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: EPA
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:
As we noted in 2013, two different Courts of Appeal had ruled that injunctive relief is not available in PSD/NSR enforcement cases against former owners. Both United States v. Midwest Generation and United States v. EME Homer Generation held that, because the former owner no longer controls the site, courts cannot impose injunctive relief against them. As the Court stated in EME Homer Generating:
with time travel yet to be discovered, it is impossible to “restrain” a violation that occurred twenty years ago. Likewise, courts cannot “require compliance” from defendants who are not currently violating the Clean Air Act… 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
EPA has been working to craft a general permit for small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems for quite some time. The most recent draft permit, published last September, has received significant comment, most recently from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. While emphasizing cooperation and appreciate for EPA’s efforts at collaboration, it is difficult to read MassDEP’s comments as anything other than as a sign of significant concern about overreach by EPA.
What’s the problem with the draft permit? Nothing that a modicum of attention to cost – and cost-effectiveness – couldn’t solve. Indeed it’s telling that MassDEP… 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
In November, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation provided its “Initial Reliability Review” of EPA’s Clean Power Plan. NERC raised a number of concerns about the impact of the CPP on reliability.
Now the Advanced Energy Economy Institute – you can guess its perspective – has engaged the Brattle Group to provide an assessment of NERC’s IRR. Not surprisingly, the Brattle Group is more sanguine about EPA’s ability to implement the CPP without adversely impacting reliability.
I am not an expert in electric system reliability. I will say only this – the historical record of environmental regulation since 1970… 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, 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
In a memorandum issued earlier this month, EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement Cynthia Giles encouraged use by EPA staff of “Next Generation Compliance Tools” in civil settlements. Some of the tools are more “next generation” than others, but they all bear watching by the regulated community. The specific tools highlighted in the Giles memorandum include:
Advanced monitoring, including real-time monitoring of ambient pollution levels at the facility fence-line or in the immediate neighborhood Third party compliance verification Electronic reporting Increased public availability of compliance data
To me, the first and last bullets are key. Third party compliance verification is… More
It’s All Connected: EPA Finally Determines that the Science Supports an Expansive Definition of Waters of the United States
On Thursday, EPA issued its final report on Connectivity of Streams & Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review & Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence. The Connectivity report is intended to support EPA’s rule clarifying the definition of waters of the United States. I know that groups on all sides will be providing their two cents, but of this I am sure enough to abandon my usual reluctance to speculate: This report will be more than sufficient to insulate EPA’s final rule from judicial challenge. If opponents of the rule want to… More
As most readers know, EPA has extended its schedule for issuing its rules addressing GHG emissions from both existing, and new and modified, power plants. EPA expects to issue the rules in the Summer of 2015. Only time will tell whether the agency makes the new date.
For those looking for a handy summary of actions to date and EPA’s schedule going forward, EPA has provided a short Fact Sheet which sets out the relevant dates for the various rules.
On Friday, EPA finally released its final rule regulating coal combustion residuals. Facility owners breathed a sigh of relief, as EPA chose to regulate under Subtitle D of RCRA, rather than under the cradle-to-grave provisions of Subtitle C. Given the extensive beneficial reuse of CCRs, EPA clearly made the right call.
The rule is obviously lengthy. EPA provided a Fact Sheet to summarize the rule, but those who want the quick summary should review the Executive Summary in the rule itself, which has a helpful table summarizing the different requirements of the rule, and which apply to existing… More
Last week, EPA released its report on Enforcement Annual Results in EPA Regions for Fiscal Year 2014. As always, the report is worth reading, if only for the interactive map which shows where EPA has brought various kinds of cases.
Notwithstanding the traditional self-congratulatory tone of the report, the press coverage has almost uniformly focused on the year-to-year decrease in cases brought and dollars recovered. Greenwire’s headline was “Enforcement actions decline again; agency blames shutdown, budget woes.”
I’m just a poor country lawyer and I don’t have the time to do the necessary sophisticated statistical analysis, but isn’t… More
This year, EPA has proposed a rule to regulate GHG emissions from existing sources, the legality of which turns, in significant part, on the meaning of a “source” under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. It has also proposed a rule clarifying the definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. Having dealt with gases and liquids, EPA has turned to solids (it’s a metaphor, ok?), and finalized a rule revising in part the definition of “solid waste” under RCRA.
Although the rule is complicated enough… More
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
Yesterday, EPA finally proposed a revised ambient air quality standard for ozone – except that the agency is still hedging its bets. The Clean Air Science Advisory Committee had previously supported a revised ozone NAAQS of 0.060 to 0.070 ppm. EPA has narrowed the range slightly, proposing a revised NAAQS of from 0.065 to 0.070 ppm, but still has not yet picked a number.
EPA’s waffling is particularly annoying because it is of course taking comment on alternatives both below and above the 0.065 to 0.070 ppm range that… More
So the new Congress will be controlled by the GOP. The House and Senate will consider various bills to rein in EPA authority. Here’s one relatively modest suggestion for congressional consideration: amend CERCLA to limit EPA’s authority to recover oversight costs.
How many of us in the private sector have been in meetings with EPA where EPA had more technical people in attendance than the PRPs who were performing the remedy? How many of us have had clients receive oversight cost bills where the total amount of the oversight costs approached the amount spent on actually performing the remedy? How… 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
If readers have been wondering when GHG regulation would truly feel real, EPA may have delivered the answer yesterday, with its announcement of a $350 million settlement with Hyundai and Kia over allegations of violations of EPA’s GHG tailpipe standards. The details may matter only to those subject to the tailpipe rule, but they do demonstrate that EPA is not merely regulating GHG emissions for show; they genuinely mean it and are getting down in the weeds to ensuring compliance.
The specific allegation in the complaint was basically that Hyundai and Kia understated the “road load force” –… More
On Tuesday, EPA issued a Notice of Data Availability, requesting further comment on some specific issues that have been raised since it published its draft Clean Power Plan in June. My immediate reaction? My head hurts.
I don’t mean to trivialize the implementation issues that would likely arise if Congress enacted either a cap-and-trade system or a carbon tax, but they’ve got to pale in comparison to the Rube Goldberg-like system that’s going to be in place once EPA promulgates a final rule. This is not meant as a criticism… 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
The Union of Concerned Scientists today announced release of a report which attempts to document that the renewable energy “building block” in EPA’s Clean Power Plan is not sufficiently aggressive. The report argues that, just relying on existing trends and compliance with renewable energy standards, renewable energy can supply 23% of electricity sales nationally by 2030, well above the 12% assumed by EPA. This would translate into a 40% reduction in GHG emissions, rather than the 30% that EPA says the proposed CPP would attain.
I don’t know if… 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.
Last year, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that EPA has authority to withdraw its approval for the specification of sites for the disposal of fill material, even after the Army Corps has issued a permit for the discharge under section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Now, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the District Court for the District of Columbia has ruled that EPA properly exercised that authority with respect to the Spruce No. 1 Mine in West Virginia. The decision, which appears bullet-proof to me,… More
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 an important decision yesterday, Judge Douglas Woodlock of the District of Massachusetts confirmed that CERCLA preempts local cleanup bylaws. The case involved one aspect of the cleanup of the W.R. Grace Superfund Site in Acton, Massachusetts. In 2005, EPA issued a Record of Decision requiring operation of a groundwater pump and treat system in what is known as the Northeast Area of the Site. However, EPA recognized that the contamination in the area was limited and stated in the ROD that the treatment system might be turned off in three years if certain criteria were met. After three… More
The Science Advisory Board has now provided its advice to EPA and the ACOE concerning their proposed rule clarifying the definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. In a brief letter that can only worry the National Farm Bureau and embolden those who thought that the EPA/ACOE proposal did not go far enough, the SAB concluded that:
the available science supports the conclusion that the types of water bodies identified as waters of the United States in the proposed rule exert strong influence on the… More
Over the past few months, I worked with a number of colleagues from the American College of Environmental Lawyers to provide the Environmental Council of the States with a balanced review of the history and background of how the term “waters of the United States” has been defined and interpreted under the Clean Water Act. In announcing the release of the memorandum, Dick Pedersen, President of ECOS, thanked “those members of ACOEL who spent significant time and effort developing this comprehensive memorandum.”
To which I can only add, that’s… More
EPA Proposes to Eliminate Affirmative Defenses for Excess Emissions During Startups, Shutdowns, or Malfunctions — Get Ready for Some Citizen Suits
This past April, the D.C. Circuit struck down the part of EPA’s cement kiln rule that would have provided an affirmative defense to civil penalties for excess emissions resulting from unavoidable malfunctions. As we noted at the time, that decision clearly had implications beyond the cement kiln rule.
Those implications were made more concrete this week when EPA issued a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking in which it proposed to rescind its policy allowing affirmative defenses to penalties for excess emissions during startup, shutdown, or malfunction events. Moreover, EPA proposes to reject SSM affirmative defenses in existing SIPs.
On Friday, EPA released its “Policy Assessment for the Review of the Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards.” EPA staff concluded:
that it is appropriate in this review to consider a revised primary O3 standard level within the range of 70 ppb to 60 ppb. A standard set within this range would result in important improvements in public protection, compared to the current standard, and could reasonably be judged to provide an appropriate degree of public health protection.
As staff noted, the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee made the same recommendation…. More
Last Friday, EPA published notice that it would not be revising its regulations on backup generators in response to three petitions for reconsideration it had received after it promulgated its final rule in January 2013. The rule had sparked controversy, because EPA allowed backup generators to operate for up to 100 hours a year, though EPA did require use of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel beginning in January 2015.
There were three major issues in the petitions. EPA’s responses addressed them as follows:
• The timing of the requirement to utilize ULSD. EPA rejected arguments that… 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
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.
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
The Reach of Sackett is Not Infinite: Regulated Facilities May Not Challenge EPA Notices of Violation
After the Supreme Court held in Sackett v. EPA that EPA must provide hearings to those to whom it issues unilateral administrative orders, the regulated community immediately began to wonder how broadly the ruling would sweep. It is clear that EPA’s order authority under similar statutory provisions – such as those in the Clean Air Act – is also subject to Sackett. However, what about seemingly less final actions, such as issuance of notices of violation?
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
More on EPA’s GHG Rule: I Am NOT Going To Set Odds on Whether the Rule Would Survive Judicial Review
Last week, in posting about EPA’s Clean Power Plan, I noted that some potential plaintiffs might face standing obstacles in seeking to challenge the rule, assuming it is promulgated as proposed. Today, I take a (very) slightly broader look at potential legal challenges.
First, I still think that the most obvious potential plaintiffs, owners of coal-fired power plants, might indeed have standing issues in challenging a rule which maximizes the options for attaining reductions in GHG emissions. After Massachusetts v. EPA, EPA pretty clearly has authority to regulate GHG emissions from power plants. If EPA did that… More
As some folks may have heard, EPA proposed emission guidelines for GHG emissions from existing generating units on Monday. Obviously, the rule is a little too complicated to summarize in one blog post, though I’ll try to post on some aspects of it in coming days, if I can figure out a blog-efficient way to do so. Today, I’d like to focus on the big picture.
• The Supreme Court has told EPA that greenhouse gases are, collectively, a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. That’s a… More
When Does the Sixth Circuit Set EPA Rules for the Entire Country? When EPA Regulations Require National Uniformity
In a fascinating decision issued today, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down EPA’s Summit Directive. The Summit Directive – sounds ominous – was issued in response to the 2012 decision in Summit Petroleum Corp. v. EPA, in which the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that EPA could not consider two facilities as “adjacent” for Title V and NSR permitting purposes unless they are, in fact, adjacent. EPA had previously interpreted facilities as adjacent based in part on whether the facilities, even if not physically adjacent, were “functionally interrelated.”
Following the decision in Summit, EPA determined… 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
As we have noted previously, EPA has had difficulty in promulgating a revised National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone. Whenever the revised NAAQS is issued – and EPA is under court deadline to propose a draft by December 1, 2014 and a issue a final by October 1, 2015 – the actual standard that EPA is likely to issue is coming into focus.
Late last week, EPA’s Clean Air Science Advisory Committee released a draft letter to EPA providing its comments on review of EPA’s draft Policy Assessment of the ozone NAAQS. The contents of the letter… More
The Wind Bloweth Where It Listeth — And the Supreme Court Says EPA Therefore Has Discretion in Regulating Wind-Borne Pollution
The Supreme Court today reversed the D.C. Circuit and affirmed EPA’s Transport Rule (known more formally as the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule). Whatever the hopes and dreams of the upwind states and the industry opponents, the decision does not surprise me. EPA pretty much did what it was told when the Bush era CAIR rule was struck down. Moreover, EPA crafted a rule that seems to me fully within its discretion under the Clean Air Act and which, in fact, took cost into account as much as allowed under the CAA.
There were two issues on appeal…. More
Last Friday, EPA lost another NSR enforcement case. Not only that, but this was a case EPA had previously won. As we noted last August, Chief Judge Philip Simon of the Northern District of Indiana, had previously ruled that the United States could pursue injunctive relief claims against United States Steel with respect to allegations by EPA that US Steel had made major modifications to its plant in Gary, Indiana, in 1990 without complying with NSR requirements.
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
Definitely a Victory For Regulations Over Guidance: EPA Issues Proposed Rule Defining Waters of The United States
Tthe Supreme Court issued its decision in Rapanos almost 8 years ago and EPA has been struggling ever since to figure out what “waters of the United States” are within the meaning of the Clean Water Act. After several failed attempts at guidance, EPA finally acknowledged that this issue is too important and too contentious for guidance – and that it merits formal notice and comment regulation. On March 25, EPA sent a proposed rule for publication in the Federal Register. It’s only 370 pages. Sounds like guidance to me.
Although one might have thought that defining waters… More
As the lawyers among our readers know, the denial of a certiorari petition does not establish precedent. However, that doesn’t make it unimportant. Yesterday, the Supreme Court denied cert. in Mingo Logan Coal Co. v. EPA. The cert. denial leaves in place the decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals holding that EPA has authority retroactively to withdraw a site specification for a Clean Water Act § 404 permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers. As Hal Quinn, President and CEO of the National Mining Association said in response, this leaves a “cloud of uncertainty”… More
Stormwater regulation is a thorny issue. There is widespread agreement that nutrient run-off can be a significant problem, but little agreement on what to do about it, since stormwater infrastructure is normally managed by cash-strapped municipalities, but the most cost-effective approach will often not be to require thousands of individual properties owners to make large separate capital expenditures (though best management practices can certainly often provide significant benefit).
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
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
NSR Emissions Projections — Finally, An Area Where It is the Regulated Entity Which Is Entitled to Deference
Last spring, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that when power plant owners compare actual emissions to projected future actual emissions for the purpose of determining whether a project is subject to the Clean Air Act’s NSR provisions, EPA may bring an enforcement action if the operator does not “make projections according to the requirements for such projections contained in the regulations.” At the same time, however, the 6th Circuit made clear that EPA may not “second-guess” the proponent’s projections and that the regulatory scheme does not anticipate “prior approval” by EPA.
On Monday, we learned at least… 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
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
EPA May Rely — In Part — on Projects Funded Under the Energy Policy Act to Justify the Greenhouse Gas NSPS. That’s Its Story and It’s Sticking To It
As those following EPA’s efforts to promulgate NSPS for greenhouse gas emissions from new fossil fuel-fired electric generating plants know, EPA has come under fire for basing its proposal on demonstrations of feasibility at projects that have received federal funding or tax credits under the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Apparently, EPA is sufficiently concerned that they have prepared a Notice of Data Availability to be published in the Federal Register. The NODA explains why the rule would not violate the Energy Policy Act.
In short (but explained at greater length in its accompanying Technical Support Document):
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
EPA Is Not a “Bogeyman” According to a Sierra Club Poll: I’m Sure That Will Comfort Nervous Senate Democrats
The Sierra Club released a poll yesterday showing substantial support for EPA’s efforts to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. The poll was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, whose representative, Andrew Baumann, was quoted in E&E News as saying that the poll demonstrates that EPA “is not a bogeyman.” Indeed, the poll shows 44% of respondents with positive feelings toward EPA and only 27% negative. I still don’t see Senate Democrats in seats targeted by the GOP running into EPA’s arms as a campaign strategy.
Since the poll is probably right, it is an interesting question why… More
On Monday, EPA released its second external review draft of an updated Policy Assessment on the national ambient air quality standard for ozone. It also released updated draft risk and exposure assessments. To no one’s surprise, the new drafts confirm support for lowering the ozone NAAQS from 75 ppb to a range of 60 ppb to 70 ppb.
Why is this not a surprise? Because, as I noted some time ago, the prior draft policy assessment also supported an NAAQS in the range of 60 ppb to 70 ppb. Moreover, the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee weighed… More
One More Update on the GHG NSPS Rule: EPA Has Improved Its Odds of Surviving Judicial Review, But I’m Still, Still, Skeptical
When EPA’s NSPS Rule for GHGs was published in the Federal Register last week, I noted that the rule might be on shaky ground, because an EPA Science Advisory Board work group had questioned the basis for EPA’s decision that carbon capture and storage is feasible technology. Now it turns out that EPA has provided the work group with some additional information and the work group issued a memorandum last week stating that further review by the SAB is not required. The work group concluded that “the agency is using the best available science and has conducted… More
EPA’s Proposed New Source Performance Standards for greenhouse gas emissions from new sources was finally published in the Federal Register on Wednesday. At least fundamentally, it seems unchanged from the proposal released last September. It is still based on the conclusion that carbon capture and storage is feasible and represents BSER – the best system of emission reduction – for fossil fuel-fired electric steam generating units.
Really? Does anyone other than EPA think CCS is feasible, at least at this point? After the September release of the proposal, an EPA Scientific Advisory Board work group stated that:
For those of you who were skiing or snorkeling (snorkeling in my case) and missed it, on December 30, EPA announced a direct final rule incorporating the new ASTM 1527-13 standard for site assessments into its all appropriate inquiries rule. Following ASTM’s release of the new standard, EPA’s action was expected, but remains important.
The biggest issue here is what EPA will do regarding the prior standard, ASTM 1527-05. The answer for now is nothing; use of ASTM 1527-05 remains valid. However, the new rule states that EPA “recommends” use of ASTM 1527-13. EPA also stated that it… 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
What Do Midwestern States Have In Common With Groucho Marx? Ask Them Whether They Want to Be Part of the Ozone Transport Region
As the Supreme Court gets ready to consider the validity of EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, some of the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states are taking another tack to address at least part of the air pollution transport issue. They have petitioned EPA under § 176A of the Clean Air Act to add Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia to the Ozone Transport Region established under § 184 of the CAA.
Just a Hiccup or a Major Obstacle? EPA Science Advisory Board Work Group Recommends that the SAB Review the Science Behind EPA’s Proposed NSPS For Greenhouse Gases
I have posted numerous times in recent years on the importance of the views of EPA’s own science advisors in judicial determinations whether EPA regulatory actions are arbitrary and capricious. With few exceptions, courts have affirmed EPA when the regulations were supported by EPA’s science advisors, and struck down the regulations when not supported by those advisors.
Now comes word that a work group of EPA’s Science Advisory Board has recommended that the SAB review the science supporting EPA’s proposed New Source Performance Standards for GHG emissions from electric generating units. In proposing the rule, EPA stated that… 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
EPA’s Groundwater Remedy Completion Strategy: Making Cleanups More Efficient Or Just Increasing PRP Costs?
Last week, EPA released a draft Groundwater Remedy Completion Strategy. The strategy is intended to provide:
a recommended step-wise plan and decision making process for evaluating remedy operation, progress and attainment of [remedial action objectives] using an updated conceptual site model, performance metrics and data derived from site-specific remedy evaluations.
I like to think that I am skeptical, not cynical. Having worked on this stuff for 25 years, including some specific Superfund sites for most of that time, I’m skeptical that this means anything other than increased sampling and analytical costs and increased oversight costs, as my clients and… More
The Answer, My Friend, Is Not Blowin’ In The Wind: Waste From CAFO Ventilation Fans Does Not Require an NPDES Permit
Earlier this year, in her aptly named post “What the Cluck?”, Patricia Finn Braddock, noted that a state court in North Carolina had held that wastes from poultry farms, blown by ventilators from confinement houses and then washed into waters of the United States with stormwater flow, are subject to NPDES permit requirements. Well, in a decision issued on October 23, Judge John Preston Bailey, of the District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, asked himself the same question. His answer was that EPA has no such authority.
In a theme recurring with greater and greater frequency… 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 spring, Robby Sanoff complained in this space about the problem resulting from appellate courts’ refusal to give appropriate discretion to district judges in performing their gatekeeping function under Daubert. As Robby put it:
The difference between “shaky but admissible” and unreliable and inadmissible evidence would seem to be entirely in the eye of the beholder.
Robby will not be pleased by last’s week’s decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in United States v. Alabama Power, reversing a district court order excluding EPA’s expert testimony in support of its NSR enforcement action against Alabama Power. … More
EPA Issues Revised Draft NSPS for Carbon Emissions From New Power Plants: It’s All About Technology Forcing
Last Friday, EPA reissued its draft NSPS addressing carbon emissions from new power plants. It’s not actually that different from the prior proposal, which would have required all new fossil-fuel plants to meet a 1,000 lbs CO2/MWh standard. The new proposal would require new large gas plants to meet the 1,000 lbs/MWh standard, but would relax the standard to 1,100 lbs/MWh for small gas plants and for coal plants. Coal plants would, in the alternative, have the option of choosing a more stringent 1,000-1,050 lbs/MWh standard, averaged over seven years, if they want the flexibility to attain the more… 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
EPA’s used its blog today to announce that it and the Army Corps of Engineers have sent to OMB a draft rule clarifying the scope of jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. It appears that EPA has finally given up on its controversial efforts to solve the Rapanos problem through guidance. As I noted previously, when an agency is still working on its quick and easy guidance (with regulations to follow) eight years after the court decision that made the guidance necessary, it’s probably time to acknowledge that there is no quick and easy, so you… 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
More on Old NSR Claims: Injunctive Relief Remains Available Against Original Owners Foolish Enough Not to Have Sold
As we noted last week and last month, the 3rd and 7th Circuits have ruled that violations of the obligation to undertake NSR review prior to implementing major modifications are not continuing, but are instead one-time violations occurring at the time the facilities undertake the modification. These holdings meant that EPA could not pursue either former owners – because they no longer control the facilities – or current owners – because they never violated the statute and have no ongoing obligation to correct the former owner’s violation.
However, what happens if the property has not been… More
The Final Nail In the Coffin on EPA’s Enforcement Initiative Against Historic PSD Violations? The Third Circuit Agrees That PSD Violations Are Not Ongoing
Only last month, the 7th Circuit ruled that alleged violations of the Clean Air Act’s PSD requirements are not ongoing. On Wednesday, in United States v. EME Homer Generation, the 3rd Circuit agreed. Like the 7th Circuit, the 3rd Circuit did not really even view the question as difficult, finding the statute unambiguous and never reaching the second step of traditional Chevron analysis.
In short, the statute simply provides that:
[n]o major emitting facility . . . may be constructed [or modified] . . . unless” it meets various PSD requirements.…
Because this language does not say “constructed,… More
More on the Permit Shield Defense: A Permittee Is — Gasp — Entitled to Rely on Regulations and Permits Issued by Delegated State Agencies
Late last month, we noted that a permittee may not rely on the permit shield defense unless it has clearly informed the permitting agency of the nature of its discharge. Now we see the flip side. In Wisconsin Resources Protection Council v. Flambeau Mining Company, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals held that Flambeau Mining was entitled to rely on the permit shield defense with respect to its stormwater discharges, without any NPDES permit at all, because the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources had informed Flambeau Mining that, following mine closure, its stormwater discharges would be regulated through… More
The Clean Water Act permit shield provision provides that compliance with an NPDES permit constitutes compliance with the CWA. What happens when the permit does not mention a particular pollutant? In Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards v. A&G Coal, decided late last week, the Court made clear that the permittee must fully disclose information about its discharge of the pollutant to the permitting agency in order for the shield to be available.
A&G Coal operates a surface coal mine. Selenium was not mentioned in A&G Coal’s permit and A&G Coal conceded that it was discharging selenium. A&G Coal had not… More
We Still Don’t Need No Stinkin Cooperative Federalism: The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Holds that GHG Sources Require PSD Permits Even Absent a State Implementation Plan
Last Friday, I posted about the limits to EPA’s cooperation with states in the name of “cooperative federalism” under the Clean Air Act. On the same day, in Texas v. EPA, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals only emphasized my point, by affirming EPA’s assertion of PSD permitting jurisdiction in Texas and Wyoming in the face of those states’ failure to prepare state implementation plans to incorporate permitting programs to implement EPA’s greenhouse gas rules under the PSD program.
The crux of the court’s holding was that § 165(a) of the CAA is self-executing, and requires sources newly… More
Last Friday, the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Oklahoma v. EPA, affirmed EPA’s rejection of Oklahoma’s state implementation plan setting forth its determination of the Best Available Retrofit Technology, or BART, to address regional haze. The Court also affirmed EPA’s promulgation of a federal implementation plan in place of the Oklahoma SIP. While rehearsing the Clean Air Act’s “cooperative federalism” approach, the Court seemed more focused on deference to EPA’s technical assessment of the SIP than on any obligation by EPA to cooperate with states.
Given that the statute mandates that the EPA must ensure SIPs… More
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
Section 126 of the Clean Air Act and Cooperative Federalism: EPA May Cooperate with the Downwind State Rather than the Upwind State
On Friday, in GenOn REMA v. EPA, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that, in response to a petition from a downwind state under § 126 of the Clean Air Act, EPA may issue a rule imposing emission limits on a source in the upwind state without waiting for the upwind state to complete its own SIP process, which would presumably result in appropriate controls to protect the downwind state. This firm has represented GenOn (though not in this case), so I’m not going to get into the merits. However, if the decision stands, it is important and… 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
The Seventh Circuit Cuts the Gordian Knot of NSR Interpretation: Preconstruction Review Cannot Lead to Continuing Violations
Earlier this week, in United States v. Midwest Generation, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of EPA’s NSR enforcement action against Commonwealth Edison. Commonwealth Edison was the prior owner of the plants at issue and modified them at various times from 1994-1999 without obtaining PSD/NSR approvals before doing so. Midwest Generation purchased the plants and continued to operate them. In 2009, the United States sued both Commonwealth Edison and Midwest Generation. In 2010, the District Court ruled that the government was not entitled to relief. The government appealed, but in the meantime, Midwest Generation filed for… More
President Obama yesterday released his Climate Action Plan, together with a Memorandum concerning EPA’s issuance of rules governing carbon emissions from new and existing power plants under the Clean Air Act. At a certain level, there is not much new here. The mere existence of the Plan and the commitment to address climate issues is presumably the point.
The Plan does not provide many specifics. The Memorandum does provide specifics regarding the issuance of new source performance standards. EPA is directed to issue a new proposal by September 20, 2013. That’s not a lot of time, so EPA… More
The Supreme Court Agrees to Review the CSAPR Decision: Might EPA Avoid Version 3 of the Transport Rule?
The Supreme Court today granted certiorari in EPA v. EME Homer City, the challenge to EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, or CSAPR. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia had struck down the rule, over a fairly blistering dissent from Judge Judith Rogers.
Speculation over the reasons why the Supreme Court takes a case is often pointless, but I will say this: Consideration of the history of EPA’s rulemaking leads to the conclusion that the rule should be upheld.
As readers of this blog know, I believe in governmental environmental regulation. We have a complicated world and it is not surprising that many activities, including those generating greenhouse gases, cause negative externalities. At the same time, however, I have spent more than 25 years representing regulated entities in negotiations with government regulators and it is impossible to do such work without obtaining an appreciation for the very significant costs that bureaucracies impose.
With all due respect – cue the upcoming diss – to my many friends in government, the absence of market discipline or the ability to fire nonpolitical… More
When is the Meaning of a Statute Sufficiently Plain? The D.C. Circuit Restores EPA Authority to Withdraw Approval of Section 404 Permits
In a decision on Tuesday that must have sent shivers down the spine of every coal company executive, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals restored EPA’s authority to withdraw the specification of streams for the disposal of mountaintop mining wastes – years after the Army Corps had issued the permit containing the specification. Indeed, Daily Environment Report quoted National Mining Association CEO Hal Quinn as saying that the decision, in Mingo Logan Coal Company v. USEPA
has pulled the regulatory rug out from under the feet of U.S…. More
Coming to a Steam Electric Generating Plant Near You in May 2014 — New Effluent Limitation Guidelines
Last Friday, EPA announced release of its draft proposal to revise the effluent guidelines and standards for the steam electric power generating industry, last revised in 1982. The proposal was in conformance with a litigation settlement with environmental groups, which also calls for a final rule by May 22, 2014.
The proposed rule actually sets out four different regulatory options, and they are sufficiently complicated that EPA’s Fact Sheet on the proposal does not even attempt to summarize them. For that reason, I provide here the Executive Summary of the proposed rule, which does summarize the… More
EPA Proposes Revisions to the Construction and Development Effluent Guidelines: Time Again To Ask Whether EPA Will Get Any Credit For Being Flexible
Today, EPA formally proposed revisions to its effluent guidelines for stormwater discharges from construction and development point sources. As we have previously noted, in response to concerns about the basis for EPA’s numeric turbidity standards, EPA had stayed the numeric standards. It is now formally proposing to withdraw them.
EPA also responded to concerns that the rule contains certain exceptions where particular practices are infeasible, but does not define infeasibility. The proposed definition is that:
Infeasible means not technologically possible, or not economically practicable and achievable in light of best industry practices.
EPA is taking comment on this… More
On Thursday, EPA finalized revisions to the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, or MATS (also known as “Utility MACT”). The most significant change was to revise the mercury emissions standard from 0.0002 pounds per gigawatt-hour to 0.003 pounds per gigawatt-hour. The change was made in response to comments suggesting that the more stringent standard simply wasn’t attainable. EPA notes that attainment of the 0.003 lb/GWh will still require installation of the same types of pollution control equipment.
On Thursday, in United States v. DTE Energy Company, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals revived EPA’s enforcement action against DTE energy for alleged NSR violations at DTE’s Monroe Power Plant. As the dissent notes, it may be a hollow victory.
The facts trace a familiar NSR enforcement case trajectory. In 2010, DTE commenced a $65 million maintenance project at Monroe, involving tubing, the economizer, and reheater piping, among other elements of plant equipment. Under EPA’s NSR regulations, DTE had determined, once demand growth was excluded,… 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.
When Do Air Emissions Constitute a Discharge to Waters of the United States? Any Time the Emissions Reach Waters of the United States?
In a fascinating post today, my colleague from the American College of Environmental Lawyers, Patricia Finn Braddock, reported on a case at the intersection of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act that could have significant implications for any source of air emissions that can credibly be alleged to affect waters of the United States. The case is Rose Acre Farms v. NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
I won’t steal Pat’s thunder and you need to read her post if only because I cannot compete with (and had enough willpower not to steal)… More
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 Splits the Baby on Backup Generators: Still Allows 100 Hours Use, But Now Requires Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel
Yesterday, EPA finalized revisions to the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for stationary reciprocating internal combustion engines, or – one of my new favorite acronyms – RICE. The biggest dispute over the rule was the extent to which it would allow backup diesel generators to run for demand response purposes.
As we had noted previously, EPA proposed last May to allow backup generators to run for up to 100 hours for demand response purposes without being subject to emissions limits. Both the Electric Power Supply Association and environmentalists raised concerns about allowing such extensive use of… 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.
I Guess You Can’t Say That EPA Gives Lumps of Coal For Christmas Presents: It Does, However, Finalize Adjustments to the Boiler MACT Rule
Last Friday, just in time for the Christmas holiday, EPA finalized revisions to the Boiler MACT rule. As it has done with other significant rules, EPA basically fine-tuned the existing rule, responding to some specific comments, adding a smidgen of flexibility here, and a dash of extra time to comply over there. I think that EPA deserves credit for responding to the regulated community, while still imposing rules that provide significant benefits.
Environmentalists complained that the delay will lead to additional premature deaths. The National Association of Manufacturers complained about “overly aggressive regulations.” I still don’t know… 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.
A story in Tuesday’s BNA Daily Environment Report notes that several representatives of industry interests are asking EPA to hold off on issuing its much-anticipated vapor intrusion guidance until it can be subject to public comment. Apparently, the current draft was sent to regional offices – but not distributed to the public – for review. Someone at Inside EPA leaked it to Fox Rothschild and asked for comment. Fox Rothschild attorneys then submitted a letter to EPA requesting a formal opportunity for public comment.
To me, the episode illustrates what I’ll humbly call Jaffe’s Iron… More
Last week, EPA announced that it had reached yet one more – its 24th – settlement under as a result of its NSR enforcement initiative. This time, it was Louisiana Generating’s Big Cajun II plant, in New Roads, Louisiana. By now, the contours are familiar, including a penalty of $14 million and injunctive relief estimated to cost approximately $250 million. Changes will include:
Installation of SNCR (not SCR) on all units to control NOx. Installation of dry sorbent injection as a… More
On Tuesday, EPA issued its “reinterpretation” of its understanding of what building wastes constitute “PCB bulk product waste” under TSCA regulations, as opposed to “PCB remediation waste.” Previously, when PCBs migrated from building products, such as caulk, the caulk would be considered PCB bulk product waste, while the underlying contaminated building material would be considered PCB remediation waste. Now the building material will also be considered PCB bulk product waste. Indeed, EPA has slightly expanded the reinterpretation from its draft proposal; it now allows the building substrate to be characterized as PCB bulk product… More
Yesterday, I did an update on Clean Air Act developments. Today, it’s the Clean Water Act’s turn. According to the Daily Environment Report, EPA will meet its deadline of June 13, 2013 to promulgate a post-construction stormwater rule. I found it interesting that the story states that EPA has nearly completed its cost-benefit analysis for the rule – even though it has not yet made a decision on the size threshold. Presumably, the cost-benefit analysis is being performed across a range of possible thresholds.
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
Sunday’s New York Times had an op-ed piece by Cass Sunstein, recently departed head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, advocating for sensible measures to address global climate change. Sunstein’s argument is that
Economists of diverse viewpoints concur that if the international community entered into a sensible agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the economic benefits would greatly outweigh the costs.
I don’t disagree with anything he says; I only wonder whether anyone is paying attention. On one hand, while Sunstein notes that President Obama supports cost-benefit analysis, Democrats in Congress – and many environmentalists – have long been skeptical,… More
Who Knew? The National Research Council Discovers That Many Groundwater Cleanups Will Take More Than 100 Years
Daily Environment Report today noted that the National Research Council has produced a study, Alternatives for Managing the Nation’s Complex Contaminated Groundwater Sites, which assesses the scope of the groundwater contamination problem and our ability to address it. One significant takeaway from the report is that
Significant limitations with currently available remedial technologies persist that make achievement of MCLs throughout the aquifer unlikely at most complex groundwater sites in a time frame of 50-100 years. Furthermore, future improvements in these technologies are likely to be incremental, such that long-term monitoring and stewardship at sites with groundwater contamination should be expected.
What happens when Superfund runs headlong into Mother Nature? Hurricane Sandy provides a vivid answer. As the New York Times reports today, Hurricane Sandy had a significant impact on the Gowanus Canal Superfund Site in Brooklyn, NY. The Canal was completed in 1869 and for over a century was the recipient of industrial discharges from mills, tanneries, and chemical plants resulting in what EPA describes as “one of the nation’s most heavily contaminated water bodies.” Contaminants include PCBs, heavy metals, and VOCs.
When Sandy’s storm surge arrived, it quickly flooded the the Gowanus Canal, causing the heavily contaminated water in the Canal to rush into basements and first floors of surrounding homes. … More
The Daily Environment Report last week provided an update on the current status of EPA’s development of a new National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone. The current 8-hour standard of 75 ppb is going to be revised downward; EPA currently plans to issue a final rule by September 2014.
Last month, the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee weighed in on EPA’s draft policy assessment for the ozone NAAQS. CASAC found that
the PA provides a strong rationale for consideration of ozone standards (8 hour averages) of 60 ppb and 70 ppb. The PA also provides adequate justification for considering concentrations below 60 ppb,… More
EPA recently released two guidance documents relevant to Superfund practitioners. One establishes revised procedures regarding how EPA will manage negotiations with PRPs. The second updates EPA’s guidance on how it will handle Alternative Sites. To me, both have the flavor of deck chair management on the Titanic.
The RD/RA negotiation guidance has to be seen to be believed. It’s a document that seems reasonable on its face, but when you step back and take a big picture look, you have to ask whether there isn’t something wrong with a program requiring a 10-page set of details regarding the timeline for how to negotiate a… More
Accidental Success? Even Without National Climate Policy, US Emissions May Fall Enough To Avoid Failure
In 2009, at the international climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, President Obama pledged that the US would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. Since then, national efforts toward comprehensive climate legislation, or even making concrete strides to intentionally reduce emissions on a national scale have been, let’s say… lackluster. But even so, a recent report by Resources for the Future predicts that the US will hit 16.3% reductions over a 2005 baseline by 2020. Moreover, because the report is intentionally conservative, and downplays the future impacts of investments in efficiency and other reductions in demand, the 17% goal… More
Is EPA Considering Allowing PCB Cleanups to Proceed Under RCRA, Rather Than TSCA? I’ll Believe It When I See It (And I Hope I See It)
One headline in today’s Daily Environment Report stated that “EPA Considers PCB Regulatory Reform Amid State Regulator Criticism of Program.” Even my advanced sarcasm skills failed me on reading this. I’ll therefore settle for “about bloody time.”
The original fault certainly lies with Congress, not EPA. The notion that Congress needed a separate statutory regime to deal with one specific compound (ok, family of compounds) was always foolish. TSCA and RCRA were enacted with 10 days of each other in 1976. No one has ever justified the PCB provisions of TSCA, given the contemporaneous passage of RCRA. The… More
In a poignant moment in Godfather III, Al Pacino’s character says: “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in”. EPA’s recent eye-popping announcement of a $366 million encore settlement by AVX with respect to the New Bedford Harbor Superfund Site re-enacts that moment, graphically illustrating the toxic combination of EPA’s sorry history of escalating remedy costs for water-based Superfund sites and Consent Decrees that contain cost-reopening provisions.
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
Last week, in United States v. Louisiana Generating, EPA won a ruling regarding what type of projects fall within the routine maintenance, repair or replacement exception from the rule that facility modifications are subject to PSD/NSR requirements. The decision is thorough in that it carefully reviews the so-called “WEPCO Factors” – the nature, extent, purpose, frequency, and cost of the work, and applied them to the work at issue in this case, i.e., reheater replacements at the Big Cajun II power plant.
Notwithstanding the thoroughness of the court’s analysis, I… More
EPA Approves Colorado’s Regional Haze Plan: What Does Colorado Know That the Rest of the Country Hasn’t Yet Figured Out?
On Tuesday, EPA formally approved Colorado’s state implementation plan to address regional haze. According to a press release from Governor John Hickenlooper, the plan will reduce power plant emissions by more than 70,000 tons by 2018. Notably, it will include closure of coal-fired power plants. Indeed, Daily Environment Report stated that “coal-fired power generation will be gone from the Denver metro region by 2018” as a result of the plan.
The press release was a love-fest. The plan was endorsed by the American Lung Association, EDF, Public Service Co. of Colorado (an… 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
An article in the New York Times earlier this week reported on EPA’s attempts under the Superfund program to address contamination in water bodies, such as rivers, lakes and harbors. Although the article acknowledges that these water body sites are technically challenging, it does not remotely capture the tortured regulatory history of these sites or the dubious remedial approach that EPA is now pursuing. It is not an exaggeration to say that some of the most notorious Superfund failures involve water body sites.
Typical of the course of water body sites under the Superfund program is the
Judicial Activism and Judicial Restraint: The 5th Circuit Vacates EPA’s Disapproval of Texas SIP Revisions Concerning Minor Sources
On Friday, in Texas v. EPA, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated EPA’s decision rejecting Texas’s SIP revisions that would have implemented (and did implement, for 16 years) a Flexible Permit Program for minor NSR sources. While genuflecting at the altar of deference to agency decisionmaking, the Court concluded that EPA’s rejection was not based on either EPA factual determinations or on its interpretation of federal, as opposed to state, law. The Court also concluded that EPA had not in fact relied on the reasons given in its briefs, and refused to defer to EPA’s “post hoc rationalizations.”… More
The decision by the First Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday in Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement Control District v. EPA confirms how difficult it is to challenge EPA NPDES permitting decisions. The case involves nutrient loadings in the Blackstone River and, ultimately, Narragansett Bay. As the opinion discusses, phosphorus in the Blackstone River and nitrogen in Narragansett Bay are causing severe eutrophication problems. As a result, the permit issued by EPA (Massachusetts is one of a handful of states without delegated NPDES programs) contained extremely stringent limits for both phosphorus and nitrogen.
Both the District and the… More
For those of you following EPA’s proposal to allow increased use of backup generators used in demand response programs, NESCAUM has now joined the fray. In a report released yesterday and available on its website, NESCAUM stated that:
Preliminary screening analyses indicate that uncontrolled diesel backup generators operating under the exemption included in EPA’s recent proposal could by themselves create hotspots exceeding the national health-based 1-hour NO2 air standard.
As a result, NESCAUM makes a number of recommendations to improve the information base regarding backup generators and their emissions. NESCAUM also recommends that EPA require use of… 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
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
As I noted in May, EPA’s recent proposed rule regarding backup generators would allow additional operations by such generators when used to assist in demand response. It’s a tricky issue, because diesel generators are not clean, and the aggregated emissions from a number of small, but uncontrolled diesel generators can be significant.
For now, based on the proposal, EPA has come down on the side of encouraging the demand response industry. Nonetheless, at a recent conference, both Gina McCarthy at EPA and Jon Wellinghoff, FERC Chairman, admitted that the issue was difficult. I particularly appreciated Wellinghoff’s remarks:
I’m not a… More
that state permitting authorities have not had sufficient time to develop necessary permitting infrastructure and to increase their GHG permitting expertise and capacity. By the same token, EPA and the state permitting authorities have not had the opportunity to develop and implement streamlining approaches.
In other words, subjecting more facilities to the GHG rule would still pose a risk of tying the system in knots, so EPA’s not going there – at least not yet.
EPA also promulgated… More
What’s the Future for Multi-Day Fines in Environmental Criminal Cases? The Supreme Court Rules That Juries Must Decide the Facts Supporting the Fines
The Supreme Court ruled today, in Southern Union v. United States, that juries must decide facts supporting the imposition of criminal fines. To this non-criminal lawyer (in more ways than one, I hope), the decision did not seem particularly difficult in light of Apprendi v. New Jersey, but that doesn’t mean that the decision won’t be significant in some environmental cases.
Southern Union was a RCRA case involving allegations that Southern Union had stored a hazardous waste without a permit. Specifically, the indictment alleged that Southern Union had done so "[f]rom on or about September 19, 2002 until… 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
Yogi Berra is credited with the phrase “déjà vu all over again.” Today’s environmental law manifestation of Yogi’s phenomenon stems from the current gridlock in Congress. A story last week in the Daily Environment Report noted that, following Congressional failure to enact TSCA reform, 30 states (give or take, apparently) have either passed some kind of chemical management law or issued an executive order addressing the issue of toxics control.
And thus we have a result that pleases no one. Environmentalists are upset because there is still no comprehensive reform – 20 states (give or take!) do not have toxics regulation. Manufacturers… More
One Small Step For Regulatory Coordination: EPA Incorporates the Transport Rule Into the Regional Haze Rule
On May 30, EPA issued a final rule as part of its regional haze program. The most significant aspect of the rule is the determination that the trading programs in EPA’s Trading Rule, now known the by inelegant acronym CSAPR,
achieve greater reasonable progress towards the national goal of achieving natural visibility conditions in Class I areas than source-specific Best Available Retrofit Technology, or BART.
Of course, the provision only applies to electric generating units in states covered by CSAPR and only to emissions of SO2 and/or NOx. Nonetheless, it represents a significant step forward by EPA in its efforts to… More
Late last week, EPA issued a Notice of Data Availability concerning its proposed rule for cooling water intake structures at existing facilities. The NODA stated that, since it had issued the proposed CWIS rule, it had received more than 80 studies providing additional data on CWIS structures at existing facilities. Those studies have led EPA to consider potential revisions to the rule prior to promulgation.
Some of the specific revisions now under consideration include:
The addition of site-specific impingement mortality controls Compliance with impingement mortality limitations based on defined technologies such as closed cycle recirculating systems Streamlined permitting for modified… More
E&E News reported yesterday that the U.S. Conference of Mayors has requested a “moratorium” on Clean Water Act enforcement of stormwater limitations on municipalities. The report makes clear that the Mayors avoided an attack on either the CWA or the current EPA administration. Moreover, they acknowledged that there is still “much to be done to protect our water resources.”
Why the moratorium request, then? Two words – they’re broke. One of the mayors who spoke was Michael Bissonnette of Chicopee, in the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts. According to Mayor Bissonnette, the cost of stormwater compliance in Chicopee will be $200 million – this for… 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
Yesterday, EPA released proposed revisions to its rules governing emissions from emergency back-up generators. It’s not always the most exciting of topics, but it is important. Many facilities have back-up generators and I know from experience advising clients that, precisely because back-up generators do not run that often, operators can run into compliance issues.
The most important aspect of the proposed rule is that EPA would allow back-up generators to run for up to 100 hours without being subject to emissions limits for the following reasons:
Monitoring and testing Demand response Voltage changes of at least 5%
Moreover, EPA is proposing… 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
Twice yearly reporting by agencies to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs concerning the status of reform efforts, Increased public participation in regulatory reform, and An obligation to prioritize agency reform efforts to “produce significant quantifiable monetary savings or significant quantifiable reductions in paperwork burdens while protecting public health”
Here’s a Suprise — A Cap-and-Trade System For Nutrients Would Substantially Decrease the Cost of Nutrient Reductions in Chesapeake Bay
Yesterday, the Chesapeake Bay Commission released a study showing that implementation of a nutrient trading system would dramatically reduce the cost to achieve nutrient reductions in Chesapeake Bay. Pardon me if I seem to be posting a lot of dog bites man stories recently.
Although it should not come as a surprise that a trading system would permit nutrient reductions to be attained most cost-effectively, the scope of the benefit is worth noting. If trading were allowed basin-wide, and among both point and agricultural non-point sources, costs are projected to… More
On Friday, E&E News reported that EPA had – for the fifth time – missed its deadline for proposing regulations governing stormwater discharge from post-construction activities. Apparently, EPA and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which was the plaintiff in the original litigation, are negotiating a new deadline. Good luck with that.
EPA is not in a good place at the moment. There is significant congressional opposition to any rule, with comments questioning not just the wisdom of a rule, but EPA’s authority to issue a post-construction rule at this point. Addressing stormwater will undoubtedly be extremely expensive. The same E&E story noted that… More
Yesterday, Greenwire reported about speculation regarding what impact EPA’s proposed New Source Performance Standards for greenhouses gases would have on potential regulation of existing sources. As Greenwire noted, while EPA sought to downplay the impact of the NSPS on regulation of existing sources, both environmentalists and industry representatives think that regulation of existing sources is pretty much inevitable.
My favorite bit from the story is that OMB apparently deleted the following language from EPA’s proposal:
At a future date, EPA intends to promulgate emission guidelines for states to develop plans reducing CO2 emissions from existing fossil-fuel-fired” power plants.
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
The decision last week by Judge Amy Berman Jackson – an Obama appointee – to reject EPA’s authority to withdraw its “specification” which authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to issue a § 404 permit to the Mingo Logan Spruce No. 1 mine would be important in its own right. In combination with the recent Supreme Court decision in Sackett, and given the language used in both cases, the combination rebuke to EPA is worth attention.
The permitting history of the Spruce No. 1 mine was lengthy… More
In its unanimous decision yesterday in Sackett v. EPA, the Supreme Court’s communicates more than a little exasperation with its co-equal branches of government. Justice Alito’s concurrence is an outright broadside attacking Congress for failing over decades to clarify the scope of the Clean Water Act which enabled the Executive Branch in the form of an arrogant EPA to employ what Justice Scalia in the majority opinion describes as the “strong-arming of regulated parties”.
The language used in Sackett is both sarcastic and highly personalized. In a sentence dripping with sarcasm, Justice Scalia notes that EPA’s order concluding… 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
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
On Friday, EPA released “Step 3” of the GHG Tailoring Rule. The big news is no news at all. EPA left the GHG permitting thresholds unchanged, at 100,000 tons per year of carbon dioxide equivalent for new facilities and increases of 75,000 tpy of CO2e for existing facilities. In a phrase repeated in EPA’s fact sheet, keeping the thresholds unchanged is part of EPA’s “common sense … approach” to GHG permitting.
The proposal does include two options to allow GHG sources to streamline permitting, both of which may be of real value to some sources:
Provisions to “improve the usefulness of… More
According to a report in yesterday’s Greenwire, President Obama’s proposed budget would reduce Superfund spending by 6%, from $565 million to $532 million. I still don’t understand why Obama, particularly with Cass Sunstein still at OMB, hasn’t turned this problem into an opportunity. I know I’ve flogged this one before, but a significant part of the explanation for the size of the Superfund budget is related to CERCLA’s status as the last bastion of command and control regulation. Everyone who practices in this area could provide endless examples of the almost unbelievable extent of micromanaging indulged in by EPA and its… More
On Friday, EPA finally issued its long-awaited revised risk assessment for tetrachloroethylene, also known as perc or PCE. EPA also issued a fact sheet summarizing its current views about PCE and how the new risk assessment fits into the Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and CERCLA regulatory regimes.
Because PCE is present at so many Superfund Sites, and given the number of dry cleaners – including many in residential areas – still using PCE, EPA seemed to go out of its way to minimize the significance of the new risk assessment. Among the points it made:
Having ones… More
When I last posted on the potential impact of the Utility MACT rule on electric system reliability, I swore I was done with the subject. I knew then it was probably a mistake. Yesterday, FERC announced that it has issued a White Paper on how it will respond to requests by generators to EPA for an extension of time to comply under the Utility MACT rule. Since FERC has invited comments on the White Paper, it seemed worthy of note.
As those who have followed the progress of the MACT rule know, EPA has allowed a basic compliance period of… 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
According to E&E News, Lisa Jackson said Friday that public pressure, not EPA regulation, will clean up fracking.
Fracking fluids will get greener, water use will get down, all because the industry, quite frankly, will do it, must do it, and will feel the public pressure — not the EPA pressure — to do this in a responsible way.
Does she really mean it? Notwithstanding current pronouncements by the GOP Presidential candidates, neoclassical economics has a clear role for government regulation. If economic activity – such as fracking – imposes costs on society that are… 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
Just in case you are not sated with coverage about the Supreme Court argument in Sackett and the potential implications if EPA loses, I thought I would note that I did a brief (8 minutes) interview with LexBlog Network about the issues it presents. You can see it here.
Is the Bell About to Toll on EPA’s Enforcement Order Authority? The Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument in Sackett
I am generally loath to speculate about what the Supreme Court will do based on oral argument, but the overwhelming reaction to the oral argument in Sackett v. EPA was that EPA is going to lose. What would a loss mean? In simplest terms, EPA would no longer be able to issue enforcement orders under the Clean Water Act without those orders being subject to judicial review. Such a decision would undeniably be significant. Everyone practicing in this area knows how coercive EPA enforcement orders can be. A person who thinks that he is not liable or that the order is inappropriate, and… More
The decision yesterday in United States v. Minnkota Power Cooperative serves as a useful reminder regarding how important the burden of proof is in review of agency decisions. The case started in 2006, as part of DOJ’s NSR enforcement initiative, when the United States and North Dakota brought suit against Minnkota’s Milton R. Young Station. The parties settled and a consent decree was entered. Apparently, the parties knew at the time of the settlement that there would be a dispute regarding what would constitute BACT for NOx control and they thus agreed to defer… More
On Wednesday, EPA promulgated the final Utility MACT rule. I doubt that anyone reading this blog isn’t already aware of the big news.
As seems frequently to be the case with EPA rules, this one, weighing in at 2.4MB and 1,117 pages, cannot easily be summarized here. In fact, the rule is so complicated – and controversial – that EPA had to generate four separate fact sheets to summarize the rule and its impacts: (1) Costs and Benefits (or, as EPA carefully puts it, “Benefits and Costs”); (2) Summary of the Rule; (3) Clean Air and Reliable Electricity (I… 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
EPA Further Delays Issuance of Post-Construction Stormwater Regulation Proposal; Contractors and Developers Are Distraught (Not!)
Those following stormwater issues know that EPA is overdue to promulgate a proposed rule for stormwater controls at post-construction sites. The rule has been extremely controversial, with groups such as the Associated General Contractors arguing that EPA has no authority to promulgate post-construction rules. EPA was originally scheduled to issue the proposed rule by September 30. When EPA couldn’t meet that deadline, it negotiated an extension until December 2 (while stating that the deadline for the final rule, November 19, 2012, would still be met). Well, it’s December 15, and no proposal has been issued.
Market-watchers thinking that having friends in Congress means that coal can flourish despite EPA regulation on many fronts may have a different view to ponder. Goldman Sachs predicted last week that generators will continue to switch from coal to natural gas and downgraded the prospects of the coal industry from “attractive” to “neutral.” Specifically, Goldman predicted that 51 GW of coal electric generating capacity are on their way out and that EPA Cross State Air Pollution Rule, or CSAPR, and utility MACT rule would together eliminate 160 million tons of coal production through 2018. Political winds may shift direction periodically, but cold-blooded… 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
On Friday, EPA proposed certain revisions to its rule on air emissions from boilers and commercial and industrial solid waste incinerators (CISWI). As with other major rules under development in the past few years, EPA has taken fairly substantial steps to limit the reach of the rule to those boilers and CISWI that are of greatest concern. Without engaging in formal cost-effectiveness analysis, EPA has sought to make the rule as cost-effective as possible.
Yesterday, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, or NERC, released its 2011 Long-Term Reliability Assessment. The NERC report identified environmental regulations as one “of the greatest risks” to reliability. Much of the focus of the concern was on EPA’s MACT rule for hazardous air pollutants and its 316(b) rule for cooling water intake structures. While expressing uncertainty about these not-yet finalized rules, the NERC report took an extremely cautious approach, largely assuming the worst in terms of the stringency and inflexibility of these rules.
Appropriate caution? Not according to EPA.
There has already been significant attention devoted to whether EPA’s “train wreck” of rules affecting coal-fired power plants would affect electric system reliability. The Congressional Research Service analysis looked at the coming rules more broadly, but did touch on reliability, noting that most of the coal plants likely to be retired as a result of EPA regulations are small and inefficient, and already run infrequently. As we noted last June, the Bipartisan Research Center did focus on reliability, concluding “that scenarios in which electric system reliability is broadly affected are unlikely to occur.”
However, this work has not been… More
In response to yesterday’s post, I received an email from someone at GreenWire notifying me that Lisa Jackson had not called her opponents “jack-booted thugs.” Instead, she was actually complaining that her opponents were describing EPA employees as jack-booted thugs. Definitely a different level of rhetoric, though it was certainly a much more interesting story in its original version. Oh, well.
Two seemingly unrelated stories from last week suggest that EPA may have its limits in how far it is going to go to make nice with those who are opposing its regulatory agenda. The first story, reported by Greenwire, is pretty much all in the headline: “EPA official accuses Kan. department of lying over proposed plant.” The second story, also from GreenWire, reported that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson referred to opponents of EPA’s greenhouse gas tailoring rule as “jack-booted thugs.” She has also described Republican efforts to limit EPA regulatory authority as a “too dirty to fail” policy.
It’s difficult… More
E&E Daily reported this week that Congressional Democrats are opposing the Regulatory Accountability Act of 2011. H.R. 3010 would codify a requirement for cost-benefit analysis of major regulations in the Administrative Procedures Act. According to the report, John Conyers, ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee stated that the RAA
would amend the Administrative Procedure Act in ways that would effectively halt agency rulemaking and undermine public health and safety rules.
The guts of the RAA would be to:
Require cost-benefit analysis for all rules expected to cost… 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
As Greenwire reported, the Inspector General of the EPA recently released a report criticizing how the agency followed (and deviated from) procedures in publishing the Technical Support Document that underpinned its December 2009 Endangerment Finding. The IG was instructed to conduct this review at the order of Senator Inhofe (R-OK), the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. The review, which cost nearly $300,000, examined only whether EPA followed its own procedures and those of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and did not analyze the validity of the scientific or technical information used… More
Last year, I compared EPA’s Interim Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice During the Development of an Action to Rube Goldberg – and that was only EJ Guidance on Rulemaking. Now EPA has issued its comprehensive Plan EJ 2014. I still find the resources devoted to this subject by EPA and the convolutions it is going through to analyze the issue to be stunning.
I also still think that my simple analysis from last year is not too simplistic. Here’s the way EPA’s job is supposed to work:
Congress passes environmental protection laws for EPA to implement. Those statutes generally provide for… 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
Yesterday, in commenting on the court battle over EPA’s reconsideration of the ozone NAAQS, I said that I would be surprised if EPA doesn’t issue the new standard within six months. Oops. My bad. Today, President Obama directed EPA to give up on the reconsideration effort. It’s difficult not to be cynical about the White House decision. As much as I admire Cass Sunstein, his letter to EPA providing the basis for the White House decision is not persuasive. Basically, it makes two points.
First, EPA has to review the NAAQS every five years. Since this cycle began in 2008, EPA would have to… 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
The Pudding Tastes OK, But It’s Not the Treat It Could Be: EPA Issues Its Final Regulatory Review Plan
When EPA issued its preliminary plan in May for review of its regulations, I said that the proof would be in the pudding. Well, EPA has now issued its final plan. My review? The pudding tastes ok, but it doesn’t taste as good and it’s not as filling as it could be.
My major complaint with the preliminary plan was its failure to target the single biggest area for reform – those areas where EPA still relies on command and control regulation. Obviously, statutes dictate EPA’s approach in many cases, but not all. There is much more friendly generic language on this… 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
As the deadline passed last week for submitting comments on EPA’s Utility MACT rule, it’s worth taking a big picture look at how the commenters line up. Big utility groups, such as the Edison Electric Institute and the American Public Power Association are looking for EPA to delay the rules. The basic argument is that it is going to take a long time to comply. EEI states that so many facilities will require extensions that the number of requests will create a backlog that will itself essentially create compliance problems.
However, it is not just environmental and public health… More
The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule yesterday that would exempt carbon dioxide injected into underground carbon capture & storage (CCS) wells from regulation as hazardous waste, so long as the CO2 is held in wells designated for that purpose under the Safe Drinking Water Act. In its press release announcing the program, EPA noted that the purpose of the regulation — as well as its prior rulemakings under the Clean Air Act to require emissions reporting by CCS facilities, and the Safe Drinking Water Act to require appropriate siting, construction and monitoring of CCS wells — was… More
Among Cap and Trade, RES, and CES, Which Would Work Best? The One That’s Not Currently Under Consideration
After the death of Waxman-Markey, and given the current political climate, cap and trade is the Legislation Which Shall Not Be Named. Instead, there is discussion of either a renewable electricity standard (RES) or clean electricity standard (CES), and the talking points for supporters concern energy security and the growth of a clean energy economy, not climate change (also known as the Reality Which Shall Not Be Named).
Either an RES or an CES would spur use of alternatives to fossil fuels in electricity generation and would… More
The fight about guidance and rules is in the news again. Yesterday, EPA finalized its guidance on Clean Water Act permitting with respect to mountaintop mining. As most of our readers know, EPA issued Interim Guidance in April 2010. In January 2011, in National Mining Association v. Jackson, Judge Reggie Walton, while denying plaintiff’s preliminary injunction, signaled that he thought that EPA’s Interim Guidance probably was a legislative rule that should have gone through notice and comment rule-making.
Judge Walton’s decision did not deter EPA, which finalized… 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, EPA finalized the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, or CSAPR, which was the Transport Rule, which had been the Clean Air Interstate Rule. (EPA must have decided that CSAPR results in a more mellifluous acronym.)
The rule is almost too big to describe, except in its broadest terms. EPA has provided a summary of costs and benefits, but even EPA’s summary does not really explain how the rule will be implemented.
The rough numbers at least give some idea of the scope of the rule and the problem it is addressing. EPA estimates that the rule will reduce SO2 emissions by… More
Perhaps the Justices Just Don’t Like GE: The Supreme Court Grants Certiorari to Review EPA’s Clean Water Act Order Authority
As I noted earlier this month, the Supreme Court denied GE’s certiorari petition seeking to challenge the constitutionality of EPA’s use of unilateral administrative orders issued under section 106 of CERCLA. It thus comes as something of a surprise that the Court today accepted a certiorari petition in Sackett v. EPA. The Sackets are appealing a decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals holding that pre-enforcement review is not available to challenge unilateral administrative orders issued by EPA pursuant to section 319 of the Clean Water Act. Lest anyone think that this is simply the Court reining… 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
After a relatively quiet period, there were a number of items of interest on the air/climate front this week. First, AEP announced that upcoming pollution controls would result in shutting down 6,000 megawatts of coal-fired capacity, or 25% of its coal fleet. AEP also announced that it would spend $6 billion to $8 billion in bringing the rest of its fleet into compliance.
On the flip side of this issue, the Bipartisan Policy Center issued a report concluding that compliance with the various EPA rules in the works (Clean Air Transport Rule, Utility MACT Rule, coal combustion ash rule, Clean… More
Only this week did I catch up to a letter to HHS Secretary Sebelius by more than 60 members of Congress asking that HHS perform further review of the National Toxicology Program’s 12th Report on Carcinogens before it is formally released. The specific concern is the conclusion in the draft RoC that styrene is “reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen.” I readily confess that I don’t know enough about styrene to have a view whether the draft’s conclusion is appropriate.
According to the Congressional letter, styrene has many important uses, including a number… More
As much as I’ve always found EPA’s use of unilateral administrative orders under Section 106 of CERCLA to be offensive, I still expected EPA’s authority to withstand challenge. As I noted previously, not every law that is unfair is unconstitutional. At least for now, the issue has probably been laid to rest. Yesterday, the Supreme Court denied GE’s petition for certiorari seeking to appeal the D.C. Circuit’s rejection of its claim that EPA’s exercise of its unilateral order authority is unconstitutional.
CERCLA has been constitutional for almost as long as Francisco Franco has been dead – and they’re… More
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
The Proof Will Be in the Pudding: EPA Releases Its Preliminary Plan For Review of Existing Regulations
When President Obama issued Executive Order 13,563, on Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review, it was not obvious whether the Order was simply an attempt to protect the President’s right flank or whether the agencies would respond substantively. Yesterday, EPA released its Preliminary Plan for Periodic Retrospective Reviews of Existing Regulations. Initial review of the Plan suggests that EPA has taken the task seriously and has made some constructive suggestions. To me, however, they missed the elephant in the room and therefore cannot be given better than a B grade at this point.
There is a lot of good… More
Late last week, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) filed with the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy of the state legislature proposed final amendments to the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) regulations governing the eligibility of woody biomass facilities and fuels to qualify to earn renewable energy credits (RECs). DOER originally issued a draft of these regulations in September 2010, and made revisions after receiving written comments and holding 2 public hearings. In addition to the revised regulations, DOER issued a regulatory package containing two sets of guidance in the forms of Excel spreadsheets, the
E&E Daily reported today that Senate Republicans are preparing legislation to combine EPA and the Department of Energy. The list of Senators identified as supporting the proposal is a virtual who’s who of conservatives, including Jim DeMint, a favorite of the Tea Party. Accordingly to Richard Burr (R. N.C.), the measure would reduce waste by eliminating duplicative programs in EPA and DOE.
Why is this even a story? Perhaps because Democratic Governor Deval Patrick did the same thing in Massachusetts in 2007, forming what has been considered a very successful Executive Office of Energy and Environment. Perhaps because newly elected Democratic Governor Dannell… More
Vapor Intrusion and the National Priorities List: Why Should the Biggest Superfund Problem Not Be Regulated Under Superfund?
As I have previously mentioned, EPA is considering including criteria related to vapor intrusion (VI) in the hazard ranking system scoring used to determine which sites should be added to the National Priorities List. As I noted when this first became news, it’s pretty much an obvious step for EPA to take. These are precisely the types of sites on which EPA should be focusing. At a certain level, I’d be happy – relatively – if EPA limited CERCLA to sites imposing threats to public water supplies and sites posing VI problems, and jettisoned everything else.
The National Association of… More
For those of you who thought that the sky was about to fall in EPA as part of the budget battle, I’m able to report that EPA survived sufficiently intact to continue to issue new rules. Today, EPA proposed a draft revised construction general permit, or CGP, for stormwater discharges from construction sites disturbing at least one acre (or less, if the project is part of a common development plan that is greater than one acre). The revised CGP would replace the current CGP which is set to expire on June 30. EPA has proposed to extend the current CGP through January… More
Thursday afternoon, EPA and the Tennessee Valley Authority announced one of the largest pollution reduction consent decrees in US history – resulting in between $3 to $5 billion of investment in air pollution controls, and retirement of almost one-third of TVA’s coal-fired generating units within the next few years. Over the next decade, it will reduce TVA’s total emissions of nitrogen oxides by 69% and sulfur dioxide by 67%. Although the agreement provides a timely victory for EPA amid the current backlash against it in Congress, the settlement actually relates to a New Source Review (NSR) suit commenced by… More
I’m beginning to feel like a broken record, but the drumbeat of the anti-guidance crowd is not letting up. Earlier this week, the Waters Advocacy Coalition, which is a group of farm and industry trade groups, sent a letter to EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, requesting that EPA and the Corps withdraw their plan to issue further guidance on the interpretation of “navigable waters” post-Rapanos. It’s not surprising that this group would oppose the guidance. What is most interesting – and persuasive – about the letter, though, is this quote from the draft guidance itself:
the agencies expect that… 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
The issue of guidance v. regulation has been in the news a lot recently. Recently, the anti-guidance side got what some might consider unwelcome assistance from John Graham, who reviewed regulations in the Bush White House. Graham was quoted as saying that:
The whole idea of guidance not being a rule — there has to be an arrow shot right through the heart of that. [Congress should pass legislation] to make sure that things that look like a duck and quack like a duck are a duck.
Of course, I agree with John Graham about guidance. The only problem is that most… 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
Vapor intrusion is the issue de jour at federal and state Superfund sites. On the federal side, EPA announced in January that it was considering adding vapor intrusion criteria to its calculation of hazard ranking scores. Frankly, as a concept, it’s hard to dispute. In fact, aside from when actual public water supplies are contaminated, indoor air is probably about the only risk associated with Superfund sites that we should care about. Every analysis EPA has ever done has shown that risks associated with Superfund sites are otherwise overestimated and it is not a cost-effective place to be putting environmental protection dollars. The question… More
In what comes as a major shock (I almost titled this post “Dog Bites Man”), EPA’s Office of the Inspector General has issued a report concluding that EPA needs better control over its staff resources. The summary conclusion pretty much tells it all: (my emphasis)
EPA does not enforce a coherent program of position management to assure the efficient and effective use of its workforce. While some organizational elements have independently established programs to control their resources, there is no Agency-wide effort to ensure that personnel are put to the best use. Prior to April 2010, EPA had the Position… More
As almost everyone knows by now, EPA finally issued its long-awaited final rule on Boilers, Commercial and Industrial Solid Waste Incinerators (CISWI), and Sewage Sludge Incinerators (SSI) yesterday. The rule is too complicated even to summarize here. EPA has a useful fact sheet for that purpose.
I’d like to focus on a few broader issues. The rule has widely been seen as the Obama administration’s first formal acknowledgment of the anti-regulation political climate currently sweeping Washington. Indeed, the Times began its story as follows:
Responding to a changed political climate and a court-ordered deadline, the Obama administration issued significantly revised new… More
Last week, I discussed EPA’s efforts to “muddle through” on climate change in the absence of comprehensive legislation. This week, I think it’s the Clean Water Act’s turn. If there were any regulatory situation which required some serious muddling through at the moment, interpretation of the Supreme Court’s Rapanos decision almost is a match for the current climate mess. As most of my readers know, Rapanos was a 4-1-4 decision which left EPA, the Corps, developers and environmentalists fairly equally perplexed
Most stakeholders have assumed that Kennedy’s concurring opinion, requiring a “significant nexus” between wetlands and traditional navigable waters before those… 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
Back in my public policy days, there was much discussion of “muddling through.” When I look at recent developments on the climate and air regulation front, I just see a muddle. First, we have Gina McCarthy, saying that EPA wants to walk before it runs, and assuring utility executives that New Source Performance Standards for GHG emissions will not have a “dramatic effect.” McCarthy further said that EPA will take a “common sense approach,” comparing it to EPA’s approach to the GHG BACT guidance, which she described as “not overly ambitious.”
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
Last month, I noted that, in the absence of comprehensive climate legislation, U.S. carbon policy would be a mish-mash of several elements – including more NSR enforcement. In fact, Phillip Brooks, director of EPA’s Air Enforcement Division, had just told an ALI/ABA forum that EPA’s NSR enforcement initiative is alive and well and he predicted more closures of old coal plants as a result of EPA’s NSR enforcement. Earlier this month, proving that Brooks meant what he said, the United States sued Ameren Corporation, alleging NSR violations at Ameren’s Rush Island facility in Festus, Missouri.
In Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman is sentenced to two years on a chain gang for cutting the heads off of municipal parking meters. The Mingo Logan Coal Company wants to cut the top off of 3.5 square miles of West Virginia mountaintop. This week, EPA gave the company’s Spruce No. 1 Mine proposal the death penalty, using its authority under § 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to veto a permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2007. As EPA noted in its press release, this is only the… More
Justice Brandeis famously suggested that states may “serve as a laboratory” for the rest of the country. If this is so, I think it is fair to say that U.S. EPA has not accepted the results of the biomass experiment conducted in Massachusetts. Last year, following receipt of a study regarding the GHG emission implications of various types of biomass fuels, Massachusetts decided to severely restrict the circumstances in which biomass would be considered a renewable fuel.
With everyone in agreement that cap-and-trade legislation is dead in Congress for the near term, attention is now turning to whether Congress might be able to pass some kind of renewable or clean energy standard. In fact, even Thomas Donahue, President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, sworn foe of cap-and-trade legislation, is saying that the Chamber could support some kind of climate change legislation – presumably a CES including nuclear power – as long as the legislation precludes EPA regulation of GHG under existing authority.
For those who are taking the half a loaf approach to climate legislation, I… More
Earlier this week, the United States brought another NSR/PSD enforcement action, this time concerning the Homer City Plant, in Pennsylvania. The suit itself isn’t big news, though it’s helpful to have periodical reminders that the NSR enforcement initiative remains active at EPA and DOJ; it is a significant part of the government’s arsenal against traditional pollutants.
It’s also important to remember that, in the absence of comprehensive climate legislation, the NSR enforcement initiative has become part of the government’s climate strategy. The plant spokesman stated that the plant is… More
It may be an apocryphal story, but my understanding as to why so many small municipal landfills in New Hampshire ended up on the NPL is that some bright light in the Granite State thought that Superfund was a public works program and that the fund would pay for the landfill closures. The result? Small towns became PRPs, responsible for Superfund response costs which, in some cases, approximated their annual municipal budget.
I recall going to a public meeting concerning EPA’s preferred alternative at one site. At most sites, the public pleads for EPA to require more cleanup – because someone else… 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.
It says something about where our politics are today when Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has to ask that question. Of course, there’s reason to wonder what the answer is. It was certainly not intentional irony when, shortly after this story appeared about Senator Graham, Senator Rockefeller announced that he has given up on legislation that would delay implementation of EPA GHG rules because the bill has lost Republican support. The reason? It’s not that the Republicans are opposed to the delay; it’s just that it’s more important to the Republicans that they be able to make… More
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.
Bill Hogan at the Kennedy School (shameless plug for alma mater) kindly asked me to speak at a meeting this week of the Harvard Electricity Policy Group. I’ve titled my talk “Carbon Policy When There Is No Carbon Policy.” Several items that came across the wires in the past few days buttress the theory behind my presentation, which is that our current carbon policy really is “A little bit of this, a little bit of that.”
First, Phillip Brooks, director of EPA’s Air Enforcement Division, told an ALI/ABA forum that… More
Bismarck is supposed to have said that: "Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.” EPA apparently disagrees, and has launched a new web site, known as Reg Stat, in order “to increase the transparency of regulatory activity.”
It’s a potentially helpful website. It has some useful data on the types of regulations EPA is pursuing (mostly air during the past five years; what a shock!) and how long it takes to promulgate them (too long; the average regulation takes almost three years to get out the door). I think that the “Regulatory Gateway,” containing information… More
When EPA creates a web page solely addressing one stormwater settlement, you can safely assume that EPA thinks it is important and is trying to send a message. Thus, EPA’s announcement earlier this week of a settlement with Beazer Homes to resolve allegations that Beazer Homes violated federal stormwater requirements at construction sites in 21 – count ‘em, 21 – states should make everyone in the construction industry sit up and take notice.
The settlement requires Beazer Homes to pay a penalty of $925,000 (mostly to EPA, but some to each of the states). EPA estimated a price tag for… More
One thing supporters of coal will be thankful for tomorrow is this week’s announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that it has finalized two rules governing the underground sequestration of carbon dioxide. Both rules are designed to support and facilitate the commercial development of safe, large-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, perceived by many to be the best hope for the future use of coal.
As the holiday approaches, I am particularly thankful that I am not counsel to the Washington State DOT in United States v. Washington State DOT, a case that continues to make me want to take EPA, DOJ, and United States District Judge Robert Bryan by the neck and ask them what the heck are they thinking.
In July, I posted about Judge Bryan’s decision holding that the Washington DOT “arranged” for the disposal of hazardous substances by designing and operating a highway drainage system that deposited highway runoff containing hazardous substances into… More
No Irony Intended, I’m Sure: EPA Must Focus Systematically on Environmental Justice in Order to Encourage Economic Development
Daily Environmental Report noted earlier this week that Bob Perciasepe, EPA Depute Administrator, has told the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council that environmental justice is the “largest remaining challenge” that EPA must address systematically. This is not particularly surprising, since Lisa Jackson has made EJ a priority.
However, I was left nearly speechless by the statement in Daily Environment Report that Perciasepe indicated that
Polluted communities are also not likely to be targeted for business investment, meaning those communities have limited economic opportunities in addition to disproportionate pollution burdens.”
Once again, I’m left wondering what planet EPA is from. Those… More
EPA has finally released it long-awaited PSD and Title V Permitting Guidance for Greenhouse Gases, also known as the GHG BACT Guidance. E&E News quoted Gina McCarthy as saying that GHG permitting would be “business as usual” and that the transition to issuing PSD permits for GHGs would be relatively smooth.
It’s certainly true that the GHG BACT Guidance says nothing particularly new about how permitting agencies should perform BACT reviews. Giving credit where credit is due, I’ll complement EPA for using plain English and describing the basic BACT process about as cogently and concisely as I’ve… 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
I’ve always thought that implementation of EPA’s GHG rules for stationary sources was inevitable in the absence of climate change legislation. The Supreme Court told EPA that GHGs are a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. Given the decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, EPA’s subsequent regulatory moves have been pretty much unavoidable.
Since the statute seems to mandate GHG regulation, only Congressional action could block the rules. While a House majority seemed plausible, even before the election, getting 60 votes in the Senate always seemed a much stiffer proposition. Moreover, one could always expect an Obama veto, if legislation precluding EPA’s rules somehow… 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
Is mercury a local problem or not? For years, power plant operators have claimed that mercury deposition is really a global problem. Environmentalists have pointed to studies arguing that hot spots affected by local emissions do exist. This week, according to the Cape Cod Times, John Colman, a USGS researcher – hardly likely to be a shill for the power industry – is going to report results of a study showing that mercury accumulation in both soil samples and fish tissue are comparable in Cape Cod and the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. Given prevailing wind directions, it’s hard to find… More
As Superfund practitioners know, federal NPL sites are generally settled on the basis that the PRPs will first attain interim cleanup levels, though final cleanup levels are not determined until EPA is actually ready to issue its certification of completion of the remedy. Moreover, EPA insists that, should any ARARs change during the course of the cleanup, whatever standards are in effect at the time of site closure will be applied.
We saw the impact of this on the ground in 2001, when EPA revised the Safe Drinking Water Act maximum contaminant level, or MCL, for arsenic from 50 ppb… More
For Coal, It’s Not All About Climate Change: Credit Suisse Predicts New Air Rules to Close 60 Gigawatts of Coal Capacity
Last March, I noted that Gina McCarthy’s belief that, in the near term, the biggest impact on GHG emissions would come from EPA’s traditional regulatory programs, rather than through GHG regulation. A report recently released by Credit Suisse indicates that she might be right. Looking at EPA’s upcoming promulgation of the Clean Air Transport Rule and the mercury MACT rule, Credit Suisse predicts that between 50 and 69 gigawatts of old coal plants will be retired between 2013 and 2017 as a result of implementation of the two rules. Credit Suisse also predicts that approximately 100 gigawatts of capacity… More
As EPA begins to regulate nanomaterials more aggressively, but as concerns remain regarding EPA regulatory efforts, private efforts to regulate nanomaterials continue. ASTM recently announced that it is forming a new subcommittee on Nano-Enabled Consumer Products. The focus of the subcommittee will be on uses of nanomaterials containing silver. In particular, ASTM noted that it would be considering the following possibilities:
Standards for measurement of silver in textiles and liquids (including atomic spectroscopy to assess mass)
Standards for evaluating the form of silver in textiles and liquids… More
In a crisply written opinion by Judge Posner, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals just reversed a district court judgment against Cinergy in the NSR case involving Cinergy’s power plant in Wabash, Indiana, and directed that judgment enter for Cinergy. It is not obvious that the case will have wide applicability, but it is certainly worth noting.
The first key issue in Cinergy was whether proposed new projects would be subject to NSR review if they were expected to result in an increase in annual emissions or only if they would result… More
Earlier this week, I posted about the dire prospects for climate change legislation following the fall elections. The alternative to legislation has always been regulation under existing Clean Air Act authority, so it’s appropriate as a follow-up to briefly examine the pressures on EPA as it moves forward with its stationary source GHG regulations. Two headlines from the trade press today brought home just what a tightrope EPA is walking.
The first headline, from the Daily Environment Report, was to the effect that a “Ban on New Source Construction [Is] Possible In States Without Greenhouse Gas Permitting.” Specifically, Raj Rao, of… More
If environmental lawyers have been wondering when they’re going to get their share of economic stimulus, it’s time to stop wondering. Last week, Cynthia Giles, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, announced that her office would be focusing on higher impact cases. Giles also noted that, by the end of this month, EPA would have more than 200 criminal investigators.
If it weren’t for one statement by Giles, I don’t think that this would be news. Enforcement numbers always fluctuate. Environmental and watchdog groups always criticize EPA and state agencies when the numbers go… More
My partner Robby Sanoff blogged last week about the “Illusion of Finality in CERCLA.” His post addressed City of Emeryville v. Sherwin-Williams, in which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a person who was not a party to a prior settlement could bring a contribution claim against such a settling party, at least where the new claim involved contamination at a downgradient property, rather than the property that was the subject of the first settlement.
City of Emeryville seems to have been rightly decided. The only real lesson it teaches is that a PRP who wants to settle… More
A recent amendment to the EPA’s Mandatory Reporting of Greenhouse Gases Rule (40 CFR part 98) requires companies that report their emissions to also provide information on corporate ownership, North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes, and whether any of the emissions come from a cogeneration unit. The goal behind collecting this information is to gain a better understanding of the aggregate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from corporations and specific industry sectors, and identify potential differences in emissions between otherwise similar facilities due to cogeneration. Such information can be used to guide future GHG regulations and mitigation strategies…. More
Regulation of Nanomaterials Is For Real: EPA Publishes Significant New Use Regulations for Carbon Nanotubes
Technology geeks such as myself love nanotechnology. I think it’s the future of everything – including the solution to environmental problems ranging from climate change to Superfund cleanups. However, there are concerns about the toxicity of nanomaterials.
Last Friday, EPA took a significant step in the regulation of nanomaterials by publishing significant new use rules – SNURs – for both single- and multi-walled carbon nanotubes. Any person manufacturing, importing, processing, or using SWCNT or MWCNT (and you’ve got to love nanotechnology, if only for the proliferation of new acronyms), will be… 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
In February, President Obama tasked the Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage with the ambitious goal of overcoming the barriers to widespread, cost-effective deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) within the next 10 years. As the first bold step, the 14-agency and executive department group released its findings in a report on August 12.
The report concludes that widespread cost-effective deployment of CCS will only occur if the technology is commercially available (i.e. scale-able and cost-effective) and a supportive national policy framework is in place to both fund and regulate it. The task force believes… More
EPA shows no signs of slowing down in its efforts to use the Clean Air Act’s PSD/NSR provisions as an enforcement club. The latest target in EPA’s crosshairs is the Detroit Edison Monroe Power Plant. Late last month, DOJ filed a complaint alleging violations of PSD/NSR requirements in connection with a project to replace the high temperature reheater and the economizer at Monroe Unit 2. Aside from the broad sign that EPA remains committed to these cases, the most recent action is notable for at least two reasons:
The suit names both… More
Late July saw some movement on the cooling water intake structure (CWIS) front.
On Friday, July 23, in ConocoPhillips, et al. v. EPA, the Fifth Circuit granted EPA’s motion for a voluntary remand of the existing-facilities portion of its Phase III regulation. The Phase III rule, promulgated in 2006, addressed CWIS at existing small power plants and other facilities in certain industries, including the pulp and paper, chemical, primary metals and petroleum and coal products industries, as well as new oil and gas extraction facilities. The Phase III rule did not set a “best technology available” (BTA) standard… More
The good news is that EPA is relying on good science. The bad news is that the science says things will keep getting worse.
After several months of review, on July 29, EPA denied 10 petitions to reconsider its 2009 Endangerment Finding for Greenhouse Gases under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act. The petitions, which were filed by, among others, the attorneys general of Texas and Virginia and the US Chamber of Commerce, pointed to errors in the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the University of East Anglia “Climategate” email scandal as examples of how the… More
Rube Goldberg Had Nothing on EPA: The Agency Releases Its Interim Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice During the Development of an Action
EPA has just released its Interim Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice During the Development of an Action. I can’t say I’m excited. The broad issue is probably too complex for a blog post, but the simple version is as follows:
Congress passes environmental protection laws for EPA to implement. Those statutes generally provide for EPA to set standards with something like “an adequate margin of safety.” EPA does its job.
Contrast the simplified model process shown above with this diagram from the Interim Guidance.
Climate change legislation is dead for now. I won’t pretend it’s not depressing, even though I avoid the political channels and ignore the rhetoric. For those of us who haven’t refudiated climate change science, it’s a victory for the pessimists and evidence that Congress has a hard time addressing long-range problems, even if consequential.
With respect to regulation of GHG, it’s the worst of both worlds and no one should be happy (which is why I held out hope until the end that cooler heads would prevail). We’re still going to have regulation of GHG, the mechanism being EPA’s recently promulgated
Last week, in City of Pittsfield v. EPA, the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed denial of a petition by the City of Pittsfield seeking review of an NPDES permit issued by EPA. The case makes no new law and, by itself, is not particularly remarkable. Cases on NPDES permit appeals have held for some time that a permittee appealing an NPDES permit must set forth in detail in its petition basically every conceivable claim or argument that they might want to assert. Pretty much no detail is too small. The City of Pittsfield failed to do this, instead relying on their… More
On July 6, 2010, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) released a proposed rule, dubbed the “Transport Rule”, which would replace the Clean Air Interstate Rule (“CAIR”). As you likely recall, in 2008 the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, in North Carolina v. EPA, found that CAIR had a number of fatal flaws and remanded it to the Agency. (Due to its environmental benefits, the Court agreed to leave CAIR in effect while EPA worked on addressing its concerns).
EPA has clearly attempted to address the problems identified in North Carolina v. EPA. Most significantly, while the Transport Rule… More
Sometimes, the practice of environmental law just takes my breath away. A decision issued earlier last month in United States v. Washington DOT was about as stunning as it gets. Ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment, Judge Robert Bryan held that the Washington State Department of Transportation had “arranged” for the disposal of hazardous substances within the meaning of CERCLA by designing state highways with stormwater collection and drainage structures, where those drainage structures ultimately deposited stormwater containing hazardous substances into Commencement Bay —… More
Last year, I analogized PRP efforts to have CERCLA’s unilateral administrative order provisions declared unconstitutional to Chevy Chase’s repeated announcements during the first year of Saturday Night Live that Francisco Franco was still dead. Eventually, that joke wore out. With yesterday’s decision by the D. C. Circuit Court of Appeals, in General Electric v. Jackson, upholding EPA’s UAO authority, these legal challenges may be similarly about to wear out.
The analysis in GE v. Jackson is pretty straightforward. EPA may not obtain fines or treble damages if a PRP defies a UAO unless the agency goes to court and the court… More
When we blogged about the Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program regulations last fall, we noted that the EPA had excluded from the final regulations emission source categories such as wastewater treatment plants and underground coal mines that were initially included in the draft rules. No longer. Yesterday, EPA finalized regulations requiring an estimated 680 facilities in the four sectors of underground coal mines, industrial wastewater treatment systems, industrial waste landfills and magnesium production facilities to begin collecting emissions data on January 1, 2011, and submit their first annual report in March 2012. Despite being few in number, these facilities, which… More
Two seemingly unrelated reports last week serve as a reminder that coal remains very much under siege. First, Earthjustice, on behalf of a number of environmental organizations, filed a petition with EPA under § 111 of the Clean Air Act requesting that EPA identify coal mines as an emissions source and, consequently, establish new source performance standards for coal mine emissions of methane and several other categories of pollutants.
Second, as Daily Environment reported, the Army Corps of Engineers suspended use of Nationwide Permit 21 for the six states in the Appalachian region, covering Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and… More
EPA held a public hearing this week on its proposed MACT standards for industrial boilers. The issue may not be as sexy as climate change, but it’s an important rule and not just for those operating industrial boilers. For example, the cement industry has burned 50 million tires – including steel belts – according to its own data. EPA wants to classify such tires as a solid waste, rather than a fuel, which would subject cement kilns to incinerators standards. This has the Rubber Manufacturers Association up in arms. (Query: Does the Michelin Man have arms?)
Industry representatives say that the standards simply can’t… More
A week after the Senate’s rejection of the Murkowki resolution last week, where does climate change stand in Congress? The defeat of the resolution is not the end for those who don’t want EPA to regulate under existing authority. Senator Rockefeller hopes to get to the floor a bill that would delay EPA regulation of stationary sources for at least two years, but keep in place the mobile source compromise reached last year. Rockefeller has stated that he hopes to get the votes of some Senators who opposed Murkowski’s resolution.
What about cap-and-trade legislation? Notwithstanding the President’s stated commitment to getting it… More
As you might have heard, late yesterday afternoon, the Senate voted 53-47 to reject a procedural motion that would have allowed a vote on Senator Murkowski’s disapproval resolution: a long-winded way of saying that, for now, the EPA maintains its authority and scientific finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare.
As Seth noted a few weeks ago, the political dynamics of this vote are complex, bringing together strange bedfellows and inviting interesting predictions about what happens next. On the one hand, environmental groups are claiming victory in the resolution’s failure, which breaks down pretty… More
Last week, EPA released its Clean Watersheds Needs Survey 2008 Report to Congress. I have three immediate reactions to the Report. The first is that there are a lot of needs out there. The Report’s bottom line is that there is currently an expected shortfall of $298 billion over the next 20 years for clean water infrastructure. As Congress turns from short-term stimulus spending to long-term concerns about the deficit, it’s difficult to see Congress being eager to hear National Association of Clean Water Agencies Executive Director Ken Kirk say that
the federal government must become a long-term partner in developing a… More
Last week, EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response announced release of its Community Engagement Implementation Plan. Who could be against community engagement? It’s as American as apple pie. It’s environmental justice. It’s community input into decisions that affect the community. It’s transparency and open decision-making.
Call me a curmudgeon, but I’m against it. Study after study shows that, in terms of the actual risks posed by Superfund sites, we devote too many of our environmental protection dollars to Superfund sites, when we should be focusing on air and water. Why do we keep doing this? Because the community demands it. As Peter Sandman has noted,… More
In 1972, Christopher Stone published his seminal book “Should Trees Have Standing?” That same year, Justice Douglas posed essentially the same question in his dissent in Sierra Club v. Morton, in which he argued that inanimate objects should have standing “to sue for their own preservation.”
I hadn’t thought of this for some time, but was reminded of the issue by an article in GreenWire this week, reporting on a study which has concluded that kudzu, an invasive species which is, one might say rhetorically, taking over the southeastern United States, increases NOx levels and thus leads to… More
When the Burlington Northern decision was first announced, I concluded that “never has the Supreme Court done so much by doing so little.” On May 5, Judge John Mendez, of he Eastern District of California, proved me at least half right. In United States v. Iron Mountain Mines, joint and several liability was imposed on the defendants in 2002. The 2002 decision stated that “given the nature of pollution at the site, it would be difficult to identify distinct harms.” The court did not analyze whether there was a reasonable basis for apportionment of liability.
Following the Burlington Northern decision, the… More
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
So, Kerry Lieberman (Graham?), also known as the American Power Act, is here. What does it mean?
My immediate reaction is that, in a big picture sense, they got it just about right. The fundamental issue, which was previously acknowledged by Senator Graham (can we start calling him “he who must not be named?”), is that we’re not going to solve the energy independence or climate change problems unless we put a price on carbon. This bill does that.
Frankly, the rest of the issues really only matter either to particularly constituencies or, as a related concern, to particular members of… More
EPA’s Move to Regulate Stormwater Discharges from Development Gathers Steam; EPA Issues Mandatory Questionnaire For Public Comment
EPA is proceeding with its plan to establish a new program to regulate stormwater discharges from new development and redevelopment, with a target date for a final rule by November 2012. The next step: the reissuance of draft mandatory questionnaires that, once finalized, will be sent to various stakeholders, including approximately 738,000 owners and developers of residential, industrial and commercial sites. According to EPA, the “target population for the Owner/Developer Questionnaires is all development establishments in the United States,” as defined by 8 NAICS codes (see Part A.4 of EPA’s Supporting Statement for further information on… More
To Be Hazardous or Not to Be Hazardous: EPA Floats Two Options for Regulating Coal Combustion Residuals
Environmentalists have been pushing for years to overturn the Bevill Amendment and get coal combustion residuals (CCR) regulated as a hazardous waste. The failure of an impoundment at the TVA facility in Kingston, Tennessee, in 2008 almost guaranteed that EPA would do something to regulate CCR. Like Hamlet, however, EPA seems to be having trouble making up its mind. Earlier this week, EPA announced two different potential regulatory approaches, one regulating CCR as a hazardous waste under RCRA Subtitle C and one regulating CCR as non-hazardous waste under Subtitle D of RCRA.
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
As Senators Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham get ready to release their version of a climate bill, negotiations with moderate Democrats are heating up. Ten Democrats, apparently let by Sherrod Brown and Debbie Stabenow released a letter outlining what they call “key provisions for a manufacturing” package as part of an overall bill. Here are some highlights the Senators’ wish list:
Investments in clean energy manufacturing and low carbon industrial technologies.
Ensuring law energy costs for manufacturers, including a “firm price collar”
A phase-in for regulation of GHG emissions from manufacturing
Allowance rebates for… More
EPA Region 1 continues to roll out new programs on the stormwater front, and this week’s development is particularly important for private property owners in the Charles River watershed. The agency released proposed amendments to the Residual Designation for the Charles River (“RDA”) and a Draft General Permit for Residually Designated Discharges. While the proposed permit only affects the Massachusetts communities of Milford, Bellingham, and Franklin, EPA has stated that it may expand the General Permit to include other Charles River communities in the future, so property owners along the entire length of the Charles River should be paying attention.
As I have previously noted, Cass Sunstein, now head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at OMB under Obama, has called the precautionary principle “deeply incoherent.” Why? Because, as Sunstein notes, “costly precautions inevitably create risks.”
I hope that Sunstein is as troubled as I am by the news, reported recently by Inside EPA, that Mathy Stanislaus, head of EPA’s Office of Solid Waste & Emergency Response, has said that implementing the precautionary principle is a key to EPA’s environmental justice efforts.
When Stanislaus says that “we can’t wait until we have all the… More
What will happen to state and regional energy and carbon-related regulations if (perhaps when) federal climate legislation is enacted? If the Attorneys General of California and 6 New England and Mid-Atlantic states have anything to say about it, very little.
As E&E reported last night, the Attorneys General of Massachusetts, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island, Vermont and California sent a letter this week to Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman in which they urge the Senators to incorporate provisions in the climate bill expected to be announced later this month, which save existing state initiatives. Drawing a parallel… 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
Yet More Bad News for Coal (Mining): EPA Issues Guidance Imposing Numeric Criteria For Discharges From Mountaintop Mining
Last week, EPA proposed to veto a permit for the No. 1 Spruce Mine in West Virginia. Yesterday, EPA went much farther, announcing new guidance – effective immediately – which will impose numeric water quality based effluent limits, or WQBELs, on effluent from surface mining projects. EPA has at least tentatively concluded that high conductivity resulting from discharges of mountaintop fill has adversely affected streams downstream of surface mining operations.
Last year, EPA delayed implementation of the Bush EPA’s Aggregation Rule; at the time, I said that the rule was on life support. Earlier this week, EPA announced that it was formally proposing to revoke the aggregation rule. It looks as though the rule is now off life support and it’s time for the last rites.
The aggregation rule always seemed to me a piece of simple, common-sense regulatory reform; it was not a case of wild-eyed right wing radicals trying to gut environmental regulations. The basic issue is this. EPA wants to make certain that regulated facilities don’t avoid… More
Some stories are just to much fun to ignore. Late last week, the GAO issued a report on the joint EPA/DOE Energy Star program. The sub-head says it all: “Covert Testing Shows the Energy Star Program Certification Process Is Vulnerable to Fraud and Abuse.” GAO found that it was able to obtain Energy Star certifications for 15 out of 20 bogus products for which it had sought certification, including a gasoline-powered alarm clock and a room air cleaner for which GAO submitted a picture of a space heater with a feather duster attached.
EPA Finalizes Reconsideration of Johnson Memo: Confirms No Stationary Source GHG Regulation Before January 2011
EPA has finally issued its formal reconsideration of the Johnson Memo. As EPA had telegraphed, it confirms that a pollutant is only subject to PSD permitting requirements when that pollutant is subject to “a final nationwide rule [that] requires actual control of emissions of the pollutant.”
As EPA had also already indicated, the reconsideration states that PSD permitting requirements are triggered, not when a rule is signed or even on the effective date of the rule, but instead when the nationwide controls actually take effect under the rule. In other words, assuming that EPA finalizes the mobile source GHG rule… More
Last week, I noted that Gina McCarthy, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation, suggested that, in the short run, the most significant pressure on inefficient energy sources would come, not from climate change legislation or from EPA GHG regulations, but instead from all of the conventional pollutant regulations that EPA expects to promulgate that will make use of coal much more expensive. While Gina was referring to a variety of air regulations, such as CAIR, MACT rules, and SIP revisions following a more stringent PM standard, even Gina may have been too narrowly focused. Today, EPA announced that it… More
Now that health care legislation has passed, the question is whether passage of the health care bill will unleash a cascade of other legislation, including a climate change bill, or whether Congress will be so exhausted and so polarized that nothing else will happen. I lean to the former position, but only time will tell. One positive indication was Senator Graham’s statement that, notwithstanding his views on the health care bill, he will continue to work towards passage of a climate change bill. Another shout out seems in order for Senator Graham.
The second positive indicator is the chorus of concern recently… More
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
Traditional Pollutants Definitely Still Matter: EPA’s Draft Review Recommends More Stringent Particulate Standards
Last week, I posted about improvements in air quality since 1990. It’s a good thing air quality is improving, because, at the same time, the science keeps suggesting that ever lower pollutant levels pose risks to public health. The latest news was EPA’s draft review of the appropriate level at which to set the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for particulate matter.
EPA most recently revised the PM standard in 2006, setting it at 15 ug/m3, notwithstanding the staff recommendation to set the standard at between 13 ug/m3 and 14 ug/m3. As I have discussed, EPA’s decision was struck… More
I know that despair is always more fashionable than optimism, but it is sometimes useful to remember that not everything is going to hell in a hand basket. Yesterday, EPA issued a press release announcing publication of its latest report on trends in air quality. The report, titled “Our Nation’s Air: Status and Trends Through 2008”, makes clear that, overall, air quality has gotten significantly better, particularly since 1990.
What I find most notable is that reductions in NOx largely occurred after 2002, whereas reductions in other pollutants, such as PM and SO2, have occurred since 1990. Notice anything about these dates? After 1990,… More
It’s difficult to keep up with the various moves in Congress, attempting either to advance climate change legislation or to preclude EPA climate change regulation. On the advance side, E&E Daily had a very helpful summary earlier this week on the various issues affecting those senators that will need to be brought on board to reach 60 yes votes in the Senate. The identified issues include, not surprisingly: (1) coal, (2) nuclear power, (3) trade-sensitive industries, (4) oil and gas drilling, and (5) sector-specific limits. In what is probably a sidelight to the whole debate, Vernon Ehlers, a Republican, but the first… More
Late last week, Senate and House Democrats piled more pressure on EPA’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gases under existing Clean Air Act authority. Senator Rockefeller and Representatives Rahall, Boucher, and Mohollan introduced companion House and Senate bills to preclude EPA regulation of stationary source GHG emissions for two years. Unlike the resolution sponsored by Senator Murkowski, which would simply overturn the endangerment finding and thus preclude all GHG regulation, the new legislation would specifically allow mobile source regulation to proceed.
As long as the White House and important committee chairs oppose the legislation, it still seems unlikely to pass,… More
Seemingly just in time to lend support to the revived idea of a carbon tax that we noted on Monday, an Obama Administration inter-agency workgroup has released a report that attempts to do the critical math necessary to put a price tag on CO2 emissions.
The report sets out four dollar figures that represent the “social cost of carbon,” or the potential damages associated with not stopping the emissions of each incremental ton of CO2. The figures, which differ due to the use of different models and discount rates, designed to capture different views about the impact of climate… More
The uncertainty surrounding EPA regulation of GHG emissions under existing Clean Air Act authority was driven home for me last week when the same conference resulted in two diametrically opposed headlines in the trade press. Regarding a forum held by the International Emissions Trading Association, the Daily Environmental Reporter headline was “Existing Law Too Inflexible to Accommodate Market-Based Emissions Cuts, Executives Say.” Over at ClimateWire, the headline was “Some Companies Want EPA to Establish a CO2 Cap-and-trade System.”
Of course, in fairness to the two publications, both headlines are true – and that’s the problem with the current EPA efforts. Notwithstanding… 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
Given the stories this week of continuing efforts in Congress to preclude EPA from regulating GHGs under existing Clean Air Act authority, I couldn’t resist this headline.
The first story is that three House members, including two Democrats (House Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Peterson and Missouri Rep. Ike Skelton) have followed the lead of the Senate – where there are also Democratic sponsors – and introduced legislation preventing EPA regulation. According to Representative Skelton, the bill would “get the EPA under control.”
In light of the efforts in Congress, it just seemed too perfect not to note that EPA’s… More
As we noted a few weeks ago, EPA has proposed lowering the NAAQS to a range of from 0.060 ppm – 0.070 ppm. Earlier this week, EPA’s Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, or CASAC, met and endorsed EPA’s proposed range. Some CASAC members did express concern about EPA’s proposed secondary seasonal standard, intended to protect crops and forests. However, overall, the CASAC seal of approval is pretty much the end of this argument.
It is important to recall how we got here. CASAC already endorsed the 0.060 ppm – 0.070 range several years ago, before EPA’s last ozone standard was issued. It… More
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued interpretive guidance yesterday which requires publicly traded companies to consider the impacts of climate change – both the physical damage it could cause, as well as the economic impacts of domestic and international greenhouse gas emissions-reduction rules – and disclose those risks to investors. As we noted when discussing the potential for this announcement in October, the disclosure requirements are likely to affect companies in a wide range of industries.
Last month, I noted with some trepidation that EPA Administrator Jackson had stated that "I don’t believe this is an either-or proposition," referring to the possibility that there could be both climate legislation and EPA regulation of GHGs under existing EPA authority. Today, it’s looking more like a neither-nor proposition.
First, with respect to the prospects for climate change legislation, Senator Gregg was quoted in ClimateWire as saying that “the chance of a global warming law passing this year was ‘zero to negative 10 percent.’" Whether Senator Gregg has the odds pegged exactly right, legislation certainly seems less likely than… More
Last week, I reported on a decision by EPA Administrator Jackson, in an appeal from a permit issued by the Kentucky Division of Air Quality, to the effect that the developer of an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plant, which converts coal to gas for combustion, had to consider use of natural gas as BACT, because the plant already had plans to use natural gas as a startup and backup fuel.
Last April, I noted that the one certainty associated with EPA regulation of greenhouse gases under existing Clean Air Act authority was that there would be unintended consequences. If anyone doubted that this would be so, they might want to read some of the comments submitted to EPA in connection with EPA’s proposed Tailoring Rule, which would exempt facilities emitting less than 25,000 tons per year of CO2e from the PSD provisions of the Clean Air Act after CO2e becomes a regulated pollutant under the CAA.
As I noted on Friday, EPA has proposed to revise the NAAQS for ozone to a range of from 0.060-0.070 ppm, a reduction from the 0.075 ppm standard promulgated in 2008 by the Bush administration. EPA’s analysis of the available date indicates that 650 counties – out of 675 counties which have ozone monitors – would be in violation of a 0.060 ppm standard. For those counting, that’s more than 96% of all counties in nonattainment. Even if the standard were set at 0.070 ppm, 515 counties would be in non-attainment.
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
EPA announced yesterday that it had reached a settlement with Duke Energy to address allegations of New Source Review violations at Duke’s Gallagher coal-fired generating plant in New Albany, Indiana. A jury had already found Duke liable for certain NSR violations at the plant. The settlement obviates the need for a remedy trial, which had been scheduled for early 2010.
The settlement requires Duke Energy to repower Units 1 and 3 at Gallagher with natural gas or shut them down and to install emission controls at Units 2 and 4. Duke will also pay a $1.75 million penalty and spend… More
EPA has published its annual Compliance and Enforcement Annual Results FY 2009. It always makes interesting reading. This year, EPA has added something new: a web-based map showing the location of all enforcement actions, with links to summaries of the specific actions taken. It’s actually a little tricky to navigate. I had to find an area of interest and zoom in far enough for the dots to be replaced by flags to be able to click on particular sites and obtain the detailed information.
I can see NGOs making a lot of use of… More
Earlier this month, EPA released its semi-annual regulatory agenda. True policy wonks can review the agenda here. There are always some nuggets buried in the agenda. This agenda includes two proposed rules governing nanotechnology. They are:
A reporting rule under § 8(a) of TSCA. The rule would require persons who manufacture nanoscale materials to notify EPA of information concerning production volume; methods of manufacture and processing; exposure and release information; and available health and safety studies.
A test rule under § 4(a) of TSCA. The proposed rule would apply to “certain multi-wall carbon nanotubes and nanosized clays and alumina.”
As anyone not hiding under a rock has by now probably realized, EPA officially announced Monday that it has concluded that GHG from human activity threaten public health and the environment. Since the announcement was not exactly a surprise, the question remains what impact it will have.
In the short run, the timing certainly seems intended to coincide with the Copenhagen talks and help to demonstrate to other nations that the U.S. is taking concrete steps to address climate change. We’ll see shortly how successful the endangerment finding is in that respect.
Since I spend most of my time down… More
Another Rant Against NSR: Why the Continued Operation of Old Power Plants Is Bad News for GHG Regulation Under the Current Clean Air Act
According to a report released last week by Environment America, power plants were responsible for 42% of the CO2 emitted in the United States in 2007, substantially more than any other sector, including transportation. What’s the explanation? Largely, it’s the age of the United States power plants. The report, based on EPA data, states that 73% of power plant CO2 emissions came from plants operating since prior to 1980.
What’s the solution to this problem, in the absence of cap-and-trade legislation enacting? EPA’s already told us, and we shouldn’t be surprised – promulgation of EPA’s “Tailoring Rule,” subjecting existing facilities emitting more… 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
Boston Celtics’ fans know the phrase “fiddlin’ and diddlin.” Well, the Senate continues to fiddle and diddle over climate change legislation. Those who have worked with Gina McCarthy, current EPA air chief, know that she has probably never fiddled or diddled in her life, and I certainly don’t expect her to do so with respect to GHG regulation under existing Clean Air Act authority in the absence of comprehensive legislation. As a result, it now seems likely that EPA will be issuing climate change regulations before any legislation is enacted.
What’s the basis for this conclusion? First,… More
A few weeks ago, we noted EPA’s release of its long-awaited “Tailoring Rule,” specifying how EPA would apply its PSD program under existing Clean Air Act authority to greenhouse gases, once they definitively become a regulated pollutant under the CAA some time next spring. Today, the proposed rule was published in the Federal Register. Comments are due December 28.
Late last week, Elliott Gilberg, Acting Director of EPA’s Office of Site Remediation Enforcement (OSRE) issued an Interim Policy on Managing the Duration of Remedial Design/Remedial Action Negotiations. Members of the regulated community may not be surprised by the contents of the memo, but they certainly will not be pleased. In brief, the memorandum fundamentally makes two points:
EPA wants to shorten the duration of RD/RA negotiation
EPA is going to use the heavy hammer of unilateral administrative orders, or UAOs, to keep PRPs’ feet to the fire and ensure that negotiations move quickly.
PRPs will likely… More
On Thursday, EPA issued its long-awaited proposed rule describing how thresholds would be set for regulation of GHG sources under the existing Clean Air Act PSD authority. Having waded through the 416-page proposal, I’m torn between the appropriate Shakespeare quotes to describe it: “Much ado about nothing” or “Methinks thou dost protest too much.”
First, notwithstanding its length, the proposal is quite limited in scope. In essence, it has three parts:
Establishment of an applicability threshold for PSD and Title V purposes of 25,000 tons per year of CO2e.
Establishment of… More
After a number of stories indicating that the prospects for climate change legislation were dimming for 2009, the convergence of a number of factors suggests that legislation may still be possible.
Yesterday, Senator Boxer and Senator Kerry released a draft of climate change legislation. This doesn’t mean that Senate passage is imminent. The bill has not been formally introduced and, like the early drafts of the Waxman-Markey bill, leaves some sections blank. Senator Boxer apparently intends to issue a mark-up of the bill sometime in October. One note for the politically-minded readers of this blog – just don’t call the… More
EPA released its final version of the Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule today. The Rule (which we blogged about in its draft form here) will require large emitters of greenhouse gases to begin collecting emissions data on January 1, 2010 and file their first self-certified reports in March 2011. The EPA will then verify the data, as in other Clean Air Act programs. The new program will cover approximately 85% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions and apply to roughly 10,000 facilities, down from the 13,000 that EPA had predicted in its draft rule in March.
The rule has changed… 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.
The silence from Congress recently concerning climate change legislation has been deafening. The continued health care debate does not bode well for early passage of the Waxman-Markey bill. Meanwhile, EPA is not sitting on its hands.
Daily Environment Report noted last week that EPA has sent to the OMB a proposal to reverse the Agency’s policy that CO2 is not a pollutant subject to the PSD provisions of the Clean Air Act. Also last week, Greenwire reported that: “As Hill debate flounders, EPA plows ahead on emissions rules.” [And for those of you who can’t get enough of the debate between “founder” and… More
While many people today look to the Daily Show and the Colbert Report for political commentary, the Boston Red Sox leave me with insufficient TV time, so I rely on the Borowitz Report. Whenever the press reports as news something blindingly obvious to normal Americans, Borowitz will refer to the statement as having been authored by D’Oh Magazine.
In a story from today’s Daily Environment Report, Cynthia Giles, the new Assistant Administrator for Enforcement at EPA, stated that she was looking increase the number of criminal investigators at EPA, noting that
Criminal enforcement is a very important part of our arsenal in achieving compliance and has a powerful deterrent effect. It’s important to us that we’re out there and that we pursue the criminal cases.
There’s no doubt that, in a simplistic way, she is correct. Generally speaking, as the plausible threat of enforcement increases, the amount of noncompliance will be expected to decrease. However, for criminal enforcement to… More
In another sign that the NSR program is alive and well under the Obama administration, the United States (together with the State of Illinois, filed suit Thursday against Midwest Generation, alleging violations of NSR requirements at six coal-fired power plants. Although the action is not too surprising, given that the Bush EPA had issued a notice of violation to Midwest Generation in 2007, it remains noteworthy. Each new prosecution serves to remind generators that failure to comply with NSR rules can lead to significant costs.
Of course, that in terrorem effect on other generators is precisely what the administration and environmental… More
According to an article by BNA published this morning, EPA may soon act to apply the prevention of significant deterioration (PSD) provisions of the Clean Air Act to facilities that emit more than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually. Presumably, EPA’s action is either an effort to exert leverage on Congress to pass pending climate change legislation or to ensure that GHG are regulated in the event that legislation doesn’t pass — or both.
Under the Clean Air Act, PSD applies to major new sources, which are defined by their emissions level — for pollutants in identified industrial sources… More
As we have reported, EPA and MADEP have both been taking steps over the past year to broaden the scope of their stormwater programs beyond existing regulation under the rules concerning stormwater discharges associated with industrial or construction activity. EPA has proposed using residual designation authority in Maine and Massachusetts and the MADEP proposed sweeping rules governing existing private facilities.
In the regulated community, there has been substantial concern that these efforts have focused too narrowly on private properties, with the MADEP proposed rules, for example, potentially requiring costly retrofits on many properties without consideration of whether there… More
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
EPA announced today that it had reached yet another six-figure penalty settlement in an anti-idling case. This time, the penalty was $650,000. This is one of the larger penalties EPA has obtained in this area. There appear to be several reasons for the magnitude of the penalty. First, the defendant, Paul Revere Transportation, LLC, was apparently a recidivist. It has been the subject of an anti-idling enforcement action in 2003. Second, Paul Revere refused to settle, making EPA go to trial to prove liability. Finally, at the trial, EPA established a substantial number of idling violations. Facing a separate trial… More
I assume that environmental agencies’ focus on the annual dollar total of enforcement fines and penalties drives my clients as crazy as it does me. After all, the correlation between such figures and any environmental outcomes is pretty limited. Indeed, less enforcement may mean more compliance rather than more undetected violations.
It thus comes as at least limited good news from Inside EPA that EPA is looking at ways to measure the impact of enforcement efforts other than by measuring the amount of fines and penalties. Instead, as indicated by a presentation made last month by EPA’s Office of Compliance,… More
EPA announced this week that it was granting a petition for reconsideration of the final National Ambient Air Quality Standards for lead, specifically the portion requiring monitoring of lead emissions near certain sources. The petition was brought in January by a number of environmental organizations and groups concerned about childhood lead poisoning.
The existing lead monitoring requirements were finalized in October 2008, at the same time that EPA tightened the national air quality standards for lead for the first time in 30 years. EPA reports that the revised standards are 10 times more stringent than the previous standards and… More
As a confirmed optimist and believer in technology, I’ve long thought that we can meet the challenge posed by global climate change – as long as we implement the right policies to provide incentives to develop the necessary technologies. Having the wide engineering knowledge that being a lawyer – as well as one of six political science graduates from MIT my year – provides, I have assumed that nanotechnology would play a substantial part in whatever the ultimate solution turns out to be.
Climate change is a big problem and we’re… 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
The House of Representatives narrowly passed H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 by a vote of 219-212 on Friday, June 26. The bill, the first piece of major legislation on global warming that has passed either house of Congress, is 1,428 pages long, and includes 5 titles covering everything from renewable energy and efficiency to adaptation and transitioning to a clean energy economy. While it retains many key concepts from the draft introduced by Representatives Henry Waxman and Edward Markey, some of revisions and additions that ensured its passage were significant and have generated… More
In the category of dog bites man, EPA today announced it was granting the State of California a waiver that will allow California to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. The granting of the waiver was expected after Obama’s election and became pretty much inevitable after the administration announced in February that it was reconsidering the waiver request.
Substantively, it is not clear that the waiver matters that much, given the announcement on May 19 of the “grand bargain” among California, the federal government, and automakers to improve fuel economy nationwide. The real significance of today’s notice is… More
While some of my colleagues are laboring in the climate change vineyards (and we should have posts soon summarizing the House bill), I thought I would note another interesting enforcement decision issued this week. United States v. Oliver is, in some respects, a run of the mill decision. A mom-and-pop medical waste incinerator (the adjective is the court’s not mine; it does give one pause) failed for several years to comply with EPA regulations governing such facilities. EPA sought and obtained a permanent injunction ceasing facility operations until the defendants can demonstrate to the satisfaction of EPA and the… More
For those of you who cannot get enough of Superfund, I spoke at a Boston Bar Association panel on this subject yesterday about the implications of the Supreme Court’s Burlington Northern decision. Thanks to EPA Region I and Joanna Jerison, head of the Region I Superfund Legal Office, for being willing to speak on so obviously sore a subject. And thanks to Craig Campbell for participating on the panel as well.
For those who missed it, just a quick note that EPA has once more extended the date by which subject facilities need to prepare or amend SPCC plans to comply with the latest revisions to the applicable regulations. The original compliance date was February 3, 2009; this marks the third time EPA has extended the date.
In Congressional testimony last month, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson apparently told Congress that amendments to the CAA may be necessary in order to ensure that any revised CAIR rule issued by EPA would be safe from legal challenge. The testimony is not really a surprise. Anyone reading the decision striking down the original CAIR rule would understand that the Court had concluded that the cap-and-trade program promulgated under CAIR was not authorized by the CAA.
Like the situation posed by EPA’s obligation to address climate change endangerment following the Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, the threat of further… 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:
Earlier this week, the jury reached a verdict in the Cinergy – now Duke Energy – NSR retrial. The short version is simple:
Condensor retubine – no need to go through NSR
Pulverizor replacement – requires NSR
I don’t know all of the details of the case. For example, I don’t know if the pulverizer capacity was expanded when they were replaced. If any readers know the details and want to share them, I’d be grateful.
Particularly this week, one needs to make a conscious effort to remember that it is not “all climate, all the time” on the environmental front. While climate change is obviously the President’s top priority at the moment, the administration did take the time this week to send letters to congressional leaders voicing the its support for amendments to the Clean Water Act to eliminate uncertainty concerning the Act’s scope following the Supreme Court decision in Rapanos.
While the administration has not provided suggested statutory revisions, the letters state that: “It is essential that the Clean Water Act provide broad… More
Laura Rome of Epsilon has helpfully reminded me that the maturity of a regulatory program is also relevant to whether an agency should proceed by guidance or regulation. With newer programs that remain in flux, the flexibility inherent in guidance – and the easier amendment process for guidance – counsels in favor of guidance rather than regulation.
Laura’s comment also reminded me that, a few years ago, NAIOP was sufficiently concerned about MassDEP’s use of guidance as an end-run around the formality of the regulatory process that it submitted to MassDEP suggested “Guidance on Guidance.” The overarching… More
There are not too many areas of environmental law where practice intersects frequently with academic theory. One such area is whether agencies should use notice and comment rule-making any time they want to set forth policy or whether they should instead be permitted to use flexible guidance documents. The real issue from the practitioner’s point of view is the extent to which use of guidance permits street level bureaucracy a degree of unfettered discretion that is truly scary. Like Judge Roy Bean, these bureaucrats are the law West of the Pecos – or at… More
One more note on the Burlington Northern decision. A client of mine has already noted that one impact of the decision will be to result in more litigation over divisibility, which will be good for private lawyers (ouch!). She’s right, as my clients always are, but she shouldn’t be.
Litigation should only increase if EPA does not adjust its settlement demands. If EPA responds appropriately, and makes demands which reflect a fair resolution of a divisible liability, then there shouldn’t necessarily be more litigation than there is today. However, if EPA continues to negotiate with PRPs as though liability is always… More
Those of us who have practiced in the Superfund arena for some time know that the government, in those rare cases where it has been forced to litigate, has used the same oral argument in every case: “Good morning, your honor. My name is ______. I represent the government in this action and we win.” Today, the Supreme Court made clear that that the government now needs a new oral argument template.
For those of you who aren’t convinced that Senator Specter’s defection to the Democrats will be the savior of cap and trade legislation, and who are concerned by Senator Durbin’s recent pronouncement that, at this point, there are not 60 votes in the Senate, the question as to how EPA might regulate greenhouse gases under existing authority has taken on greater importance.
The traditional assumption, and the basis for the doom and gloom scenarios projected by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has been that EPA would regulate greenhouse gases under the NSR program. While there have been arguments… More
We have previously posted about EPA’s efforts to roll back regulatory changes made by the Bush Administration, particularly with respect to the NSR program. There is no question that the roll-back continues. This week, EPA announced it would review three separate NSR rules promulgated by the Bush administration. These include:
The “reasonable possibility” rule, which identified when major sources must keep records even if a contemplated change is not expected to trigger NSR review
The fugitive emissions rule, which limited by source category when fugitive emissions must be taken into account in determining NSR applicability
As I noted a couple of weeks ago, Representative John McHugh (R-NY) has introduced legislation that would require significant reductions in emissions of SO2 and NOx, and mercury from power plants. Now, Senators Carper (D-Del.) and Alexander (R-Tenn.) have announced that they will be introducing their own three-pollutant legislation in the Senate. Since they have not yet introduced a bill, we’ll all just have to imagine the specifics for now, but a few interesting nuggets have jumped out of the press releases and news reports.
First, Representative McHugh apparently wants to tie his legislation to the climate bill. However, Senator… More
I’ve made a conscious decision not to blog about every twist and turn in the climate change legislation debate. While a blogger can’t quite take a “wake me when it’s over” position, I think that periodic updates are going to be more than sufficient. That being said, in the wake of EPA’s issuance of its endangerment finding last week, a brief update seems appropriate.
What’s clear at this point is that at least everyone in the political center favors a legislative approach and hopes that the endangerment finding will ultimately have no practical impact, other than serving as an incentive… More
This morning, EPA issued a proposed finding that greenhouse gasses contribute to air pollution and may endanger public health or welfare. The proposed finding comes almost exactly two years after the Supreme Court, in Massachusetts v. EPA, ordered the agency to examine whether emissions linked to climate change should be curbed under the Clean Air Act, and marks a major shift in the federal government’s approach to global warming.
Now that the initial euphoria following the introduction of the Waxman-Markey climate change bill has passed, this past week may have reminded supporters of climate change legislation just how difficult it will be and what sort of compromises may be necessary to get it done. First, Greenwire reported again on the difficulty that senators and representatives from coal states will have supporting climate legislation that would increase electricity rates. This was consistent with the recent Senate action that seemingly put the final nail in the coffin on the idea of using the budget process as a… More
As some of my clients know all too well, I’ve been spending a lot of time on some Superfund matters recently. Although I can’t remember a period when I didn’t have at least one moderately active Superfund case, significant immersion in complex remedial decision-making and negotiations provides an unwelcome reminder just how flawed CERCLA is. Almost 20 years after the acid rain provisions of the Clean Air Act ushered in wide-spread acceptance of the use of market mechanisms to achieve environmental protection goals and the state of Massachusetts successfully privatized its state Superfund program, the federal Superfund program, like some obscure former… More
In an statement this week likely to send chills down the spine of developers, EPA Administrator Jackson called on Congress to provide a clearer definition of wetlands subject to permitting authority under the Clean Water Act. As most readers know, the 2006 Supreme Court decision in Rapanos v. United States narrowed the scope of regulatory jurisdiction over wetlands. Unfortunately, the absence of a majority decision in Rapanos means that, at this point, no one knows quite how much narrower. I think that most observers at least triangulate around Justice Kennedy’s concurring opinion, which stated that waters or… More
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
Harking back to legislative efforts of a few years ago, Representative John McHugh (R-NY) yesterday introduced legislation that would require significant reductions in emissions of SO2 and NOx, and mercury from power plants. The highlights of the bill include the following:
No later than two years from enactment, EPA must promulgate regulations requiring that powerplants: reduce SO2 emissions by 75% over the Phase II levels contained in the current CAA acid rain program reduce NOx emissions by 75% over 1997 levels Even aside from the above-described reductions, on the later of 5 years from enactment or 30 years from initial… More
I finally found time to review the 648-page “discussion draft” of the “American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009” released by Representatives Waxman and Markey this week. It is fair to way that, though release of the draft may be an important way-station on the road to a climate change bill, there remains a lot of work to do. While the draft includes some important markers that are likely to set boundaries on what might be included in the final bill, it is at least as notable for what is omitted than for what is included. Here are some highlights… More
Justice Triumphs: The Supreme Court Upholds EPA’s Authority to Consider Costs Under Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act
As many readers of this blog will have already learned, the Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in Entergy v. Riverkeeper yesterday. The Court reversed the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and held that EPA was within its authority to consider cost-benefit analysis in setting standards for cooling water intake structures under § 316(b) of the Clean Water Act.
I’m definitely getting on my soapbox here, but this should not be news and it should not be controversial – though I certainly realize that it is. If current conditions tell us anything, it is that resources are not infinite. The irony here is… More
The results of EPA’s annual auction of sulfur dioxide (SO2) allowances under the acid rain program provide empirical support for a proposition that the regulated community repeatedly advances – certainty is critical to the success of complex regulatory regimes. Prices for 2009 allowances fell from last year’s average of $380/ton to $70/ton, or more than 80%. Prices in the 7 year advance auction fell even more dramatically, from $136/ton in 2008 to $6.65/ton, or more than 95%.
This week, the practice of mountaintop removal – chopping the tops off mountains in order extract the coal – received two blows: one from EPA and one from Congress. First, EPA offices Region 3 and Region 4 announced that they plans to assess the Central Appalachia Mining’s Big Branch project in Pike County, Ky., and the Highland Mining Company’s Reylas mine in Logan County, W.Va., before permits are issued for those projects.
Although the broad brush is important here, so are some of the details. First, both letters raise concerns… More
In connection with the nomination of Cass Sunstein to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at OMB, I noted my hope that the Obama administration would be a Nixon in China moment for regulatory reform. Given the administration’s aggressive early steps to combat global warming and to roll back some of the more extreme moves by the Bush EPA, the new administration could, if it chooses, give regulatory reform back its good name.
So far, the signs are not encouraging. In February, EPA announced that it was deferring until May 18 the effective date of the NSR aggregation… 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
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today proposed regulations which create the first nationwide system for reporting emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases emitted by major sources in the US. The proposed regulations are promulgated pursuant to the FY2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act which was signed into law in December 2007, and instructs the EPA to require mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions in all sectors of the economy. Approximately 13,000 facilities will be subject to the rule, accounting for 85% to 90% of greenhouse gases emitted in the U.S. Despite this large number, EPA believes that most small… More
Although it appeared initially as though Congress might be the first to move towards greater regulation of coal ash following the TVA spill, EPA has seized the initiative. Yesterday, Administrator Jackson announced a two-pronged initiative. First, EPA has issued information requests to facilities maintaining coal ash impoundments in order to gather information necessary to support new regulations. Second, she confirmed that EPA will indeed then promulgate regulations designed to prevent future spills.
In response to the Administrator’s announcement, Nick Rahall, Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee withdrew his own coal ash regulation bill, H.R. 493,… More
The batting average of the Bush administration EPA in appeals of its regulatory proposals may now have dropped below the proverbial Mendoza line. This week, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia remanded a substantial part of EPA’s particulate rule. That the Bush administration could achieve results where the Mendoza line is even a close metaphor is a testament to just how low its stock has fallen in the courts.
The case itself is important for a number of reasons, but is too lengthy for detailed analysis here. Highlights include:
First, the basic holding: the court remanded… More
The next Bush-era rule to be tossed overboard may be a big one, namely EPA’s hands-off stance on regulation of CO2 for PSD purposes. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said today in a letter to the Sierra Club that the agency would grant the group’s petition seeking reconsideration of former Administrator Johnson’s December 18th memo which described why EPA should not regulate CO2 emissions from new coal-fired plants. Although EPA did not stay the effectiveness of the Johnson memo, the letter emphasizes that the memo does not bind States issuing permits under their own State Implementation Plans, and cautions other… More
While a lot of attention has been paid to whether EPA would reverse the Bush EPA decision denying California’s petition to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from mobile sources, it is now clear even outside the climate change arena that life at EPA is going to be substantially different under the current administration. As if evidence were really needed for that proposition, EPA announced this week that it was putting on hold the NSR aggregation rule that EPA had promulgated on January 15, 2009.
The rule, which had been long sought by industry, would have provided that nominally separate… More
Coal has taken its lumps this week. Today, legislation was introduced in Congress to require EPA to promulgate MACT standards for mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants within one year of enactment of the legislation.
There has been some suggestion that the legislation was filed simply to prod EPA to drop its appeal of the decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejecting EPA’s Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR), which would have created a cap and trade program for mercury emissions. If so, it worked, if only by telepathy, because, in a separate announcement… More
In addition to our post yesterday and the items highlighted in the New York Times Green.Inc blog on the difficulties facing new and existing coal-fired power plants this week, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice have launched what they call a new national crackdown targeting coal-fired plants that violate the Clean Air Act.
As the first piece of this campaign, the agencies filed suit on Wednesday against a Kansas power plant for PSD violations dating back to 1994, and following a notice of violation issued to the plant owners in January 2004.
EPA and DOJ had been criticized for not… More
The EPA and DOJ announced yesterday that Kentucky Utilities (KU), a coal-fired electric utility, has agreed to spend approximately $135 million on pollution controls to resolve violations of the Clean Air Act New Source Review program. KU will also pay a $1.4 million civil penalty plus $3 million in implementing supplemental environmental projects, or SEPs. Finally, KU will also surrender over 50,000 SO2 allowances shortly after entry of the consent decree, and annually surrender any excess NOx allowances resulting from the installation of pollution control equipment.
The consent decree, which covers one of the three coal-fired electric generating units at the E.W. Brown plant in Mercer County, Kentucky, requires… More
Readers of a certain age will recall Chevy Chase’s Weekend Update segment during the first year of Saturday Night Live, when, for a number of shows, he would report that Francisco Franco was still dead. (And isn’t it great that there is actually a Wikipedia article on the subject of Franco still being dead!).
This segment was brought to mind by the report of this week’s decision out of the District Court for the District of Columbia, in the case of General Electric v. Jackson, affirming that EPA’s authority to issue unilateral administrative orders… More
Getting Out Ahead of the Curve on the Green Building Front: EPA Announces Voluntary Agreement With Cushman & Wakefield
We have previously noted that efforts to achieve economy-wide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will necessarily go beyond the electricity generating sector. One obvious target will have to be greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, which EPA estimates account for 17 percent of U.S. carbon emissions.
Although there have been efforts, particularly in California and Massachusetts, to use state NEPA analogues to control carbon emissions from new projects going forward, and there have been similar efforts to build energy efficiency into state building codes, existing buildings will inevitably become a focus, simply because their carbon emissions are too big to ignore.
The magnitude of the recent release of coal ash from the TVA dam is hard to fathom, though the pictures certainly give some sense of its magnitude. Now, as regulators and Congress attempt to get their collective arms around the import of the release, some of the regulatory implications of the release are starting to emerge. According to a report in yesterday’s Greenwire, Congressional hearings this week may include a discussion regarding whether coal ash should continue to be exempt from regulation as… More
While many economists are worried about the possibility of deflation in the current economic crisis, EPA still is concerned about inflation – specifically inflation in the amount of statutory civil penalties under statutes enforced by EPA. In a Federal Register notice dated December 11, 2008, EPA announced increases in its civil penalties.
Some of the increases are not trivial. It is of course true that EPA rarely obtains, or even seeks, the maximum permissible penalty, but the maximum does set the boundary for negotiations with the agency.
All joking aside, EPA has a statutory obligation under the Debt Collection… More
As the sun sets on the Bush administration, it is at least maintaining its seemingly unmatched record for turning the notion of judicial deference to administrative action on its head, as the D.C. Circuit has rejected yet one more EPA Clean Air Act rule. This time, the Court struck down EPA’s rule exempting startups, shutdowns, and malfunctions (SSM) from emissions standards under § 112 of the CAA.
As with some of EPA’s other judicial defeats, this one was based largely on the Court’s reading of the plain language of the CAA. The Court concluded that “EPA’s decision to exempt… More
Following briefing from the parties, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals today withdrew its vacatur of EPA’s Clean Air Interstate Rule. While the decision striking down the rule stands, the Court determined that keeping CAIR in effect while EPA prepares a replacement rule “would at least temporarily preserve the environmental values covered by CAIR.”
EPA rejected a request by the industry plaintiffs to impose a deadline on EPA for issuing the replacement rule, but emphasized to EPA that it “did not intend to grant an indefinite stay of the effectiveness of this court’s decision.”
As we previously noted, the recent Environmental Appeals Board decision in the Deseret Power matter raised the possibility that CO2 and other greenhouse gases need to be considered in PSD reviews. On December 18, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson issued an interpretation which concluded that GHG still do not need to be considered in PSD reviews.
Senator Boxer, not always known for her restraint, has already asked Attorney General Mukasey to reverse the interpretation, calling it “illegal.” Illegal or not, I’d guess that Senator Boxer will get her wish soon after January… More
Hopefully, since I like to think the readers of this blog are largely law-abiding, this post will not be relevant to very many of you, but it seemed newsworthy nonetheless. On December 10, EPA announced a new web site dedicated to helping to locate and bring to justice fugitives from environmental crimes. The new web site includes profiles of 25 men wanted for a variety of environmental claims.
The web site is largely self-explanatory, but I did want to note two items. First, in a transparent bid to limit my liability, I will note, as does EPA on the web site,… More
As we have noted, there have been a number of arguments regarding the implications of a decision by EPA to utilize current Clean Air Act authority to regulate greenhouse gases. The Chamber of Commerce has been in the “sky is falling” camp. Nonetheless, environmentalists are already pressing President-elect Obama to regulate greenhouse gases under the CAA, without waiting for what could be a lengthy legislative process.
According to a story in the Daily Environment Report, at a recent forum held by the American Law institute and the American Bar Association, the prevailing view was… More
Demonstrating that the recent announcement of new stormwater controls for the Charles River in Massachusetts were not an aberration, EPA, joining with the Maine DEP, announced last Friday that it will be imposing new stormwater regulations for discharges into Long Creek, which ultimately flows into Casco Bay.
Responding to petitions from the Conservation Law Foundation, EPA has exercised its Residual Designation Authority under its NPDES permitting regulations.
On the better late than never front, I finally got around to reviewing the still relatively recent decision in United States v. Cinergy Corp. regarding the scope of injunctive relief available with respect to violations of the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review, or NSR, provisions. Although the decision was issued in mid-October, its significance is great enough to mention here.
As most readers here will know, the Cinergy case is one of the remaining NSR enforcement cases originally brought by the Clinton administration. The defendants had previously been found liable for NSR violations at the Wabash River… More
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to publish a Final Rule creating an optional, alternative set of generator requirements for hazardous waste generated or accumulated in laboratories at “eligible academic entities”: (1) colleges and universities; (2) non-profit research institutes owned or affiliated with a college or university; or (3) teaching hospitals owned or affiliated with a college or university.
The Rule will append a new subpart, Subpart K, to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous waste generator regulatory requirements of 40 CFR 262. Eligible academic entities may choose to have their laboratories subject to Subpart K in… More
In Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court concluded that greenhouse gases, including CO2, are “air pollutants,” the it left (barely) open the question whether CO2 is “subject to regulation” under the Clean Air Act (“CAA”).
Following Massachusetts v. EPA, there have been a number of cases in which advocates of climate change regulation have sought to require EPA to regulate CO2 as a pollutant. One of those cases, In re Deseret Power Electric Cooperative, was just decided by the EPA Environmental Appeals Board. In Deseret Power, the Sierra Club had challenged issuance of a PSD permit issued by EPA Region… More
Can a party found liable of violating the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review provisions be required to reduce future pollution more to mitigate emissions caused by past violations? According to a recent U.S. District Court decision, maybe.
In U.S. v. Cinergy Corp., S.D. Ind., No. 99-1693, decided October 14, 2008, the first court to rule on whether retroactive, as opposed to prospective relief, is available under Section 113 of the Clean Air Act found that the court does have the authority to grant such relief. Although the court stopped short of ordering this relief (procedurally, this opinion was… More
Opening yet another front in the effort to force EPA to take more aggressive action to combat global warming, the Environmental Defense Fund recently announced its intent to sue EPA for its failure to update emissions standards with respect to emissions of methane from landfills. As EDF has alleged, Section 111 of the Clean Air Act requires that EPA update its New Source Performance Standards every eight years. EPA last updated the landfill NSPS in 1996.
Of course, at the time EPA last promulgated landfill NSPS, climate change was not part of the equation. Now, it… More
Has the D.C. Circuit had second thoughts about its decision to vacate EPA’s Clean Air Interstate Rule? As we noted last month, after Congress pretty much threw up its hands at efforts to salvage some part of CAIR, EPA, states and private stakeholder were left wondering how to proceed. Now, the Court may have provided a life-line to CAIR. In surprise Order issued last week, the Court requested additional briefing on the scope of its decision to vacate the rule.
The order does not suggest any retreat by the Court from its decision that the regulations have… More
As those of us who have practiced in the Superfund arena for some time know, in the early years of Superfund litigation, such litigation was, from the defendant’s perspective, brutish and short, if not nasty and mean. The DOJ attorney would, in essence, march into court, state “I am from the government; I win,” and the case would be over.
In recent years, that approach has not proven quite so uniformly successful. The key case in the defendants’ arsenal is United States v. Bestfoods. In Bestfoods, the Supreme Court looked to traditional common law principles regarding corporate law… More
On September 22, EPA issued a new Stormwater Multi-Sector General Permit (MSGP) to cover 4,100 facilities with discharges associated with an industrial activity. The permit replaces the MSGP that was issued in 2000 and expired in October 2005. The expired permit continued to be valid for facilities that were covered by the permit at the time it expired.
The new permit applies to states not authorized to implement EPA’s NPDES program, including Massachusetts and New Hampshire. It will be effective as of September 29, 2008.
Although EPA claims of regulatory reform sometimes ring hollow, the new MSGP truly… More
Since the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia vacated EPA’s Clean Air Interstate Rule in its entirety, EPA and Congress have been working on a variety of fixes. As we recently noted, Congressional Democrats recently put together a plan to enact CAIR’s Phase I SO2 and NOx limits. Enacting those limits would result in emissions reductions of approximately 45% of SO2 and 50% for NOx.
There was a time when EPA was almost uniformly successful in defending its regulations in the courts. EPA would note the deference provided to agency decision-making under Chevron U.S.A. v. NRDC, remind the court of its expertise in interpreting some very complicated statutes, and the case would essentially be over. Not any more.
In recent years, as the Bush administration has embarked on some quite ambitious regulatory reform efforts, EPA’s record has slipped considerably. The most famous case at this point is Massachusetts v. EPA, in which the Supreme Court rejected EPA’s efforts to avoid regulation of greenhouse… More
EPA’s enforcement efforts under the New Source Review, or NSR, program have had more twists and turns during the past ten years than it is possible to catalogue, at least in a blog post short enough to avoid crashing the server. In brief, EPA began under the Clinton administration an ambitious effort to bring NSR cases against numerous power plants. Those efforts have had substantial, though not perfect, success in court. Settlements with some targets have also yielded hundreds of million dollars in agreed-to upgrades in plant emission controls.
The Bush administration, of course, sought to amend the NSR regulations… More
EPA has publicly taken the position that the current Clean Air Act is ill-suited to regulation of CO2 as a pollutant. In an advance notice of proposed rulemaking. EPA stated that regulation of greenhouse gases “could result in an unprecedented expansion of EPA authority that would have a profound effect on virtually every sector of the economy and touch every household in the land.” (Of course, proponents of regulation of greenhouse gases under the CAA might say that that is precisely what is needed to address the problem of global climate change.)
Given EPA’s stated reluctance to regulate CO2… More
Since the Supreme Court issued its decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, Congress, EPA, state regulators, environmentalists, and industry groups have been trying to determine what it would mean to regulate CO2 under the Clean Air Act. While both presidential candidates are on record as supporting some kind of climate change legislation, the currently proposed legislation is extraordinarily complex and there are certainly no guarantees that legislation will in fact be enacted any time soon.
In the meantime, Massachusetts v. EPA does not seem to leave EPA much wiggle room, notwithstanding the agency’s current unwillingness to move forward on CO2… More
In the days following the decision by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to vacate EPA’s Clean Air Interstate Rule – CAIR – regulators, industry, and environmentalists have been attempting to answer one fairly basic – and quite critical – question. What now? Although a variety of parties had challenged various aspects of CAIR, it seems that no one was quite prepared for the decision by the Court of appeals that the entire rule had to be vacated, due to “several fatal flaws” in the rule. CAIR required 28 states and the District of Columbia to… More