Last year, after a string of defeats for EPA in its NSR enforcement initiative, I suggested that the initiative was in trouble, but that EPA was probably not yet ready to concede defeat. After the latest blow, earlier this month, EPA has to be reconsidering. I assume that EPA won’t give up completely until it has lost everywhere or the Supreme Court has weighed in, but the NSR initiative is definitely on life support at this point.
Category Archives: Permitting
Two Days, Three Decisions, One Big Mess: Welcome to Judicial Review of the Waters of the United States Rule
On Wednesday, Judge Irene Keeley of the Northern District of West Virginia held that district courts do not have jurisdiction to hear challenges to EPA’s rule defining waters of the United States, because courts of appeal have original jurisdiction over “any effluent limitation or other limitation.” Yesterday, Judge Lisa Wood of the Southern District of Georgia agreed.
Later yesterday, Judge Ralph Erickson of the District of North Dakota disagreed. Finding that a definitional rule is not an effluent limitation and is not any “other limitation”, because it “places no new burden or requirements on the States”, Judge Erickson… More
No Short Cuts Allowed: The FWS Must Comply with NEPA Before Extending Programmatic Take Permits to 30 Years
Earlier this month, the Judge Lucy Koh set aside the Fish & Wildlife Service’s decision to extend its programmatic permit for bald and golden eagle takes from five to 30 years. The extension was sought by the wind industry for the obvious reason that the uncertainty attached to a five-year permit makes financing a 20- or 30-year project very difficult. I agree with the concern and support the extension, but the FWS’s attempt to short-circuit NEPA requirements in order to get the extension done quickly was… More
Late last month, the Fish & Wildlife Service issued a Notice of Intent to prepare a programmatic environmental impact statement to evaluate various options for authorizing incidental takes under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Of likely the greatest interest to the regulated community, FWS will consider issuing general permits, with performance standards, for certain industry sectors. FWS specifically called out the following sectors:
Oil, gas, and wastewater disposal pits Methane or other gas burner pipes at oil production sites Communications towers Electric transmission and distribution lines.
Although not called out in separate bullets, the Notice also states the FWS… More
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals today rejected Kansas’s challenge to EPA’s disapproval of Kansas’s SIP revisions intended to comply with the Interstate Transport Rule. The Court found that EPA was not arbitrary or capricious in rejecting Kansas’s SIP, noting that:
The discussion of interstate transport in Kansas’s SIP was only one page long and failed to provide any analysis at all of the downwind effect of its in-state emissions.
Generally speaking, it’s just not wise for a state simply to thumb its nose at EPA. I realize that the legal issues related to EPA’s greenhouse gas rule are… More
In February, we noted that the Conservation Law Foundation and the Charles River Watershed Association had threatened to sue EPA for failing to require that “commercial, industrial, institutional, and high density residential property dischargers of nutrient-polluted stormwater” obtain NPDES permits, and for failing to make a final determination on CLF’s and CRWA’s petition that EPA exercise its residual designation authority with respect to stormwater discharges in the Charles River Watershed.
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.
I have never agreed with those in the environmental community who are opposed to cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analysis. Cost-effectiveness analysis just seems a no-brainer to me. As to cost-benefit analysis, we do it implicitly every time we write a regulation, and I don’t understand the unwillingness to do so explicitly.
All of which serves as burying the lede to Executive Order 562, issued by Governor Baker this week. The order applies to both existing regulations and those proposed or to be proposed, and has several important elements:
Except as… More
In Black Warrior Riverkeeper v. ACOE, decided this week by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Court was faced with a quandary. “On the eve of oral argument”, in a case challenging The Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permit 21, which allows certain surface coal mining activities without an individual permit, the Army Corps of Engineers informed the Court that it had significantly underestimated the acreage that would be affected by NWP 21. Moreover, the Corps acknowledged that this error was sufficiently significant that it needed to revisit NWP 21. More
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
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
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
This week, Virginia formally proposed Nutrient Trading Certification Regulations. The program will establish a market in phosphorus and nitrogen removal credits. Although the program is welcome news, it should be neither earthshattering nor controversial. After all, as we noted more than two years ago, a study by the Chesapeake Bay Commission demonstrated that use of nutrient trading would substantially reduce the cost of the Chesapeake Bay restoration project.
Since I have a gift for the obvious, I’ll remind readers that we’ve been trading credits in SO2… 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
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
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.
In July, we noted that the Clean Water Act’s permit shield defense would be construed narrowly, applying only where a permittee had clearly disclosed that the relevant pollutant to the agency. This week, in Alaska Community Action on Toxics v. Aurora Energy Services, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals treated the stormwater general permit in a similar manner, rejecting the defendants’ arguments that periodic discharges of coal from their coal-loading facility were authorized under the stormwater general permit.
To the Court, this was a straightforward, plain meaning interpretation of… More
Last 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
In two related decisions last week, the Supreme Judicial Court issued three important rulings, and handed the Brockton Power Company one major problem in its long-running effort to build a combined-cycle gas plant in Brockton.
First, in City of Brockton v. EFSB, the SJC rejected all of the challenges by the City of Brockton and certain citizens to the Energy Facilities Siting Board approval of the Brockton Power project.
In a holding that will cheer environmental advocates but strike fear into developers of all stripes, the SJC found that the EFSB’s application of the Commonwealth’s Environmental Justice policy is… More
Early last month, we noted that the decision in Luminant v. EPA suggested that the reach of the Supreme Court decision in Sackett is not unlimited. The Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit agrees. In Belle Company v. Corps of Engineers, the Court ruled that a Corps Jurisdictional Determination, or JD, is not final agency action subject to judicial review.
That had always been the law, but the plaintiffs argued that Sackett changed the landscape. Not so, said the Court. The Court agreed that the JD was the “consummation of the Corps’s decisionmaking process.” However,… More
Is Selenium the Coal Industry’s Kryptonite? Citizen Groups Obtain Summary Judgment Based on Water Quality Criteria Exceedances
Earlier this week, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and other NGOs obtained summary judgment that Alex Energy had violated both its NPDES permit and its Surface Mining Permits due to exceedances of the West Virginia water quality standard for selenium. The permit did not contain effluent limitations for selenium. Nonetheless, the state NPDES permits incorporate by reference regulations stating that:
discharges covered by a WV/NPDES permit are to be of such quality so as not to cause violation of applicable water quality standards promulgated by [West Virginia Code of State Rules § 47-2].
Similarly, the West Virginia surface mine… More
EPA Wins Two Clean Water Cases in One Day: The Fourth Circuit Affirms a Narrow Construction of the Permit Shield Defense
Yesterday, I noted that the D.C. Circuit rejected challenges to EPA’s Enhanced Coordination Process and Final Guidance on Clean Water Act permitting for mining activities. It was not EPA’s only CWA victory. On the same day, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a decision narrowly construing the CWA’s permit shield defense.
Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards sued A&G Coal over discharges of selenium from A&G’s Kelly Branch Surface Mine in Virginia. The case was not really difficult and was only ever going to have one outcome.
According to the record, at the time of A&G’s NPDES permit… More
The D.C. Circuit Rejects Challenge to EPA’s Final Guidance on CWA Coal Mining Permits: EPA Action Has to Be Really, Really, Final to Be Appealable
On Friday, the D.C. Circuit reversed Judge Reggie Walton’s decision from 2012 and affirmed EPA’s authority to adopt the “Enhanced Coordination Process” governing coordination with the Army Corps of Engineers in the processing of Clean Water Act permits. The Court also rejected challenges to its 2012 Final Guidance document regarding appropriate conditions on such permits.
The decision on the Enhanced Coordination Process seems rather obvious. As the Court noted:
this kind of inter-agency consultation and coordination is commonplace and often desirable. Indeed, restricting such consultation and coordination would raise significant constitutional concerns.
Indeed, one of… More
83% of a Loaf Is Better Than None: The Supreme Court Affirms EPA’s Authority to Regulate “Anyway Sources”, But Rejects Regulation of Otherwise Exempt Sources
The Supreme Court today affirmed EPA’s authority to subject 83% of greenhouse gas emissions to its PSD and Title V Operating Permit programs. However, EPA’s rationale for the rule did not fare so well, and EPA does not have authority to regulate GHG emissions from facilities not otherwise subject to PSD review or the Title V program.
To EPA and the court below, the main issue – EPA’s authority – was not difficult. PSD applies to “any regulated air pollutant.” Once EPA issued the tailpipe rule, GHGs became a regulated pollutant. Thus, EPA had not just discretion to regulate… More
Does Offshore Wind Finally Have The Wind At Its Back? DOI Announces Plan For Largest Auction To Date
Earlier this week, DOI Secretary Jewell joined with Governor Patrick to announce plans to auction more than 1,000 square miles on the Outer Continental Shelf offshore Massachusetts for wind energy development. The auction, which will be implemented as four separate leases, pretty much will follow the form of earlier lease auctions:
• Bidders will be prequalified to participate in the auction
• The auction will include multiple factors, including non-monetary factors
• The winning bidder or bidders will have one year in which to submit a site assessment for the… 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
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.
D.C. Circuit Affirms EPA’s Utility Air Toxics Rule: An “Appropriate” Rule Need Not Be Justified By Cost-Benefit Analysis
Yesterday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed EPA’s rule setting limits for emissions of mercury and other air toxics from fossil-fuel-fired electric steam generating units. The focus of the decision – and the issue on which Judge Kavanaugh dissented – was whether EPA was required to consider the costs that would be imposed by the rule. EPA said no and the majority agreed.
Section 112(n) of the Clean Air Act required EPA to perform a study of the health hazards related to hazardous emissions from EGUs prior to regulating them. How was EPA to utilize the results of… More
Enforcement of Municipal Stormwater Ordinances Is Tricky Business: Failure to Enforce an Ordinance Required Under a Permit Is Not a Violation of the Permit
Stormwater pollution has become an increasingly important problem. Part of the difficulty in solving it is that it’s not obvious who should be responsible. Should cash-strapped municipalities be on the hook or should it be developers and others who own and maintain large properties with acres of impermeable surfaces? Often, the answer given by EPA and state regulators is that municipal separate stormwater sewer systems, or MS4s are responsible, but they have the authority – and sometimes the obligation – to impose appropriate requirements on property owners.
That was the case in Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future v. Pittsburgh Water… More
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 Endangered Species Act is a powerful tool for the protection of threatened and endangered species and their habitats. Just how powerful was made clear last week when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals largely reversed a trial court opinion and essentially sustained actions taken by the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the delta smelt. The “reasonable and prudent alternatives” identified in the Biological Opinion issued by the FWS will result in substantially less water being exported from northern California to southern California.
The decision is massive (153… More
Late last week, in Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility v. Beaudreu, Judge Reggie Walton gave Cape Wind and its federal co-defendants an almost across the board victory in a series of challenges by Cape Wind opponents to a variety of environmental decisions made by federal agencies. We’ll see how many more of these victories Cape Wind can take. Their opponents certainly aren’t going away. In fact, the opponents declared victory themselves.
Judge Walton agreed with the opponents on two issues. First, he found that the Fish and Wildlife Service erred in essentially delegating to the Bureau of Ocean Energy… More
The Federal Tail Should Not Wag the Non-Federal Dog: The Sixth Circuit Concludes that the Corps’ Review of Mountaintop Removal Projects Is Limited
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled, in Kentuckians for the Commonwealth v. Army Corps of Engineers, that the scope of review by the Army Corps of Engineers of § 404 permit applications for fills related to mountaintop removal mining is limited to impacts directly related to the filling operations that require a permit, rather than the overall impacts of the mining project.
The case concerned a mountaintop removal project by Leeco in Perry County, Kentucky. Prior to issuing a § 404 permit, the ACOE performed its NEPA review, issuing a Finding of No Significant Impact after completion… More
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
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
Cape Wind Survives a Legal Challenge to FAA Approval: Is the Opposition Strategy to Play Whac-A-Mole?
On Wednesday, the Court of Appeals rejected a challenge by the Town of Barnstable to the FAA’s “no hazard” determination for Cape Wind. As background, the same court had determined in 2010 that a prior no hazard determination by the FAA had not been adequately supported. This time, the FAA did better, in part because the facts on the ground were better. One significant concern in 2010 had been the potential impact of the turbines on the radar system at Otis Airfield. However, that concern was largely addressed in the interim by the addition of a digital processor to… More
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:
Citizens Are Not Harmed By the Concept of Pollution Trading: A Challenge to the Chesapeake Bay TMDL Is Dismissed
On December 13, the District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed plaintiffs’ challenge in Food and Water Watch v. EPA to the Chesapeake Bay TMDL’s discussion of pollution trading and offsets. As I had previously noted, the TMDL itself already survived judicial challenge.
In this case, plaintiffs alleged that they would be harmed by trading of effluent discharge rights, because such trading would create “hotspots” that would damage their enjoyment of the water bodies where the elevated discharges would occur.
Judge Contreras was having none of it. First, he found that the plaintiffs did not have… More
Last week, what appears to be a draft (so long that it is in two separate parts) of EPA’s proposed rule defining “waters of the United States” was widely circulated. Part of what I love about this story is that it is uncertain whether this is in fact the draft rule that EPA sent to OMB to review. On one hand, it has many of the hallmarks of an EPA proposed rule. However, there are some aspects that do read somewhat oddly, particularly the level of informality in the text. According to the Daily Environment Report on… 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
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
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
The Atomic Energy Act Preempts Vermont’s Efforts To Close Vermont Yankee: Sometimes, Legislative Intent Is Just Too Clear To Ignore
Last week, in Entergy v. Shumlin, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals largely struck down Vermont’s efforts to close Vermont Yankee. Although three separate Vermont statutes were at issue, and Entergy made both preemption and dormant Commerce Clause arguments, the essence of the case was simply that Vermont sought to require explicit legislative approval for Vermont Yankee’s continued operation. Dismissing various proffered rationales for Vermont’s scheme, the Court concluded that the legislation was a poorly veiled attempt to end nuclear power generation in Vermont in response to public concerns about reactor safety and environmental issues.
At some level, the… 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
What Is the Burden In Proving a Violation of a Stormwater Permit? If It Walks Like a Stormwater Discharge …
Those of us who do NPDES work know that enforcement, including citizen enforcement, against industrial point sources can often be all to straightforward. The plaintiff marches into court with a pile of the defendant’s discharge monitoring reports and the liability phase may be over quickly. Stormwater cases are different, as last week’s 9th Circuit decision in NRDC v. County of Los Angeles demonstrates.
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
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 Supreme Court ruled today, in Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District, that a property owner who is denied a land use permit on the ground that he refused to pay money to compensate for the harm to be caused by his proposed property use states a claim for a regulatory taking, unless the regulator can establish a “nexus” and “rough proportionality” between the exaction and the alleged harm requiring mitigation.
The facts in Koontz are muddled and, as the dissent points out, it is not obvious that Koontz should prevail on remand, even under the majority’s… More
Do Liability Policies, Particularly Pollution Liability Insurance Policies, Exclude Coverage for All Injunctions? The Fifth Circuit Says No.
The Fifth Circuit handed down an important decision last week, Louisiana Generating LLC v. Illinois Union Insurance Company, clarifying the scope of coverage under a Premises Pollution Liability Insurance Policy. The policyholder sought coverage for a Clean Air Act suit by the United States alleging unpermitted major modifications that resulted in increased emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. The insurer disputed coverage on the ground that the government under the Clean Air Act was seeking not remediation costs or compensatory damages but an injunction to repair emission control equipment to comply with regulatory standards. According to the insurer,… More
Massachusetts Releases Its Revised Solid Waste Master Plan: Are We Really on a Pathway to Zero Waste?
On Tuesday, MassDEP announced release of its updated Solid Waste Master Plan, subtitled “Pathway to Zero Waste.” The Plan’s most significant discussion relates to the state of the solid waste market and the Plan’s goal for disposal reduction. The Plan announces a goal of reducing solid waste disposal by 30% from 2008 to 2020, from 6,550,000 tons to 4,550,000 tons. However, the Plan acknowledges that, even if that ambitious goal is met, there will still be a shortfall of 700,000 tons in solid waste handling capacity in Massachusetts.
This is where the Plan’s controversial modification of the existing… 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
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.
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.
Not a Shining Moment For Congress: Two Leading Economists Note the “Sordid History” of Cap-and-Trade Legislation
I have previously blogged about how strange our politics has become, when cap-and-trade programs, previously touted by conservatives and viewed skeptically by environmentalists as a “license to pollute,” somehow become for conservatives the poster child of big government programs. It is nice when economists as respected as Dick Schmalensee and my friend Rob Stavins make the same point. I’m not sure I can put it much more succinctly than this:
It is truly ironic that conservatives chose to demonise their own market-based creation.
The further irony would be if those opposed to climate change regulation, who have successfully… More
In addition to its MCP package, MassDEP has also released its formal regulatory reform proposals for its water, wastewater, wetlands, and waterways programs. As with the MCP proposal, the water package took longer than it should have, and may not be perfect, but is definitely worth the wait. MassDEP has provided two separate helpful summaries of the changes, one concerning wastewater issues and the other concerning wetlands, waterways and water quality.
A Victory For Regulation Over Guidance? Are EPA and the Corps Giving Up on Post-Rapanos Wetlands Guidance?
As readers of this blog know, EPA’s use of guidance is a pet peeve of mine. The issue has arisen with particular force in connection with EPA’s efforts to define Clean Water Act jurisdiction following the Supreme Court decision in Rapanos. When I last posted on this issue, I noted that any potential theoretical benefits to guidance were being outweighed by the practical reality that issuing guidance on such an important issue ends up taking on many of the trappings of regulation, and thus does not save time or transaction costs.
Sometimes, I’m right.
Almost a year later,… More
The California Air Resources Board just released the results of its second auction of GHG allowances. While the auction for vintage 2013 allowances was still healthy, with all allowances sold at $13.62/allowance, the future auction, for vintage 2016 allowances, did not fare so well. Fewer than half the allowances sold, and the clearing price was CARB’s reserve price of $10.71/allowance.
Why the disparity? It’s significantly above any reasonable discount rate. Could it be that uncertainty about the future of the allowance program might depress prices in the out years? Given the fits and starts with which carbon regulation has… More
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
In Sierra Club v. EPA, issued today, The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected EPA’s rules governing “significant impact levels” and “significant monitoring concentrations” for determining PSD permitting requirements for new sources of PM2.5. Both the SIL and SMC provisions provided important exemptions from the PSD permitting regime. The Court ruled that neither provision was justified given the inflexible language of the Clean Air Act.
The SIL is “the level of ambient impact below which the EPA considers a source to have an insignificant effect on ambient air quality.” However, it is possible for a source… More
EPA Formally Withdraws Numeric Turbidity Standards from Its Stormwater Rule for Construction and Development Sites
Daily Environment Report announced yesterday that EPA notified BNA that, late last year, EPA reached a settlement with the Utility Water Act Group and the National Association of Home Builders resolving litigation over EPA’s rule imposing effluent limitations on the “Construction and Development Point Source Category” and over its Construction General Permit.
The most contentious aspect of EPA’s regulatory efforts in this area was EPA’s inclusion of numeric turbidity limits. The regulated community had severely criticized the data on which EPA relied in imposing the standard. EPA, to its credit, had acknowledged the data flaws and stayed the… More
Can Wind Energy Serve As Baseload Power? The First Circuit Agrees with the NRC That, For Now, The Answer Is “Not Yet.”
In an interesting decision issued last Friday, the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in Beyond Nuclear v. NextEra Energy Seabrook, affirmed the decision by the NRC rejecting a challenge to Seabrook’s relicensing posed by a coalition of environmental groups. The decision seems clearly correct, but raises an important policy issue that is likely to recur as renewable energy technologies advance, so seemed worth mention.
The issue in the case was that the environmental groups, known collectively as “Beyond Nuclear,” contended that the relicensing proceeding should include wind… More
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
As I’ve previously discussed, MassDEP has been embarked on an effort – prompted by shrinking budgetary resources – to promulgate a package of regulatory reforms. While the package was announced in March 2012 and updated last October, we only saw the first set of actual proposed regulations last week, when MassDEP announced changes to both its asbestos regulations and its solid waste regulations. This post will focus on the solid waste package.
On initial review, it’s a good package. It’s not a panacea, but was never intended as such, and it certainly contains a… More
Late last week, MassDEP announced release of the 2010-2020 Solid Waste Master Plan, subtitled “Pathway to Zero Waste.” James Collins might describe that as a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. I have nothing against Big Hairy Audacious Goals, but sometimes they are implemented through Big Hairy Audacious Regulations. Time will tell if that’s the case here.
The Master Plan goals are to reduce solid waste by 30% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 – not quite zero waste, but more than sufficiently hairy and audacious. To work… 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.
The Massachusetts DPU Approves the Cape Wind NSTAR Contract: Do I Feel Wind At The End Of The Tunnel?
On Monday, the Massachusetts DPU gave an early holiday present to Cape Wind, by approving the power purchase agreement it entered into with NSTAR. When the 27.5% of Cape Wind represented by this PPA is added to the 50% included in the National Grid PPA, it is looking more and more as though Cape Wind will actually make it to the finish line.
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
This week, MassDEP announced that it had finalized regulatory revisions intended to encourage anaerobic digestion projects in the Commonwealth. The regulations are the culmination of a long stakeholder process . Since our firm knows from personal experience MassDEP’s ability to tie itself in knots on this issue, there is little doubt that this package was necessary as a practical matter.
Highlights of the regulations include:
An exemption from the site assignment process for anaerobic (and aerobic) digestion operations A general permit for digestion operations receiving no more than 100 tons per day (30 day rolling average) – That’s up from a 60 tpd limit… 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.
As a follow-up to my post earlier this month on BOEM’s release of the Environmental Assessment for the Massachusetts Wind Energy Area, I just thought that I would note that, according to Daily Environment Report, Maureen Bornholdt of BOEM announced earlier this week at a public hearing on the EA that BOEM expects to start auctioning leases for the WEA by the fall of 2013. Of course, that’s just when the fun starts. Each lessee is going to have to do a full environmental review before construction even begins, so it will still be some time before we see electrons flow from the… 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
In April 2011, MassDEP launched a regulatory reform initiative. Yours truly participated in the original stakeholder group working with MassDEP to develop a list of potential reforms. Last week, MassDEP provided an update on the status of the reform package. While it has probably taken longer than Commissioner Kimmell had hoped, I am pleased to say that there is a lot of good stuff at this point, including some items that have been added since the original Action Plan was finalized in March 2012. Highlights include:
Elimination of MassDEP sewer connection permits. The existing program represents… More
Late last month, in Wildearth Guardians v. Lamar Utilities Board, Judge David Ebel ruled that Lamar violated the Clean Air Act by not obtaining a MACT determination, given that its potential emissions of hydrochloric acid were 10.3 tons per year, above the 10 tpy limit for any single hazardous air pollutant. The decision provides an abject lesson on the costs imposed by regulatory uncertainty.
The facts, in bullet form, are as follows:
In 2000, EPA determined that coal- and oil-fired electric generating units would be subject to MACT. In 2004, Lamar decided to upgrade an existing small natural gas-fired… More
Another Nail in the Public Nuisance Litigation Coffin: The 9th Circuit Affirms Dismissal of the Kivalina Claims
On Friday, in Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals may have sounded the death knell for public nuisance litigation concerning the impacts of climate change, affirming dismissal of the damage claims brought by the City of Kivalina and the Native Village of Kivalina against major greenhouse gas emitters.
As most readers will know, last year, in American Electric Power v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court determined that public nuisance claims for injunctive relief have been displaced by the comprehensive federal regulatory scheme embodied in… More
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
I finally had an opportunity to review the recent Final Decision in In the Matter of Palmer Renewable Energy, concerning the proposed Palmer biomass facility. Last week, MassDEP Commissioner Ken Kimmell affirmed the Recommended Final Decision by Presiding Officer Timothy Jones, rejecting challenges by the Conservation Law Foundation to the air permit issued to the project by MassDEP. For practitioners, the case is important, but a decidedly mixed bag.
First, on the issue of broadest importance, I’m sorry to say that MassDEP missed a real opportunity to conform its standing requirements to the actual meaning of Chapter 30A. Instead,… More
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
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
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.
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
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
Last week, I noted that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced that it had identified an area for commercial wind energy leasing offshore Massachusetts. This week, BOEM announced the availability of an Environmental Assessment to support commercial leases in an adjoining parcel offshore both Massachusetts and Rhode Island. (Couldn’t find a photo with good resolution. The figure is obviously in the EA, but you can find a stand-alone map here.)
The scope of the EA is limited. Separate analysis, almost certainly to require preparation of environmental… More
Yesterday, in Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected all challenges to EPA’s GHG rules. The decision is a reminder that important cases, or those with big stakes, are not necessarily difficult cases. Anyone reviewing the decision will quickly see that, to the court, this was not a hard case. Indeed, the tone of the opinion has the feel of a teacher lecturing a student where the teacher has a sense that the student is being willfully obtuse.
The bottom line is that EPA not only had authority to issue the regulations; it had a legal… More
Last Thursday, in response to a court order, EPA finally proposed revisions to the national ambient air quality standard for PM2.5. The most significant part of the rule is EPA’s proposal to lower the primary annual standard from 15 ug/m3 to a range of from 12 ug/m3 to 13 ug/m3.
At a certain level, the proposal should not really be news and should not have a significant impact. After all, in 2009, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected EPA’s proposal at that time to retain the 15 ug/m3 standard. The court concluded that EPA had not justified retaining the standard,… More
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
BOEM Identifies a Wind Energy Area offshore Massachusetts: Will the Next Project Take Less Time Than Cape Wind?
Last Wednesday, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced that it has identified an area offshore Massachusetts for commercial wind energy development. BOEM narrowed the area somewhat from what had been proposed, based on certain wildlife concerns. Although the identification of the area as part of the Department of the Interior’s Smart from the Start program will allow expedited permitting, individual projects by lessees would be subject to NEPA.
One can only hope that this process will indeed result in the successful siting of large-scale commercial wind projects offshore. Solar energy… 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
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
Yesterday, the Boston Globe reported that MassDEP is considering promulgating new regulations to manage noise from on-shore wind turbines. I sympathize with my friends at MassDEP, who are trying to implement a clean energy agenda and ensure that Massachusetts meets the aggressive carbon reduction targets in the Global Warming Solutions Act. This is no easy task in a home rule state that would have a fighting chance to win any national NIMBY championship competition.
I hope against hope that the Department can take some action that will not unduly obstruct construction of wind projects, but that will, if not… 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
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
Industry groups and environmentalists continue to do battle over EPA’s efforts to update its post-Rapanos guidance. Greenwire reports that 12 different groups have met with “the White House” in the past six weeks. As this process drags on, one cannot help but ask why this guidance is even being issued at all.
At an earlier point, I acknowledged that this might actually be an appropriate situation in which to use guidance, for one basic reason. The guidance is only temporary; EPA has already acknowledged the need to pursue rulemaking as the long-term solution.
That being said, however, I… 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
On Tuesday, EPA announced release of its proposed New Source Performance Standards for carbon pollution from new power plants. I’m feeling like a broken record here. Everyone’s acting on rational motives (if not rationally), but the result remains, to put it mildly, suboptimal. On the paramount environmental issue of the day, we’re going about it all wrong, when we know that there is a better way.
I cannot really blame EPA or the environmentalists. Indeed, at a certain level they cannot be faulted unless you don’t believe in climate change, and I am not in that camp. Since climate change is real,… 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
New Jersey Promulgates A Regulation Permitting Waiver of Environmental Regulations: Will the Environment In New Jersey Collapse as a Result?
Late last week, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection adopted a rule providing itself with the authority to waive environmental regulations in limited circumstances. According to the Daily Environmental Report, opponents of the regulation immediately attacked the rule, saying that it
is an attack on environmental protections and will open up New Jersey’s regulatory system to pay-to-lay. This rule will not only undo 30 years of environmental protections but will create more pollution, traffic, and flooding and threaten public health and safety.”
Yikes. And you already thought that New Jersey was just a string of Superfund sites linked by the… More
The Council on Environmental Quality has released it guidance on “Improving the Process for Preparing Efficient and Timely Environmental Reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act.” As far as I can tell, the guidance provides literally nothing on improving the process. It is instead a compendium of how wonderful the process already is in allowing and encouraging appropriate flexibility in complying with NEPA. I’m not sold.
In fairness, CEQ has a tough task here. It’s trying to satisfy everyone, including NGOs and environmental justice advocates, as well as project proponents. As I noted yesterday in my post on regulatory reform in Massachusetts, sometimes… More
Yesterday, MassDEP released its Final Action Plan for Regulatory Reform. It pretty consistent with the draft package I summarized last October. There is some good stuff in the package, but it really is baby steps. MassDEP’s own ground rules precluded the adoption of any changes that could not be described as Pareto improvements– If any stakeholder would be made worse off, it just wasn’t going to happen. Thus, MassDEP imposed the following limitations to ensure that the changes would not:
Cost MassDEP money Impose burdens on municipalities Reduce public process Require statutory… 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
Yesterday, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued a notice of availability for the Environmental Assessment it prepared in connection with the issuance of leases for wind energy development off the coast of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. The EA includes a Finding of No Significant Impact, or FONSI. In other words, BOEM concluded that the issuance of leases does not require a full blown Environmental Impact Report.
The EA also addresses the individual site assessment plans, or SAPs, that will have to be performed by… 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
Is Massachusetts the NIMBY Capital of the World? What Will Be the Impact of the Wind Turbine Health Impact Study?
Yesterday, the “Independent Expert Panel” convened by MassDEP to review whether wind turbines cause any adverse health effects issued its report. I was pleased that the headline in the Boston Globe was that “Wind turbines don’t cause health problems.” Similarly, the Daily Environment Report headline was that “Massachusetts Study Finds ‘No Evidence’ of Health Impacts from Wind Turbines.”
I hope that that’s the way the report will be read, but I’m worried. Perhaps I just have too many NIMBY-related scars. Whatever the reason, I am worried about the report’s statements that there
is limited epidemiologic evidence suggesting an association between exposure… 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.
Last Friday, noting a story about the extent to which concerns about sea level rise from climate change might affect development in East Boston, I wondered whether battles over whether and how to adapt to climate change might be moving from the realm of the hypothetical to the realm of the real. Climate Wire has now begun a series of stories on how cities are planning for climate change. This week, there have been stories about Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Hallandale Beach, Florida.
The long-term picture in these cities is no prettier than that of East Boston. The specifics don’t… More
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
A story in today’s Boston Globe makes clear that, at least in states where it is permissible to use the words “climate” and “change” in the same sentence, the battle over adaption may no longer be hypothetical. The neighborhood known as East Boston is one that might appropriately be described as having unfulfilled potential. Last month, at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast, Mayor Menino pledged to revive East Boston, specifically calling out five projects that have been on the drawing board for some time.
So what’s the problem? The problem is that East Boston is a waterfront community. Indeed, arguments have long… 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
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today affirmed the decision by the Department of Public Utilities to approve the power purchase agreement, or PPA, between Cape Wind and National Grid. (Full disclosure: Foley Hoag represented the Department of Energy Resources in support of the contract before the DPU.) The decision doesn’t mean that Cape Wind will now get built. Given the (one hopes) temporary problems with the federal loan guarantee program and Cape Wind’s failure thus far to sell the rest of the power from the project, the SJC decision is more of a necessary than sufficient condition to construction.
On the… More
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.
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
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
Earlier this week, Greenwire noted a Los Angeles Times story reporting that businesses are using the California Environmental Quality Act – California’s version of NEPA – as a tool of economic competition, trying to kill or delay projects for economic reasons. Much like Claude Rains, I am shocked, shocked, to find that there is strategic litigation going on here. In the past two years, I have defended multiple court cases and administrative hearings brought by a 10-citizens group against one particular client. Many of those claims have been premised on our… More
It is, as the lawyers say, black letter law that the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, is a procedural statute, which provides no substantive protection to the environment. It merely requires the appropriate level of assessment of the potential environmental consequences of federal action. Whether the action should be taken is outside NEPA’s purview.
Rarely, however, has this critical limitation on NEPA’s scope been stated so plainly as in yesterday’s decision in Save Strawberry Canyon v. U.S. Department of Energy, in which Judge Alsop of the Northern District of California… More
Yesterday, the Daily Environment Report noted the formation of the Coalition for Better Buildings, or C4BB, an alliance of environmental, business, and real estate interests intended to increase the incentives to make buildings more energy-efficient. Its members include real estate trade groups such as the Real Estate Roundtable and the Building Owners and Managers Association, as well as some heavyweight companies, such as Vornado. It also includes environmental groups such as the NRDC and companies who will look to profit from investments in building efficiency, such as Siemens and Johnson Controls.
The C4BB’s mission is to:
Propose policy solutions from… More
Earlier this week, the Massachusetts DEP issued a package of regulatory reforms. While the focus of the package was on finding ways for MassDEP to implement its mission with fewer resources, a number of the reforms are specifically targeted at facilitating the development of renewable energy. If you want to see more about that angle, you can take a look at our client alert about the reforms.
On the non-energy side, my personal favorite is MassDEP’s expressed willingness to review the role of its hazard ranking system in the state Superfund, or Chapter 21E, program. Given the way the 21E program… 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
The abandonment of any discussion of climate change in Washington has not been followed in Massachusetts. Yesterday, Rick Sullivan, the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, released the Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report, providing the fruits of a lengthy process in Massachusetts to look at the impacts of climate change on five areas: Natural Resources and Habitat; Key Infrastructure; Human Health and Welfare; Local Economy and Government; and Coastal Zone and Oceans.
Certainly, the summary of potential impacts in Massachusetts is not a pretty picture – speaking metaphorically, anyway; many of the pictures in the report actually are pretty cool. For those… 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
In an interesting decision issued today, in Zoning Board of Appeals of Holliston v. Housing Appeals Committee, the Massachusetts Appeals Court held that a local zoning board of appeals cannot use vague local environmental concerns as a basis for denying a comprehensive permit under the Massachusetts affordable housing statute, Chapter 40B. As those practicing in this area know, Chapter 40B consolidates all local permitting before the zoning board of appeals. The board can deny permits based on local needs, but there is a presumption that the need for affordable housing trumps local needs if the stock… More
Last week, SouthCoastToday and the Herald News both reported that a large expansion by Meditech of its facility in Freetown was on life support, after the Massachusetts Historical Commission required Meditech to strip the top two feet of soil from 21 acres and sieve it for archeological artifacts, at a projected multi-million dollar cost. The Herald News quoted various local leaders calling the MHC’s decision “incomprehensible…arbitrary…bizarre… and unacceptable.” What they did not point out, and what is even more troubling than just the decision here, is that the best description of the MHC action is simply this: business as usual.
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
It’s easy enough to complain about EPA; I’ve even been known to do it on occasion. However, in Massachusetts, we have a different problem. We let local municipalities regulate all sorts of matters in which they have no expertise. We even delegate to municipalities the implementation of our state Wetlands Protection Act. That’s how we end up with cases such as Lippman v. Conservation Commission of Hopkinton. Lippman didn’t make any new law, but it does illustrate what havoc local boards can wreak.
The Lippmans wanted to build a single family house on land subject to the WPA. They… 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
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
This week, in Webster v. USDA, Judge John Bailey of the Northern District of West Virginia rejected a challenge to the Environmental Impact Statement filed for a USDA flood control project. The decision is not particularly startling and does not break new ground, but it does serve as a reminder just how limited judicial review under NEPA is supposed to be – and just how often that limitation is honored only in the breach, by judges who don’t like particular projects or don’t want to be known as the judge who approved a particular project if something later goes wrong.
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
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
In an interesting decision issued late last week in Industrial Communications and Electronics v. Town of Alton, the First Circuit Court of Appeals held that private citizens who had intervened to defend a local zoning limit on cell tower height could continue to do so, notwithstanding that the cell tower provider and the municipal defendant were prepared to settle the case.
Industrial Communications sought to build a 120’ cell tower in Alton, New Hampshire. The Local zoning by-law would have limited the tower to 71’. The Town’s Zoning Board denied a variance. Industrial Communications did not appeal the… More
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
A Quid Without a Quo? Massachusetts Towns May Not Condition Subdivision Approvals On Unrelated Land Donations
Anyone who does development knows the subtle and not-so-subtle quid pro quos that are sometimes exacted by local planning boards. In Massachusetts, a decision issued on Tuesday by the Appeals Court has emphasized that there are limits to what planning boards may require in return for approval of subdivision plans.
In Collings v. Planning Board of Stow, the developer was seeking to build a subdivision that included a 1,300 foot street ending in a cul-de-sac (known, with more directness, simply as dead-ends when I grew up in New Jersey). The Stow by-law limits cul-de-sacs to 500… More
I posted recently that EPA actually seems to be listening to comments from the regulated community and has changed course in some cases in response to those comments. The release by EPA and the Army Corps yesterday of their long-awaited revised guidance implementing the Supreme Court’s Rapanos decision confirms that EPA is in listening mode. Although I am not normally a fan, this new version seems an appropriate use of guidance.
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
The Regulators Still Hold All the Cards: The SJC Affirms DEP’s Regulatory Authority Over Cooling Water Intake Structures
Sometimes I’m so timely I can’t stand it. This morning, I posted about the difficulty in challenging regulations under Massachusetts law. Later this morning, the SJC agreed. In Entergy v. DEP, the SJC upheld DEP’s authority to regulate cooling water intake structures under the state CWA. Funny how the SJC cited to the same language here as did Judge Sweeney in the Pepin case.
We will apply all rational presumptions in favor of the validity of the administration action and not declare it void unless its provisions cannot by any reasonable construction be interpreted in harmony… More
The Regulators Really Do Hold the Cards in Massachusetts: DFW’s Priority Habitat Regulations Survive a Challenge
Anyone who has ever tried to challenge a regulation in Massachusetts knows that it is an uphill battle. Just how tilted the playing field is was reinforced late last month in the decision in Pepin v. Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, rejecting a challenge to DFW’s “priority habitat” regulations. The case involves the Eastern Box Turtle, perhaps the most common of state-listed species.
As our Massachusetts readers know, MESA is similar to, but has some significant differences from, the federal ESA. Fundamentally, MESA prohibits taking “endangered” or “threatened” species or species “of special concern.” The… More
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
With Friends Like These, Cost Benefit Analysis Doesn’t Need Enemies: North Carolina Bars New Regulations Costing More than $500,000
I’ve spent a lot time in this space arguing for increased use of cost-benefit analysis and cost-effectiveness analysis before environmental regulations are promulgated. As difficult as it can be, there’s simply no avoiding it. If we don’t do so explicitly, we do so implicitly – and I vote for explicitness, every time.
The opposition to cost-benefit analysis usually comes from the left, based on concerns that the cost-benefit requirement will hamstring regulators and that the benefits will be understated. The right is normally seen as a fan of cost-benefit analysis. Now, however, the notion of cost-benefit analysis is being challenged from… 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
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
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
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.
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
In what might not be an overstatement, Seth has described Massachusetts’ Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), as "the future of everything". If so, welcome to the future of the future of everything. The GWSA requires the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) to set a 2020 goal for state-wide reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, and, before January 1, 2011, to create a plan outlining how to get there. Just in time, EEA yesterday released the Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2020, which sets the 2020 emissions goal at 25% below 1990 levels (the maximum reductions… More
EPA Delivers an Early Christmas Present to Electricity Generators and Refiners — New Source Performance Standards for GHGs
Today, EPA announced settlements of litigation with states and environmental groups which will require EPA to promulgate New Source Performance Standards for greenhouse gas emissions from electric generating units and refineries. EPA will thus give those of us who practice in this area an opportunity to decide which program we find more cumbersome and ill-suited to regulate GHGs, the PSD/NSR program or the NSPS program.
As a follow-up to last week’s post, if you want a handy-dandy rundown of what U.S. carbon policy looks like in the absence of comprehensive federal legislation, take a look at the presentation I gave last week to the Harvard Electricity Policy Group, which summarizes federal, regional, and state regulatory efforts – many of which are not explicitly directed at CO2 – that are likely to have significant impacts on U.S. CO2 emissions. Thanks to Amy Boyd, who did the lion’s share of the work on this one.
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
An adjudicatory hearing decision issued by MassDEP in September just came to my attention. The decision in the case, In the Matter of Town of Plymouth, is worth reading for those of you interested in the emerging issues related to concerns over nutrients and how nutrient discharges will be regulated in groundwater or surface water discharge permits.
What caught me eye about the decision, however, wasn’t its substance, but was instead its procedural history. The Town of Plymouth first obtained a permit for the groundwater discharge from its municipal wastewater treatment plant in 2000. The Eel River Watershed Association appealed that… More
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
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
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
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
The Cape Wind project cleared another important hurdle yesterday with a 4-2 ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, holding that the state Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) can authorize local construction permits for the project’s transmission lines. The decision in Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound Inc. v. Energy Facilities Siting Board is particularly significant because it means that the renewable energy project has all of the state and local permits it needs to move forward.
In late 2007, after the Cape Cod Commission denied its proposed Development of Regional Impact (DRI), Cape Wind applied to the EFSB for… More
There Is a Statute of Limitations For Challenging Permits In Massachusetts (Or, We’re Crazy Here, But Not That Crazy)
Those who operate industrial facilities or do development in Massachusetts often know far more than they would like about Chapter 214, § 7A, the environmental citizens’ suit provision of the Massachusetts General Laws. Chapter 214, § 7A, eliminates plaintiffs’ usual obligation to demonstrate standing and simply gives 10 citizens the right to sue to prevent or eliminate “damage to the environment.” The damage does have to constitute a violation of a statute, regulation, ordinance, or by-law, the major purpose of which is to prevent damage to the environment.
Chapter 214, § 7A, does not contain any statute of limitations. Does this mean that ten persons… More
On August 12, in Sierra Club v. Otter Tail Power Co., the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the Sierra Club’s suit related to the Big Stone Generating Station, a coal fired power plant in South Dakota. In doing so, it disagreed with EPA and sided with what appears to be the majority on a question that has produced differing responses amongst the courts – whether the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (“PSD”) program prohibits only the construction or modification of a facility without a PSD permit, or whether it imposes ongoing operational requirements. Finding that PSD requirements are… More
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
Sometimes Guidance Is Better Than Regulation: Massachusetts Issues “Safe Development” Guidance For Engineered Nanoparticles
The BNA reported today that the Massachusetts Office of Technical Assistance and Technology has developed a guidance document identifying considerations for the safe development of engineered nanoparticles, or ENPs. As many of my readers know, I am deeply suspicious of regulatory agency guidance documents. Guidance is often used as a short-cut so that the agency can avoid notice and comment rule-making. Moreover, it’s generally one-sided; agencies refuse to be bound by guidance, because “it’s only guidance,” but street level bureaucrats effectively treat the guidance as regulations, so that the regulated community is effectively deprived of the flexibility that guidance… 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
As the Massachusetts legislative session wound down, there was the usual last-minute scramble – heightened, this time, by the Legislature’s focus on casino gambling. Notwithstanding the preoccupation with gambling, the Legislature did manage to enact the Permit Extension Act, which developers have been pushing for some time. Briefly, permits in effect at any time between August 15, 2008 and August 15, 2010, will be extended for two years. To read more, check out our client alert.
The Legislature was not able to get wind siting legislation enacted. The House passed the bill at midnight on the last day, but it… More
The SJC Really Means It: Only the Legislature Can Give Up the Public’s Ownership Interest in Tidelands
As many of you know, the Commonwealth’s tidelands licensing statute, Chapter 91, is one of my favorites, for no other reason than that it gives me the opportunity to talk about where the “waters ebbeth and floweth.” Deriving from the Colonial Ordinances of 1641 and 1647, Chapter 91 is about as arcane as it gets – which, of course, lawyers are supposed to like.
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
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.
My apologies if this post is a mash note to Judge Wilkinson. Sometimes a decision is written with such clarity and simplicity that you have to sit up and take notice. Such is the case with yesterday’s decision in North Carolina v. TVA, reversing the District Court decision imposing an injunction against four TVA plants that would have required installation of additional controls for NOx and SO2 , notwithstanding the absence of any allegation that the plants were violating their permits under the Clean Air Act. My apologies also to my friends in the environmental community and the Massachusetts AG’s office, who… More
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
It has long been understood that Massachusetts that the Commonwealth cannot meet its renewable energy goals with solar power alone. Solar is great, but really ratcheting up the percentage of energy supplied by renewable sources is going to take a big commitment to wind. In fact, Governor Patrick announced a goal of 2,000 MW of wind on- and off-shore in Massachusetts by 2020. There are currently 17 MW of wind power in Massachusetts.
Everyone knows the permitting travails – now, hopefully, over – that Cape Wind has faced. It is less known that on-shore wind has not been any easier to develop in… More
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
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
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
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.
Yesterday, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs released its Revised MEPA Greenhouse Gas Emissions Policy and Protocol. For those who cannot get enough of this stuff, they also released a summary of revisions to the policy and a response to comments. On the whole, EEA took an appropriately moderate, incremental approach to revising the GHG policy. Indeed, it’s telling that the very first “change” identified by EEA in its summary is not a change at all – it’s EEA’s decision to retain the current case-by-case approach to determining appropriate performance standards and mitigation requirements. EEA decided not to… More
Last year, I noted that EPA had made its ECHO data base more user-friendly, creating a web-based map of enforcement actions. Last week, EPA took the effort a step further, at least with respect to Clean Water Act enforcement action. EPA’s Clean Water Act Annual Noncompliance Report, or ANCR, is available on the web in an interactive format that allows interested citizens to see where the noncompliance and enforcement action is taking place.
As some of my clients are unfortunately aware, I’ve been seeing a lot of enforcement action recently, at both the federal and state level. It’s not clear long… More
Yesterday’s New York Times had a very interesting article regarding the use of advanced municipal waste combustor technology in Europe. As the article notes, such plants are relatively commonplace in Europe, whereas literally no new waste-to-energy plants are being built in the United States. Ian Bowles, our own Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs – and someone who has generally been a very successful promoter of renewable energy technology – acknowledged that “Europe has gotten out ahead with this newest technology.”
This shouldn’t be surprising given that states such as Massachusetts have moratoria on new municipal waste combustors. It’s difficult to… 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
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
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
I’ve been waiting to write this headline ever since the SJC took this case. Today, the SJC issued its long-awaited decision in Moot v. Department of Environmental Protection. For those of you who pay attention to where the waters ebbeth and floweth – or at least where they ebbed and flowed in 1641 – you know that this is the second time that Moot has been before the SJC.
After the SJC struck down MassDEP regulations which provided that landlocked tidelands did not need a license under Chapter 91, as the Commonwealth’s waterways statute is now known, the Legislature took a… More
Massachusetts has an “anti-SLAPP” statute (as do 26 other states at this point, apparently). The law protects “petitioning”, by precluding litigation targeting petitioning, providing an early motion to dismiss, and awarding attorneys’ fees to defendants where a court finds that the defendants were indeed engaged in petitioning activity.
Yesterday, the Massachusetts Appeals Court struck a blow for reason when it determined, in Brice Estates v. Smith, that a trespass is not protected petitioning activity. Those of you outside Massachusetts may be wondering why we needed a court case to tell us this. Those of you inside Massachusetts, particularly… More
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
Late last week, the CEQ issued its long-awaited draft Guidance on how to factor climate change into NEPA reviews. CEQ explicitly stated the draft is not effective at this time. CEQ will take comment for 90 days and “intends to expeditiously issue this Guidance in final form” after close of the comment period. Assuming CEQ does so, it will join several states, including California, New York, and Massachusetts, which already require that climate change be addressed in their state NEPA analogues.
The draft is very limited in scope at this point; CEQ may have decided that what is most… 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
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.
I have never been a fan of specialized courts, but I have to admit that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s MEPA jurisprudence is strong evidence for the other side. It’s almost hard to describe how badly the SJC has mangled MEPA. The most recent example is yesterday’s decision in Town of Canton v. Commissioner of the Massachusetts Highway Department. (Requisite disclaimer – this firm represented the Town of Canton in the case.)
In Canton, the SJC ruled that a party bringing suit to challenge the adequacy of the Certificate issued by the Secretary of Energy and… More
Those of us who advise clients regarding compliance with environmental regulations have often been in the awkward position of agreeing with clients that the agency position is, shall we say, misguided, yet at the same time advising against legal challenge, because the judicial review deck is stacked so heavily in favor of the agency. (In another time or place, one might ask why this is so.)
Nevertheless, occasionally, the agency loses and, when it does, that loss can be instructive. Yesterday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that MassDEP may not impose conditions on registrations under… 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.
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
Earlier this week, Energy & Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles announced the release of the nation’s first ocean management plan. The plan is similar, but not identical to, the draft plan issued last July. Here are the highlights:
A Prohibited Area off the coast of the Cape Cod National Seashore, where most uses will be – you guessed it – prohibited
Multi-Use Areas, constituting approximately two-thirds of the planning area, where uses will be permitted if they comply with stringent standards for protecting marine resources
Renewable Energy Areas, where commercial- and community-scale wind projects have been found to be appropriate.
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
As most of my Massachusetts readers know, on Friday, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles and DEP Commissioner Laurie Burt announced that Massachusetts would retain its moratorium on new construction or expansion of municipal waste combustors. Although the overall outcome is not really a surprise from this administration, a few points are worth noting.
The announcement says nothing about new technologies, such as plasma arc gasification. Arguably, such a technology is not “incineration” or “combustion,” so we’ll have to see whether the administration remains open to such alternatives to traditional incineration.
The administration emphasized that it is committed… More
On Tuesday, District Judge Roger Titus issued an injunction against the construction of the Beech Ridge Energy wind project – 122 wind turbines along 23 miles of Appalachian ridgelines – unless the project can obtain an incidental take permit, or ITP, under the Endangered Species Act. Judge Titus concluded, after a four-day trial, that operation of the turbines would cause a “take” of the endangered Indiana Bat.
I’m not going to get into the details of the decision, though it certainly… More
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
As I discussed last week, in response to the current dire state fiscal outlook, Massachusetts Secretary of Energy & Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles announced, pursuant to a request from Governor Patrick, a search for “options for departmental reorganization and consolidation, streamlined operations and procedures, and new models for doing the public’s business.” Given that Secretary Bowles has invited public assistance, it should not be too surprising that some folks have stepped up to the plate, so I thought I would share submittals that I have seen.
Recently, both NAIOP and the Environmental League of Massachusetts have made suggestions to… 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
Desperate Times, Desperate Measures? Massachusetts Environmental Agencies Look to Reinvent Themselves
On the be careful what you wish for front, Massachusetts Energy and Environment Secretary Ian Bowles announced yesterday an effort to examine “options for changes in administrative structures and programs to meet environmental goals in light of budget challenges.” The announcement identifies three separate areas of investigation:
Public-Private Partnerships – This makes a lot of sense, but, based on the announcement, seems to be too narrowly focused. The announcement indicates that the review will focus on management of properties owned by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. However, we shouldn’t just be looking at whether to let Disney sponsor the… More
Last week, the City of Portland, Oregon (together with Multnomah County) released an updated Climate Action Plan. The Plan presents a number of aggressive goals and targets, with ultimate goals of GHG reductions of 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.
The details of the Plan are obviously only relevant to those in the Portland area, but for those anticipating what regulation might look like in California, Massachusetts, and other states that have enacted or will soon enacted some version of a Global Warming Solutions Act, the Plan provides a helpful catalogue of the types of changes that might… More
Perhaps The Next Coastal Project Won’t Take 10 Years: The First Circuit Preempts Some State Authority
Public and private developers spend a lot of time talking about NIMBY, or Not In My Backyard. With the increasing number of coastal development projects, ranging from wind farms to LNG facilities to plans for casinos, we should perhaps be talking about another acronym: NIMO, or Not In My Ocean. Yesterday, a decision from the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Weaver’s Cove LNG v. Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council gave some hope that NIMO will not mean that states can simply squelch development of ocean resources.
Weaver’s Cove, as originally… 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.
Waxman-Markey. Boxer-Kerry. Public nuisance litigation. EPA regulation under existing authority. What’s next in the arsenal of weapons against climate change? How about including climate change impacts in reviews under NEPA?
In February 2008, the International Center for Technology Assessment, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club petitioned the CEQ to “clarify” its regulations to require the assessment of potential climate change impacts in environmental reviews performed under NEPA. CEQ has not yet formally responded to the petition, but that hasn’t stopped noted environmentalist Senator James Inhofe (R. Okla.) from weighing in preemptively. Calling NEPA a “bedrock environmental statute,” Senator Inhofe has informed Nancy… 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
As BNA reported this morning, at yesterday’s Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers in New Brunswick, the six New England governors adopted The New England Governors’ Renewable Energy Blueprint. Through this plan, the governors of Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont agreed to speed regional development of renewable energy by coordinating state reviews of proposed interstate transmission lines and synchronizing solicitation and decisions on power procurement and long-term energy contracts. The blueprint calls for states to hold joint hearings and coordinate decisions when appropriate, but even using common applications and timelines could have… 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
Although not breaking any new ground, a decision from the Massachusetts Appeals Court last week provides a helpful summary of the discretion typically given to MassDEP in making permitting decisions. In Healer v. Department of Environmental Protection, abutters to a proposed wastewater treatment facility in Falmouth sued MassDEP, claiming that the groundwater discharge from the leach field associated with the facility would damage drinking water supplies and nearby wetlands. The Court affirmed the MassDEP Commissioner’s rejection of the abutters’ challenge.
As the Court noted
the “applicable standard of review is “highly deferential to the agency” and requires the reviewing… More
In an important decision yesterday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the operator facility participating in the renewable portfolio standard program did not have standing to challenge a state decision authorizing other facilities to participate in the RPS program. The decision may have broad implications regarding when businesses may challenge the issuance of permits or other approvals to competitors in Massachusetts.
In Indeck Maine Energy v. Commissioner of Energy Resources, the plaintiffs operated biomass facilities which were authorized to sell renewable energy credits. When the Department of Energy Resources authorized two other biomass facilities to sell RPS credits, plaintiffs sued.
As most readers know, Massachusetts and California have been leading the pack in requiring analysis of greenhouse gas impacts in connection with reviews of new development. Now, New York State is catching up. This week, the Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC, released its Policy on Assessing Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Environmental Impact Statements. The policy is certainly similar to the Massachusetts Greenhouse Gas Emissions Policy and Protocol. Nonetheless, the DEC Policy has a few items worth noting.
DEC has provided that, with respect to indirect GHG emissions from: (1) off-site energy generation and (2) vehicle trips,… 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
This week, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs announced release of the draft Ocean Management Plan, developed pursuant to the Oceans Act of 2008. The draft Plan has gotten most press for its identification of specific areas for off-shore wind energy development – as well as its prohibition of wind farms in other areas, including the area of the proposed Buzzards Bay wind farm. EOEEA Secretary Ian Bowles was quoted as saying that Buzzards Bay is too crowded and sensitive for the development of large-scale wind farms.
The Plan is about much more than wind farms, however. It really… More
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.
As we previously noted, last fall Massachusetts proposed sweeping new regulations designed to reduce phosphorus discharges in stormwater. In response to a very large number of comments, MassDEP is taking a second look at the regulations, though the bookies in Las Vegas are laying odds against there being any significant changes made when the regulations reappear.
Now Maryland is also getting into the act, although it is taking a slightly different approach. Under a statute enacted in 2007, developers in Maryland must incorporate the concept of “environmental site design” into their plans. ESD means
using small-scale stormwater management practices, nonstructural… More
I know it’s hard to believe, but some of you may not have realized that today is World Oceans Day. In connection with World Oceans Day, Senator Jay Rockefeller has written a letter to the White House in support of the concept of “ocean zoning.” Senator Rockefeller will also be holding hearings on the issue tomorrow. Among those testifying will be Deerin Babb-Brott, who is the Assistant Secretary in the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs and is in charge of Massachusetts’ first in the nation ocean zoning effort.
A Late Entry Into the Climate Change Sweepstakes: The Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Accord Cap-and-Tax Approach
Apparently in an effort to demonstrate to Congress that coal states also support greenhouse gas regulation, the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord last week released draft design recommendations for a GHG program. Several facets of this announcement are interesting:
The Waxman-Markey bill would basically preclude the MGGRA from implementing its program. If the point of the effort is to demonstrate to Congress that coal states indeed do support GHG regulation, they might be more successful if they had managed to bring Indiana and Ohio into the fold. The program as tentatively proposed would include a cap-and-tax approach, in… 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
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
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.
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
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
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
As we noted previously, in the face of efforts to include language in the stimulus bill exempting stimulus projects from the requirements of NEPA, Senator Boxer proposed what you can describe either as a compromise or a fig leaf. Section 1609 of the bill provides that NEPA reviews will be expedited and resources will be devoted to facilitate such expedited reviews. According to the Environmental Reporter today, CEQ is going to be providing guidance to federal agencies on how to conduct such expedited reviews.
Despite my normal skepticism about agency guidance documents, such guidance would almost certainly… More
In December, I posted about the decision in Canton v. Paiewonsky, in which Judge Fabricant held that a party seeking to challenge the certificate of the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs approving an Environmental Impact Report must do so within 30 days of issuance of the first permit for a project – even if the plaintiff’s concerns about the project are totally unrelated to that permit and the plaintiff would not be harmed by issuance of the permit. As before, I’ll provide the disclaimer that this firm represents the plaintiff in the… More
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
Massachusetts Takes Steps to Ensure That Stimulus Spending is Not Bogged Down in Environmental Reviews
It looks as though Massachusetts is going to at least try to avoid having lengthy environmental reviews create obstacles to spending its share of the federal stimulus package. A draft report prepared by the Commonwealth’s Permitting Task Force makes several recommendations which, if implemented, would indeed help to ensure that the money can get out the door and the shovels in the ground. Highlights include:
Allowing projects to proceed, at their own risk, during permit appeals. Providing that appeals related to any stimulus projects would be heard in the permit session of the… More
I have posted a few times recently about the tension between environmental regulation and economic development, particularly in the context of current efforts at devising a stimulus package in Congress. Yesterday, Congress rejected an amendment to the stimulus bill, offered by Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), which would have required NEPA reviews to be completed within 270 days for projects funded through the stimulus. Projects not reviewed during this time period would have been constructively approved, i.e., the absence of NEPA review during the 270-day period would have resulted in a determination that the project had no significant… 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
While Congress considers climate change regulations, and states pursue regional cap and trade plans, it becomes apparent that the number of different ways to regulate carbon emissions is limited only by the creativity of those doing the regulating. Last week, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) issued a certificate of need for the construction of transmission lines necessary to carry power from a new coal-fired plant, known as Big Stone II, to be built in South Dakota.
The certificate of need includes several provisions affecting CO2 emissions by the utilities. It requires that an older coal plant be closed by 2018… More
RGGI, Inc. announced today that its third auction of CO2 allowances will be held on March 18, 2009, and will offer allowances from all ten states participating in RGGI – Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. The sealed bid format and the reserve price of $1.86 remain the same as the previous two auctions, but one big change is in the works.
New for this auction: the participating states will offer approximately 2.2 million allowances from vintage 2012, in addition to the 31.5 million CO2 allowances from 2009. These… More
It’s now de rigueur to say that there is no conflict between a healthy economy and a healthy environment. President-elect Obama said so himself as recently as December 15, when he introduced members of his environmental and energy team. Certainly, in a perfect world, where information is free and everyone agrees on the economic value to be placed on protecting environmental interests, that would be true as a matter of definition.
Unfortunately, we live in the real world and in the real world, there are often trade-offs to be made between economic growth and environmental protection. This critical tension was brought home… More
Last week, I posted about the Pollard decision, which made clear that local boards to not have unlimited discretion to ignore evidence provided by project proponents. This week, the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak. In Macero v. MacDonald, the Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed a decision in favor of a project opponent, on essentially the same analysis as that in Pollard.
In Macero, the developer sought a variance from state and local septic system regulations. The developer provided some information from a professional. However, the local Board of Health did not, apparently, formally… More
A recent Superior Court decision may significantly affect how appeals are conducted in MEPA cases. In Canton v. Paiewonsky, Judge Fabricant ruled that Canton’s challenge to the MEPA certificate for the Westwood Station project was filed too late, because it was not filed within 30 days of the issuance of the first permit issued to the project, even though the first permit had nothing to do with the basis for Canton’s challenge to the MEPA certificate.
First, a bit of disclosure: this firm represents the Town of Canton in this case. Nonetheless, I truly believe that,… More
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
Developers and others who appear before local boards know what an uphill battle it is to challenge decisions of those boards. After all, there’s a reason for the existence of the phrase “You can’t fight City Hall.” Of course, it’s never a good idea to fight City Hall unless you absolutely have to do so, but a recent decision from the Massachusetts Appeals Court gives some hope to those forced into that position by a board taking an extreme position.
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.
In October 2007, the Massachusetts MEPA office issued its Greenhouse Gas (“GHG”) Policy, requiring certain limited categories of projects subject to MEPA to assess the GHG impacts of those projects and include mitigation of those impacts in the environmental impact review. In short, projects with obvious traffic or air emissions impacts were subject to the policy.
On August 8, 2008, Governor Patrick signed the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008. Among other provisions, the Act provided specific statutory authority for the MEPA GHG Policy and provided that greenhouse gas emissions should be addressed in any state permits.
As a result of… More
Although some of you may think that the regulatory agencies are now all climate change all the time, Massachusetts DEP has demonstrated that there is still life in some more traditional aspects of environmental regulation. MassDEP has just proposed sweeping new stormwater regulations that would go far beyond the traditional EPA model of regulating construction sites and stormwater discharges from industrial facilities.
DEP’s proposal is far too detailed for a blog post. For those interested in this issue, take a look at the client alert we issued, which hits the big issues. One big-picture item to note: There certainly seems to be… 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
It’s not really a surprise, but the nation’s financial woes have begun to affect state government. On Wednesday, Governor Deval Patrick announced a set of wide-ranging budget cuts, intended to save more than $1 Billion. The cuts were made necessary by a steep drop in tax revenue and predictions that the drop will continue for the rest of the state fiscal year. The Governor’s stated intention is to avoid cuts in local aid and education funding and this announcement did avoid any cuts in these areas.
Therefore, it is not surprising that agencies such as the Executive Office… More