methods.
On Wednesday, I discussed the DC Circuit’s decision affirming EPA’s revised NAAQS for NOx. Today, the DC Circuit upheld EPA’s revised SO2 standard. The tenor of today’s decision, written by David Sentelle, another Reagan appointee (the NOx decision was written by Douglas Ginsburg), is fairly similar to that in the NOx decision. Here’s the short version of the opinion:
EPA must establish NAAQS that protect public health with “an adequate margin of safety.” For that reason, it is appropriate for EPA to establish standards below levels at which studies have shown harm to occur. EPA… More
For those of you following the public trust climate litigation in New Mexico, Judge Sarah Singleton has now issued a written decision denying the state’s motion to dismiss the case. There is no discussion of the issues, but it did seem worth noting that Judge Singleton also denied the state’s request for immediate interlocutory appeal (though providing that the request could be renewed after summary judgment), so there will be no early appellate decision on this issue in New Mexico.
Not a Good Start for Challenges to EPA NAAQS Revisions: The District of Columbia Court of Appeals Affirms EPA’s New NOx NAAQS
Yesterday, in American Petroleum Institute v. EPA, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed EPA’s revisions to the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for NOx. The revisions adopted, for the first time, an hourly NAAQS for NOx, in addition to the annual standard.
API made a number of assertions that EPA had been arbitrary and capricious in its review of the scientific evidence concerning potential short-term impacts. The most important were EPA’s reliance, in part, on a study which had not been the subject of peer review, and EPA’s alleged failure to consider a study suggesting that short-term… More
Last month, Judge Robert Wilkins dismissed the federal public trust climate change law suit, Alec L. v. Jackson. Judge Wilkins ruled on two alternative grounds. First, he held that there was no federal public trust doctrine. Second, he held that, even if there ever had been, such public trust doctrine had been displaced by the federal Clean Air Act.
However, according to E&E News, Judge Sarah Singleton has just denied a motion to dismiss a public trust law suit brought in New Mexico state court under New Mexico law, in Sanders-Reed v. Martinez. E&E News did… More
Yesterday, in Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected all challenges to EPA’s GHG rules. The decision is a reminder that important cases, or those with big stakes, are not necessarily difficult cases. Anyone reviewing the decision will quickly see that, to the court, this was not a hard case. Indeed, the tone of the opinion has the feel of a teacher lecturing a student where the teacher has a sense that the student is being willfully obtuse.
The bottom line is that EPA not only had authority to issue the regulations; it had a legal… More
Last Thursday, in response to a court order, EPA finally proposed revisions to the national ambient air quality standard for PM2.5. The most significant part of the rule is EPA’s proposal to lower the primary annual standard from 15 ug/m3 to a range of from 12 ug/m3 to 13 ug/m3.
At a certain level, the proposal should not really be news and should not have a significant impact. After all, in 2009, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected EPA’s proposal at that time to retain the 15 ug/m3 standard. The court concluded that EPA had not justified retaining the standard,… More
Yesterday, the District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the so-called “public trust” climate change law suit. I will certainly give the plaintiffs in these cases credit for both originality and persistence. Legal merit and good public policy are another matter.
In any case, the plaintiffs sued EPA and various other federal agencies, seeking a finding that the agencies have failed adequately to protect a public trust asset, also known as the atmosphere, from climate change. The plaintiffs requested an injunction requiring that the agencies take actions necessary to reduce CO2 emissions by 6% yearly, beginning in 2013.
It did not… More
After the oral argument Sackett v. EPA presaged where the decision was coming down, I raised the question whether EPA would try to persuade district courts that nothing really had changed. On occasion, I call them correctly. According to E&E News, Mark Pollins, director of EPA’s Water Enforcement Division, in commenting on Sackett, said
What’s available after Sackett? Pretty much everything that was available before Sackett. Internally, it’s same old, same old.
Tone deaf doesn’t quite cover this one. If Mr. Pollins’s remarks are representative, and my experience tells me that they are, EPA just doesn’t get it. For one thing,… More
The first is that, as a policy matter, the deferral was absolutely the right thing to do. The science remains complex and not fully understood. Any regulations promulgated now are likely to be revised at some point. That kind of regulatory uncertainty is not any way to run an agency.
On the other hand, I find EPA’s legal justification less than fully convincing, to say the least. In fact, the more EPA defends its overall approach to… More
Last week, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled (for the second time) that a CGL policy issued to AES Corporation did not require Steadfast Insurance to provide a defense to AES for claims brought again AES in Kivalina v. Exxon Mobil. The decision, in AES Corporation v. Steadfast Insurance, held simply that, based on the “eight corners” of the complaint and the insurance policy, the claims against AES did not allege an “occurrence” under the CGL policies at issue.
Obviously, if climate change is real, and at least unless and until courts… More
I have had a number of clients ask me recently about the status of EPA’s efforts to regulate coal combustion residuals under RCRA. It turns out that some environmental groups have been asking themselves the same question. Being environmental groups, however, they did more than ask about it. They sued.
As most readers know, EPA published two separate proposals for regulating coal ash – one under Subtitle C and one under Subtitle D – on June 21, 2010. Since then, there has been mostly radio silence from EPA, aside from a Notice of Data Availability and request for additional comment last… More
For once, speculation about oral argument proved solid. The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling today in Sackett v. EPA means that EPA must allow judicial review of enforcement orders issued pursuant to its authority under the Clean Water Act. The question now is what the true scope of the decision will be. That question really has two parts.
The first is what will happen to CWA enforcement. On that score, I actually largely share Justice Alito’s view:
The Court’s decision provides a modest measure of relief. At least, property owners like petitioners will have the right to challenge the EPA’s jurisdictional determination under the… More
2012 is shaping up to be the Year of the Commerce Clause. Not only is the Commerce Clause at the center of the Supreme Court ‘s impending review of the Affordable Care Act later this spring; it is also at the heart of a statement made by a federal district judge in Voggenthaler v. Maryland Square, LLC that the Constitution bars the application of RCRA’s citizen suit provision in the case of a local groundwater contamination plume:
The central issue in this case is an alleged contamination plume located in Las Vegas, Nevada. As noted by [defendant]… More
The Council on Environmental Quality has released it guidance on “Improving the Process for Preparing Efficient and Timely Environmental Reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act.” As far as I can tell, the guidance provides literally nothing on improving the process. It is instead a compendium of how wonderful the process already is in allowing and encouraging appropriate flexibility in complying with NEPA. I’m not sold.
In fairness, CEQ has a tough task here. It’s trying to satisfy everyone, including NGOs and environmental justice advocates, as well as project proponents. As I noted yesterday in my post on regulatory reform in Massachusetts, sometimes… More
Since I already violated my rule against speculating on the outcome of a case based on oral argument, I might as well do it again. I have always said that EPA’s endangerment finding would survive judicial review and that conclusion seems only more likely to prove correct following yesterday’s oral argument before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Both the Daily Environment Report and GreenWire noted in their reporting on the argument that the groups challenging the rule emphasized that EPA had not considered the policy implications of making the endangerment finding. Of course. Precisely. That’s because the Clean Air… More
Do We Need the Precautionary Principle To Protect Us From Potential Risks From Nanotechnology? The NRDC Thinks So
In a prior rant, I raised the concern that EPA would oppose the use of new cleanup technologies based on nanotechnologies on the basis of the precautionary principle. I may not have been exactly on the mark, but I was pretty close. On Thursday, the NRDC announced that it has filed suit challenging EPA’s decision to issue a conditional registration of a nanosilver-based antimicrobial agent. The NRDC asserts that EPA’s use of the conditional registration process is “illegal,” apparently because EPA does not have sufficient information to justify a conclusion that use… More
As readers of this blog know, the impact of EPA air rules, including in particular the Utility MACT rule, on the reliability of the nation’s electric grid has been the subject of much speculation. Last week, the Congressional Research Service weighed in, with the exciting headline: EPA’s Utility MACT: Will the Lights Go Out?” Of course, notwithstanding the sexy title, the CRS conclusion can be summarized pretty simply: the MACT rule will not cause the lights to go out. Money quote:
although the rule may lead to the retirement or derating of some facilities, almost all of the capacity reductions will occur in areas… More
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today affirmed the decision by the Department of Public Utilities to approve the power purchase agreement, or PPA, between Cape Wind and National Grid. (Full disclosure: Foley Hoag represented the Department of Energy Resources in support of the contract before the DPU.) The decision doesn’t mean that Cape Wind will now get built. Given the (one hopes) temporary problems with the federal loan guarantee program and Cape Wind’s failure thus far to sell the rest of the power from the project, the SJC decision is more of a necessary than sufficient condition to construction.
On the… More
Last week, I noted that the D.C. Court of Appeals had found that the National Association of Home Builders did not have standing to challenge a determination by EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers that two reaches of the Santa Cruz River are traditional navigable waters. On Friday, in National Association of Home Builders v. United States Army Corps of Engineers, the NAHB lost yet another standing battle.
This time, the NAHB was challenging the Corps’ nationwide permit, NWP-46, allowing discharges of dredge and fill material into certain upland ditches. The District Court had found that the NAHB… More
Developers have cheered in recent years as the Supreme Court has tightened its standing rules. In a decision issued on Friday in National Association of Home Builders v. EPA, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia may have hoist the developers on their own petard.
After EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers issued a determination that two reaches of the Santa Cruz River constitute “traditional navigable waters” under the Clean Water Act, the National Association of Home Builders sued. The complaint appears to have attached declarations referring to individuals who own property along tributaries of the two… More
Earlier this week, Greenwire noted a Los Angeles Times story reporting that businesses are using the California Environmental Quality Act – California’s version of NEPA – as a tool of economic competition, trying to kill or delay projects for economic reasons. Much like Claude Rains, I am shocked, shocked, to find that there is strategic litigation going on here. In the past two years, I have defended multiple court cases and administrative hearings brought by a 10-citizens group against one particular client. Many of those claims have been premised on our… More
It is, as the lawyers say, black letter law that the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, is a procedural statute, which provides no substantive protection to the environment. It merely requires the appropriate level of assessment of the potential environmental consequences of federal action. Whether the action should be taken is outside NEPA’s purview.
Rarely, however, has this critical limitation on NEPA’s scope been stated so plainly as in yesterday’s decision in Save Strawberry Canyon v. U.S. Department of Energy, in which Judge Alsop of the Northern District of California… More
As part of its efforts to control the impact of mountaintop removal mining, EPA has implemented a number of changes – both procedural and substantive – into how § 404 permit applications for such activities will be reviewed. None of these changes have gone through notice and comment rulemaking. As we previously noted, Judge Reggie Walton already expressed skepticism about EPA’s mountaintop removal guidance. Last week, in the latest decision in National Mining Association v. Jackson, Judge Walton shot down EPA’s “Enhanced Coordination Process”, or ECP, for reviews of section 404 permit applications.
EPA may have had problems in court in recent years defending its regulations, but it has generally fared much better in its enforcement cases. Earlier this week, however, EPA suffered what will be, if it is affirmed, a devastating defeat in its PSD/NSR enforcement initiative. In United States v. EME Homer City Generation, Judge Terrence McVerry concluded that the government could get no relief against either the former owners of the facility or the current owners or operator. No penalties. No injunctive relief. No relief under state law. Nothing. Nada.
The facts here were typical of NSR enforcement cases. The facility, in Homer City, Pennsylvania, had implemented… More
As some of our clients know all too well, I am spending much time these days defending citizen suits. As federal and state agency budgets get slashed, we’re only going to see more such suits, unless a Tea Party-controlled Congress amends the relevant statutes to cut back on citizen suit provisions.
In a move that will facilitate citizen enforcement, EPA announced last week that it has yet again upgraded its Enforcement and Compliance History Online, or ECHO, data base. As Cynthia Giles, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Enforcement said:
EPA is committed to providing the public with easy to use tools… More
Following EPA’s decision last week to scrap its reconsideration of the 2008 ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard, the parties to the litigation challenging the 2008 standard are back in court. This week, EPA submitted a brief to the Court of Appeals, which was pretty much a six-page version of Roseanne Roseannadanna’s “Never mind.” After telling the Court for years that it should defer to EPA’s reconsideration process – a decision on which was always just around the corner, until EPA decided it wasn’t – EPA has… More
This week, EPA filed a brief with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that, notwithstanding its fourth delay in issuing a decision on its reconsideration of the NAAQS for ozone, the court cannot and should not order EPA to issue a decision. Industry shouldn’t get too excited, however. In the same brief, EPA telegraphed pretty clearly, consistent with its 2010 proposed rule, that it remains on track to significantly decrease the ozone standard from the 0.075 ppm standard promulgated by the Bush administration in 2008.
As most readers know, the Bush standard was higher than that suggested by EPA’s own… More
Late last week, Greenwire reported that EPA is delaying its proposed construction general permit, or CGP, for stormwater. The delay is certainly a victory for the real estate industry, which has been fighting hard to delay the rule and, in particular, its numeric turbidity limit. The industry had complained about the data on which the standard was based, calculation errors by EPA, and what it views as a 10-fold underestimate of the compliance costs.
EPA denies that the delay was a political decision by the White House or OMB and stated that it needs to gather more information about existing… More
Yesterday, the SJC issued its eagerly awaited decision in Ten Persons of the Commonwealth v. Fellsway Development. I think that the SJC probably got it right. It says something about MEPA jurisprudence, however, that the decision is good for neither citizen plaintiffs nor for developers. I’d suggest that the legislature go back to the drawing board, but it won’t happen and, if it did, I wouldn’t trust the legislature to get it right.
Fellsway Development involves an proposed development within the Middlesex Fells Reservation. After running into certain obstacles, the developers reconfigured their project to avoid the… More
Environmental liability has always been a dish best served in as many slices as possible. Hence, CERCLA jurisprudence in its first two decades was characterized by a judicial willingness to entertain ever more creative theories to extend environmental liability to new classes of parties, such as a developer who unknowingly moved contaminated soil (Tanglewood East) to a toll manufacturer who merely directed the production of a useful product with knowledge that there would be hazardous waste by-products (Aceto). More recently, however, courts have shown far less appetite for expanding the traditional boundaries of environmental liability beyond owners, operators,… More
Last week, in Center for Biological Diversity v. EPA, Judge Henry Kennedy reminded us that, in thinking about whether the existing Clean Air Act requires EPA to address climate change, the actual words of the statute matter. The scope of the climate problem does not obviate the need to parse individual provisions of the CAA and Massachusetts v. EPA did not resolve all issues.
CBD petitioned EPA to regulate GHG emissions from nonroad engines and vehicles, under § 213 of the CAA, and from aircraft engines, under § 231 of the CAA. EPA did issue advanced notices of proposed rulemakings… More
Yesterday, the Supreme Court announced its decision in American Electric Power v. Connecticut, holding that EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act displaced federal common law nuisance claims. I have always thought that the displacement argument was correct, so the decision is not really a surprise (and the 8-0 decision and crisp opinion only confirm that view). The decision is nonetheless important and, notwithstanding a few limitations, rather sweeping.
The Court’s analysis was straightforward. The creation of federal common law by courts is “unusual” and
[W]hen Congress addresses a question previously governed by a decision… More
This week, in Webster v. USDA, Judge John Bailey of the Northern District of West Virginia rejected a challenge to the Environmental Impact Statement filed for a USDA flood control project. The decision is not particularly startling and does not break new ground, but it does serve as a reminder just how limited judicial review under NEPA is supposed to be – and just how often that limitation is honored only in the breach, by judges who don’t like particular projects or don’t want to be known as the judge who approved a particular project if something later goes wrong.
The uncertain and often lengthy time to get permitting decisions is always near the top of the list of industry complaints. Section 165 of the Clean Air Act provides some relief by requiring certain permit decisions to be made within one year. Last week, in Avenal Power Center v. EPA, District Judge Richard Leon, in what may comfortably be described as a strongly-worded opinion, held that EPA may not circumvent the one-year limit on permit decisions by carving out from the one-year period the time spent by the Environmental Appeals Board reviewing EPA’s permit decision.
In March 2008, Avenal Power… More
In an interesting decision issued late last week in Industrial Communications and Electronics v. Town of Alton, the First Circuit Court of Appeals held that private citizens who had intervened to defend a local zoning limit on cell tower height could continue to do so, notwithstanding that the cell tower provider and the municipal defendant were prepared to settle the case.
Industrial Communications sought to build a 120’ cell tower in Alton, New Hampshire. The Local zoning by-law would have limited the tower to 71’. The Town’s Zoning Board denied a variance. Industrial Communications did not appeal the… More
The Regulators Still Hold All the Cards: The SJC Affirms DEP’s Regulatory Authority Over Cooling Water Intake Structures
Sometimes I’m so timely I can’t stand it. This morning, I posted about the difficulty in challenging regulations under Massachusetts law. Later this morning, the SJC agreed. In Entergy v. DEP, the SJC upheld DEP’s authority to regulate cooling water intake structures under the state CWA. Funny how the SJC cited to the same language here as did Judge Sweeney in the Pepin case.
We will apply all rational presumptions in favor of the validity of the administration action and not declare it void unless its provisions cannot by any reasonable construction be interpreted in harmony… More
The Regulators Really Do Hold the Cards in Massachusetts: DFW’s Priority Habitat Regulations Survive a Challenge
Anyone who has ever tried to challenge a regulation in Massachusetts knows that it is an uphill battle. Just how tilted the playing field is was reinforced late last month in the decision in Pepin v. Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, rejecting a challenge to DFW’s “priority habitat” regulations. The case involves the Eastern Box Turtle, perhaps the most common of state-listed species.
As our Massachusetts readers know, MESA is similar to, but has some significant differences from, the federal ESA. Fundamentally, MESA prohibits taking “endangered” or “threatened” species or species “of special concern.” The… More
EPA Announces Its Proposed Rule For Cooling Water Intake Structures: Do I Have To Compliment EPA Again?
Earlier this week, EPA announced its long-awaited revised proposal for a cooling water intake structure rule for existing facilities. Praise is much less interesting than criticism, and thus less conducive to entertaining blog posts, but I’m afraid EPA has left me no choice. Within the confines of what the Clean Water Act requires, EPA seems to have gotten this one pretty much right.
EPA has a useful summary of the rule here. I could certainly quarrel with aspects of the rule, but the basic structure makes sense. It applies to facilities that take at least 25% of their water from an… More
Toto, I’ve a Feeling We’re Not in Massachusetts Anymore: Exceeding a Cleanup Standard Is Not Necessarily An Imminent Hazard
In an interesting decision issued earlier this month, Judge Lewis Babcock of the District of Colorado ruled, in County of La Plata v. Brown Group Retail, that detection of contamination at levels exceeding state cleanup standards does not, by itself constitute an imminent and substantial endangerment under RCRA. I think that Judge Babcock is correct, but I can’t help but feel that the decision might be different in the blue state of Massachusetts. I was particularly taken by Judge Babcock’s description of the nature and purpose of state regulatory standards:
Regulatory screening levels, action levels, and standards do not… More
If anyone had any doubts about the significance of the conventional pollutant regulations that EPA would be rolling out, even in the absence of a full cap-and-trade program for GHG, Wednesday’s release of EPA’s revised power plant MACT proposal should go a long way towards eliminating those doubts. As most readers know, the rule replaces the Bush-era MACT rule that would have created a trading program.
The rule poses a problem for critics of EPA. While arguments can be made about the feasibility of some of the standards and the cost to comply, they cannot credibly allege that it is a… More
Last month, in discussing the Administration’s brief in the American Electric Power case, I praised the nuanced and persuasive approach that the Administration took in seeking reversal of the 2nd Circuit opinion allowing the states’ public nuisance climate litigation to go forward. The states seeking to prosecute the law suit have now filed their brief and it turns out that they also do nuance. I still think that the Supreme Court will reverse, however.
I’m not going to get into the standing issue. I don’t believe that the states should have standing, but… More
While EPA remains under attack by the GOP-majority House, that doesn’t mean that coal is off the hook. To the contrary, coal remains under attack itself. A number of recent stories demonstrate the multi-pronged effort by those who want to reduce or eliminate use of coal. For example, the Environmental Integrity Project and two Texas-based NGOs just filed suit against the Lower Colorado River Authority’s Fayette Power Project, alleging violations of NSR/PSD requirements and exceedances of particulate limits in the plant’s permit. There is no doubt that there is a concerted effort by NGOs to make life difficult for coal. Thus, even if… More
As readers of this blog know, the question of guidance v. regulation is one near and dear to my heart. I generally disfavor guidance, because I think it offers none of the protections of the regulatory process and almost none of the flexibility that guidance is supposed to provide. Two issues are of particular concern. First, guidance is not supposed to announce new rules – only clarifying interpretation of existing rules. However, we all know what a slippery slope that can be. Second, notwithstanding the purported flexibility of guidance, how often do regulators on the street – those actually using the guidance, rather than… More
Sometimes, Settlements Really Are Win-Win Propositions: An Innovative NDPES Settlement That Works For Everyone
I don’t normally blog about cases in which I’m involved, but since this one made the front page of the Boston Globe, I suppose it’s sufficiently newsworthy. Yesterday, EPA announced that a settlement had been reached among EPA, MassDEP, our client GenOn Kendall, and the Charles River Watershed Association and the Conservation Law Foundation concerning the NPDES permit for Kendall Station. As a result of the settlement, when all the equipment needed to implement it has been installed, both the water intake and discharge and the thermal load will be… More
This week, the United States filed its brief in American Electric Power v. Connecticut. The brief is a nicely nuanced and persuasive argument for dismissal of plaintiffs’ public nuisance claims against five large power generators. The brief is nuanced in that it acknowledges that plaintiffs have Article III standing – allowing the Court to avoid reaching a constitutional standing issue – and provides a vehicle for the Court to avoid reaching the political question doctrine issue.
Instead, the brief makes two fairly simply points – and makes them convincingly. First, the brief argues that plaintiffs’ lack “prudential standing,” because their complaint raises… More
EPA Delivers an Early Christmas Present to Electricity Generators and Refiners — New Source Performance Standards for GHGs
Today, EPA announced settlements of litigation with states and environmental groups which will require EPA to promulgate New Source Performance Standards for greenhouse gas emissions from electric generating units and refineries. EPA will thus give those of us who practice in this area an opportunity to decide which program we find more cumbersome and ill-suited to regulate GHGs, the PSD/NSR program or the NSPS program.
As a follow-up to last week’s post, if you want a handy-dandy rundown of what U.S. carbon policy looks like in the absence of comprehensive federal legislation, take a look at the presentation I gave last week to the Harvard Electricity Policy Group, which summarizes federal, regional, and state regulatory efforts – many of which are not explicitly directed at CO2 – that are likely to have significant impacts on U.S. CO2 emissions. Thanks to Amy Boyd, who did the lion’s share of the work on this one.
An adjudicatory hearing decision issued by MassDEP in September just came to my attention. The decision in the case, In the Matter of Town of Plymouth, is worth reading for those of you interested in the emerging issues related to concerns over nutrients and how nutrient discharges will be regulated in groundwater or surface water discharge permits.
What caught me eye about the decision, however, wasn’t its substance, but was instead its procedural history. The Town of Plymouth first obtained a permit for the groundwater discharge from its municipal wastewater treatment plant in 2000. The Eel River Watershed Association appealed that… More
What Are Citizen Groups Afraid Of? The Ninth Circuit Affirms Delegation of NPDES Authority to Alaska, Notwithstanding Alaska’s Fee-Shifting Provision
Almost all – 46 – states have delegated programs under the Clean Water Act. One criterion that EPA must determine has been satisfied before approving delegation is that the state has the ability to "abate violations of the permit … including civil and criminal penalties and other ways and means of enforcement."
EPA’s regulations provide that this criterion will be met if :
State law allows an opportunity for judicial review that is the same as that available to obtain judicial review in federal court of a federally-issued NPDES permit. A State will not meet this standard if it narrowly restricts the… More
Stop the presses: According to the Daily Environment Report, EPA’s director of the Office of Federal Activities, Susan Bromm, has acknowledged that concerns about climate change and environmental justice are “contributing to the size, cost, and time-consuming nature of environmental impact statements….” Nonetheless, Ms. Bromm apparently asserted that these "analyses do not have to be overwhelming,” and she blamed, at least in part, agencies which “overreact to the fear of litigation.”
Not surprisingly, a speaker on the same panel from DOT felt otherwise. According to Helen Serassio, an attorney at DOT:
We’ve gotten to the point where they’re kind of out… More
When clients are threatened with citizen suits – and particularly when the threatened litigation involves a matter where EPA or a state regulatory agency is heavily involved, the clients always want to know why they can’t somehow get rid of the citizen suit, given that EPA is on the case. The answer is that they can – but only in limited circumstances.
On a day when ClimateWire reported that thousands of walruses are stuck on land because their usual summer home – sea ice – has disappeared, I’m beginning to wonder whether EPA’s stationary source GHG rules are similarly at risk. It may not be difficult for EPA to brush off a fairly over the top letter from Texas which basically asked EPA “What part of ‘hell no” don’t you understand?”
However, today Greenwire reports that Governor Freudenthal of Wyoming – a Democrat – is asking EPA to defer enforcement of GHG stationary… More
Sometimes, the headline writes the story. EPA’s TMDL program under the Clean Water Act has been the subject of so much litigation since its inception that EPA has a web page devoted to the status of litigation on the establishment of TMDLs.
Bringing things close to home, the Conservation Law Foundation and the Coalition for Buzzards Bay filed suit late last month, challenging implementation by MassDEP and EPA of the TMDL program for certain embayments on Cape Cod and Nantucket. (Full disclosure time – this firm represents the CBB on unrelated matters.)
The law suit claims that MassDEP erred in… More
I have previously expressed my distaste for public nuisance litigation to require reductions in GHG emissions. It cannot be more than a tactic in a war to the plaintiffs, because the chaos resulting from regulation of a global problem through a series of individual law suits has to be obvious to everyone. Now, apparently, that chaos is also obvious to the Obama administration, because it has filed a brief with the Supreme Court, asking the Court to accept a certiorari petition filed by the defendants in American Electric Power v. Connecticut, the 2nd Circuit case in which the Court… More
There Is a Statute of Limitations For Challenging Permits In Massachusetts (Or, We’re Crazy Here, But Not That Crazy)
Those who operate industrial facilities or do development in Massachusetts often know far more than they would like about Chapter 214, § 7A, the environmental citizens’ suit provision of the Massachusetts General Laws. Chapter 214, § 7A, eliminates plaintiffs’ usual obligation to demonstrate standing and simply gives 10 citizens the right to sue to prevent or eliminate “damage to the environment.” The damage does have to constitute a violation of a statute, regulation, ordinance, or by-law, the major purpose of which is to prevent damage to the environment.
Chapter 214, § 7A, does not contain any statute of limitations. Does this mean that ten persons… More
On August 12, in Sierra Club v. Otter Tail Power Co., the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the Sierra Club’s suit related to the Big Stone Generating Station, a coal fired power plant in South Dakota. In doing so, it disagreed with EPA and sided with what appears to be the majority on a question that has produced differing responses amongst the courts – whether the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (“PSD”) program prohibits only the construction or modification of a facility without a PSD permit, or whether it imposes ongoing operational requirements. Finding that PSD requirements are… More
My apologies if this post is a mash note to Judge Wilkinson. Sometimes a decision is written with such clarity and simplicity that you have to sit up and take notice. Such is the case with yesterday’s decision in North Carolina v. TVA, reversing the District Court decision imposing an injunction against four TVA plants that would have required installation of additional controls for NOx and SO2 , notwithstanding the absence of any allegation that the plants were violating their permits under the Clean Air Act. My apologies also to my friends in the environmental community and the Massachusetts AG’s office, who… More
It has long been understood that Massachusetts that the Commonwealth cannot meet its renewable energy goals with solar power alone. Solar is great, but really ratcheting up the percentage of energy supplied by renewable sources is going to take a big commitment to wind. In fact, Governor Patrick announced a goal of 2,000 MW of wind on- and off-shore in Massachusetts by 2020. There are currently 17 MW of wind power in Massachusetts.
Everyone knows the permitting travails – now, hopefully, over – that Cape Wind has faced. It is less known that on-shore wind has not been any easier to develop in… More
Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, the big NEPA case before the Court this term. The District Court had struck down the decision by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to completely deregulate roundup ready alfalfa (RRA). That decision was not actually under appeal. The appeal concerned only the scope of the injunction issued by the District Court, which precluded APHIS from issuing any kind of deregulation decision without completing an Environmental Impact Report (EIS) and similarly issued a nationwide injunction against planting of RRA… More
Last Friday, the Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit issued an order – boggling the minds of lawyers and non-lawyers alike – dismissing the plaintiffs’ appeal in Comer v. Murphy Oil, one of the climate change nuisance cases. As the order and dissents make clear, it’s quite a set of circumstances. The District Court dismissed the case. A panel of the 5th Circuit reversed. A request to rehear the case en banc was made. Seven out of 16 judges recused themselves. Of the nine remaining judges, six voted to rehear the case en banc.
First Kerry-Lieberman, then the Tailoring Rule – a busy week for climate change. Senator Kerry certainly did not miss the coincidence. He called the release of the Tailoring Rule the “last call” for federal legislation. I’ve noted before the leverage that EPA regulation would provide, but this is the most explicit I’ve seen one of the sponsors on the issue.
As to the substance, there are not really any surprises at this point. EPA is certainly working to soften the blow of GHG regulation under the PSD program. Here are the basics (summarized here):
January 2, 2011 – Facilities obtaining… More
Last year, I noted that EPA had made its ECHO data base more user-friendly, creating a web-based map of enforcement actions. Last week, EPA took the effort a step further, at least with respect to Clean Water Act enforcement action. EPA’s Clean Water Act Annual Noncompliance Report, or ANCR, is available on the web in an interactive format that allows interested citizens to see where the noncompliance and enforcement action is taking place.
As some of my clients are unfortunately aware, I’ve been seeing a lot of enforcement action recently, at both the federal and state level. It’s not clear long… More
Last week, Judge Thomas Varlan handed the power plant sector a major win in the NSR enforcement arena, ruling that economizer and superheater replacement projects in 1988 at the TVA Bull Run plant were routine maintenance not subject to NSR/PSD regulations. Judge Varlan ruled for the TVA notwithstanding that:
The projects cost millions of dollars (but less than $10M each)
They extended the life of the plant by 20 years
The costs were identified as capital, not maintenance, expenses
Last week, Judge John Darrah handed the government a defeat in a PSD/NSR enforcement action, when he ruled that the requirement to obtain permits under the PSD program prior to making major modifications was solely a pre-construction obligation and did not constitute a continuing violation.
United States v. Midwest Generation was one of the recent wave of government PSD/NSR actions, filed last summer. The problem with the government’s case was that Midwest Generation had purchased the six facilities at issue in the case from Commonwealth Edison in 1999 and all of the alleged changes but one were made prior… More
I’ve been waiting to write this headline ever since the SJC took this case. Today, the SJC issued its long-awaited decision in Moot v. Department of Environmental Protection. For those of you who pay attention to where the waters ebbeth and floweth – or at least where they ebbed and flowed in 1641 – you know that this is the second time that Moot has been before the SJC.
After the SJC struck down MassDEP regulations which provided that landlocked tidelands did not need a license under Chapter 91, as the Commonwealth’s waterways statute is now known, the Legislature took a… More
Massachusetts has an “anti-SLAPP” statute (as do 26 other states at this point, apparently). The law protects “petitioning”, by precluding litigation targeting petitioning, providing an early motion to dismiss, and awarding attorneys’ fees to defendants where a court finds that the defendants were indeed engaged in petitioning activity.
Yesterday, the Massachusetts Appeals Court struck a blow for reason when it determined, in Brice Estates v. Smith, that a trespass is not protected petitioning activity. Those of you outside Massachusetts may be wondering why we needed a court case to tell us this. Those of you inside Massachusetts, particularly… More
To date, the only circuit courts that have reviewed public nuisance claims related to climate change, the Second Circuit, in American Electric Power, and the Fifth Circuit, in Comer v. Murphy Oil, have ruled that such suits can proceed. However, last week the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decided to hear Comer v. Murphy Oil en banc, which certainly has to give the plaintiffs pause. While I am not fully versed in this issue, a quick glance at the web indicates that statistical analysis confirms one’s naïve assumption, i.e., that a full appellate court often decides… More
Yesterday, EPA Administrator Jackson issued a letter to Senator Jay Rockefeller responding to certain questions regarding EPA regulation of GHGs under existing Clean Air Act authority, including promulgation of the so-called “Tailoring Rule”, describing how stationary source regulation under the existing PSD program would be phased-in once GHGs are subject to regulation. Here are the highlights:
EPA still expects to promulgate the Tailoring Rule by April 2010.
The GHG permitting threshold will be “substantially higher than the 25,000-ton limit that EPA originally proposed.”
No permits will be required until 2011. Initially, only facilities otherwise subject… More
The grand total is 16 separate challenges to EPA’s endangerment finding, according to Greenwire. I’m not one of those lawyers who regularly bash the legal profession. I still recall my law school professor, Henry Hansmann, stating that the role of lawyers is in fact to be transaction-cost minimizers, and I think that that is largely true. That being said, I am certainly wondering what all of this litigation is about.
The endangerment finding is basically a scientific determination. As I have previously noted, EPA discretion in this area is substantial and the likelihood that a court would reverse EPA’s scientific determination… More
Earlier this week, the Southeastern Legal Foundation filed a petition for review of the EPA Endangerment Finding with the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. It’s not really surprising that someone filed suit, but the list of plaintiffs is interesting – though more for who is not on it than who is. There is not a single Fortune 500 company on the list of plaintiffs. Whether that speaks to the larger corporations doubting the merits of the challenge or simply making a strategic decision that it is not worth it to be associated with the litigation, I leave for them to… More
I have never been a fan of specialized courts, but I have to admit that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s MEPA jurisprudence is strong evidence for the other side. It’s almost hard to describe how badly the SJC has mangled MEPA. The most recent example is yesterday’s decision in Town of Canton v. Commissioner of the Massachusetts Highway Department. (Requisite disclaimer – this firm represented the Town of Canton in the case.)
In Canton, the SJC ruled that a party bringing suit to challenge the adequacy of the Certificate issued by the Secretary of Energy and… More
On Wednesday, EPA released a proposal to reduce the primary National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ground-level ozone from the 0.075 ppm standard set by the Bush administration in 2008 to a range of from 0.060-0.070 ppm. EPA also proposed to set a secondary standard intended to protect sensitive ecological areas, such as forests and parks.
As almost everyone knows, the 2008 standard was, to put it mildly, controversial from the start. The proposal today was based on recommendations made to EPA by its science advisors prior to the 2008 rulemaking. Following apparent intervention from the White House,… More
Shortly before the holidays, EPA Administrator Jackson issued an Order in response to a challenge to a combined Title V / PSD permit issued by the Kentucky Division for Air Quality to an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle, or IGCC, plant. The Order upheld the challenge, in part, on the ground that neither the permittee nor KDAQ had adequately justified why the BACT analysis for the facility did not include consideration of full-time use of natural gas notwithstanding that the plant is an IGCC facility.
The Order may not be shocking in today’s environment – all meanings… More
On Tuesday, District Judge Roger Titus issued an injunction against the construction of the Beech Ridge Energy wind project – 122 wind turbines along 23 miles of Appalachian ridgelines – unless the project can obtain an incidental take permit, or ITP, under the Endangered Species Act. Judge Titus concluded, after a four-day trial, that operation of the turbines would cause a “take” of the endangered Indiana Bat.
I’m not going to get into the details of the decision, though it certainly… More
Yesterday, EPA released its effluent guidelines for construction sites. The guidelines establish the first national standard containing numeric limitations on stormwater discharges. The final standard imposed is 280 nephelometric turbidity units. It will apply to all construction sites greater than 20 acres in size as of 18 months following the effective date of the regulations (which will be 60 days after Federal Register promulgation) and sites larger than 10 acres 4 years after the effective date.
As expected, EPA did not take NRDC and Waterkeeper Alliance up on their suggestion that EPA impose post-construction controls. However, since EPA has… More
Two more decisions were released last week concerning whether nuisance claims could be brought with respect to harm alleged to have resulted from private conduct contributing to climate change. First, in Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corporation, the District Court dismissed nuisance claims. Second, in Comer v. Murphy Oil, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a District Court dismissal of nuisance claims related to damage resulting from Hurricane Katrina.
Village of Kivalina first. In this case, an Inupiat Eskimo village claimed that global climate change traceable to the defendants has essentially made their village uninhabitable. Notably and, I think, shrewdly, they… More
Another Nuisance For the Generating Industry: The 2nd Circuit Reinstates the GHG Public Nuisance Suit
On Monday, the Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit finally issued a decision in Connecticut v. American Electric Power Company, reversing the District Court decision which had dismissed this public nuisance law suit against six large generating companies. The decision is notable in a number of different respects and may have far-reaching implications
Standing. Following Massachusetts v. EPA, it is not really surprising that the plaintiffs were able to establish that they have suffered injuries sufficient to provide standing. The more questionable point is redressability. The Court acknowledged that it must be “likely” that the injury will be redressed… More
On Tuesday, EPA announced its intention to issue new effluent guidelines for the Steam Electric Power Generating industry by sometime in 2012. The announcement follows an EPA study in 2008 which indicated that toxic metals, particularly those collected as part of flue gas desulfurization processes, can pose a problem in facility effluent. EPA’s announcement is not particularly surprising, given the ongoing study and given that EPA has not revised the guidelines since 1982. Indeed, notwithstanding EPA’s announcement, Environmental Integrity Project, Defenders of Wildlife and Sierra Club announced that they would still sue EPA over its failure to timely update the guidelines.
Justice Potter Stewart famously said, with respect to obscenity, that “I know it when I see it.” I fear that the test for what constitutes an imminent and substantial endangerment under RCRA is no clearer than Justice Stewart’s subjective test regarding obscenity.
This week, in a decision that is good news for RCRA defendants, Judge Illlston, of the Northern District of California, ruled, in West Coast Home Builders v. Aventis Cropscience USA, that risks posed by potential future vapor intrusion into buildings from a groundwater plume could not be “imminent and substantial” where no development has… More
Although not breaking any new ground, a decision from the Massachusetts Appeals Court last week provides a helpful summary of the discretion typically given to MassDEP in making permitting decisions. In Healer v. Department of Environmental Protection, abutters to a proposed wastewater treatment facility in Falmouth sued MassDEP, claiming that the groundwater discharge from the leach field associated with the facility would damage drinking water supplies and nearby wetlands. The Court affirmed the MassDEP Commissioner’s rejection of the abutters’ challenge.
As the Court noted
the “applicable standard of review is “highly deferential to the agency” and requires the reviewing… More
In an important decision yesterday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the operator facility participating in the renewable portfolio standard program did not have standing to challenge a state decision authorizing other facilities to participate in the RPS program. The decision may have broad implications regarding when businesses may challenge the issuance of permits or other approvals to competitors in Massachusetts.
In Indeck Maine Energy v. Commissioner of Energy Resources, the plaintiffs operated biomass facilities which were authorized to sell renewable energy credits. When the Department of Energy Resources authorized two other biomass facilities to sell RPS credits, plaintiffs sued.
Construction and development companies praying for an economic recovery next year have something else to worry about: pending new EPA regulations regarding stormwater discharges from construction activities – and claims from environmental groups that EPA’s proposal isn’t stringent enough.
EPA issued a proposal on November 28, 2008. That proposal is complex, but the aspect of it that has received the most attention is the requirement that certain construction sites greater than 30 acres meet numerical turbidity limits (specifically, 13 nephelometric turbidity units (NTUs), which I had to include in this post just because it sounds so cool). Developers have opposed the… More
Last Friday, in NRDC v. EPA, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down parts of EPA’s Phase 2 rule for achieving compliance with the ozone NAAQS. The most important part of the ruling was the Court’s conclusion that EPA could not rely on compliance with the NOx SIP Call to satisfy the requirement that sources in an ozone nonattainment area demonstrate achievement of reasonably available control technology, or RACT. The basis for the decision was the Court’s conclusion that the plain language of the relevant portions of the CAA did not allow use of… More
Earlier this week, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed a decision of the Superior Court in Georgia that would have required Longleaf Energy Associates, developer of a coal-fired power plant, to perform a BACT analysis of CO2 emissions control technologies in order to obtain an air quality permit for construction of the plant. The case is a reprise of the Deseret Power case regarding a coal-fired plant in Utah.
The court in Longleaf Energy concluded that CO2 is not yet a regulated pollutant under the CAA, and thus that no BACT analysis… More
In an interesting case, the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit this week vacated most of a preliminary injunction issued by a federal judge in Puerto Rico, because, the Court concluded, the lower court had wrongly, and without doing so explicitly, converted a PI hearing into a hearing on the merits.
In Sanchez v. Esso, a gasoline station operator brought RCRA citizen suit claims against Esso, which supplied gasoline to the station, and which actually was the owner of the USTs in which the gasoline was stored. Plaintiffs requested a PI requiring Esso both to assess and… More
Last week, Judge Larry McKinney issued an order requiring to shut down three coal-fired generating units at its Wabash Station facility by no later than September 30, 2009. The decision actually struck me as a thoughtful analysis of injunctive relief issues in a situation where a violation of NSR regulations had already been proven. Although the decision has gotten most press for the order shutting down the units, it covers a number of issues important to injunctive relief situations, and there are some nuggets which are potentially useful to generators; it is not a one-sided decision. Here are some highlights:
As we mentioned yesterday, the discussion draft of the Waxman-Markey “American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009” which was released on Tuesday is notable both for what it includes and the significant portions it leaves to be decided at a later date.
In summary, the bill contains four titles:
a “clean energy” title, which promotes renewable energy through a portfolio standard of 6% in 2012 rising to 25% by 2025, additional funding for carbon capture and sequestration, a low-carbon transportation fuel standard, and authorization for federal agencies to enter into long-term contracts with renewable energy providers; an… More
The Empire Strikes Back? Revenge on the NIMBYs? Whatever you want to call it, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce now has a great new web site, called Project No Project, which lists energy projects which have been stalled by local opposition. The site lists project by state and by type, and explains the status of the project, who the opponents are, and what its prospects seem to be.
It is good to see the Chamber join the digital age and adopt some of the methods of those on the other side of these battles.
Of course, one person’s NIMBY is another’s… More
Greenwire reported yesterday that EPA plans to issue its endangerment finding on emissions of greenhouses gases, in response to Massachusetts v. EPA, by the end of April. Greenwire also released EPA’s internal presentation regarding its recommendation to the Administrator.
Although EPA’s anticipated decision is not a surprise, it is still noteworthy. Among the highlights:
The finding will conclude that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health (the proposed endangerment finding that the Bush administration EPA had prepared, but then withdrew, was limited to public welfare issues. The finding will apparently note that there are environmental justice implications associated with climate… More
In December, I posted about the decision in Canton v. Paiewonsky, in which Judge Fabricant held that a party seeking to challenge the certificate of the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs approving an Environmental Impact Report must do so within 30 days of issuance of the first permit for a project – even if the plaintiff’s concerns about the project are totally unrelated to that permit and the plaintiff would not be harmed by issuance of the permit. As before, I’ll provide the disclaimer that this firm represents the plaintiff in the… More
We posted recently about the revival of EPA’s NSR enforcement program. Now, yet another shoe has dropped. The Center for Biological Diversity has announced the creation of the Climate Law Institute, the purpose of which is to use citizen law suits under existing laws to advance regulations intended to address climate change. The press release states that the Institute has $17 million in funding with which to pursue its mission.
While that mission will focus on climate change, as its name implies, it will not be limited to litigation under the Clean Air Act. It was the CBD which led the… More
Attorneys who have litigated citizen suits under RCRA have often wondered if there is any possible risk that would not qualify as an “imminent and substantial endangerment,” thus subjecting the person who “contributed” to such endangerment to liability under RCRA.
In Scotchtown Holdings v. Town of Goshen, the District Court for the Southern District of New York earlier this month established at least some outer parameters for this seemingly boundless phrase. In Scotchtown Holdings, the owner of land allegedly contaminated by the defendant’s use of sodium chloride – also known as salt to the uninitiated – caused groundwater contamination… More