Category Archives: Stormwater

Environmental Impact Analysis — The Impact of a Project on the Environment or the Impact of the Environment on a Project?

Traditionally, environmental impact analysis, under NEPA and state analogs, has focused on the impacts that a proposed project may have on the environment.  In Massachusetts, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs has proposed a draft MEPA Climate Change Adaptation and Resiliency Policy.  The policy seems sufficiently important to warrant more than one post.  Today, I’ll look at EOEEA’s authority to promulgate an Adaptation Policy.  Tomorrow, I’ll look at some of the specifics.

Under the Adaptation Policy, proponents of projects required to prepare an Environmental Impact Report would have to assess the impact of climate change on the… More

NPDES Permits Are Construed Narrowly Against the Permittee

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 SewardCoalFacilitywere authorized under the stormwater general permit.

To the Court, this was a straightforward, plain meaning interpretation 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

2 and 1/2 Strikes and the NGOs May Be Out: EPA Refuses to Exercise Residual Designation Authority

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 NRDC, American Rivers, and CLF sought last year to cut this Gordian knot by petitioning EPA (at least in Regions 1, 3, and 9) to exercise its “residual designation authority”… More

Cape Cod TMDL Litigation; CLF Is Still In There Swinging

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

Yet More on the Adaptation Front: Where You Stand Depends on Whether Your Property Is Underwater

A story in E&E Daily on October 30 highlighted the difficult choices – including political choices – that are going to have to be faced in the process of adapting to climate change.  The story noted that a number of Democratic members of Congress who have supported efforts to address climate change are now opposing efforts to reform the National Flood Insurance Program so that it does not encourage people to locate in areas subject to flooding.

E&E Daily quotes Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club trying to call out those Democrats without spiting his face, as it were:

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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

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 case had a number of twists and turns, including the seemingly de rigueur reversal of an earlier 9th Circuit decision by the Supreme Court.  As we noted at the time, the Supreme Court… More

Stop the Presses: Utility Poles in Place Are Not Point Sources; Neither Are They Solid Waste

As we noted last month, the Supreme Court has determined that logging roads are not point sources subject to stormwater regulation under the Clean Water Act.  On Wednesday, in Ecological Rights Foundation v. Pacific Gas and Electric, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, relying in part on the decision in Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, held that releases of pentachlorophenol and other pesticides from in-place utility poles also do not constitute point source discharges.  As the Court concluded:

Utility poles simply are not “discernible, confined and discrete conveyances” that “channel and control” stormwater.

The Court further… More

EPA Proposes Revisions to the Construction and Development Effluent Guidelines: Time Again To Ask Whether EPA Will Get Any Credit For Being Flexible

Today, EPA formally proposed revisions to its effluent guidelines for stormwater discharges from construction and development point sources.  As we have previously noted, in response to concerns about the basis for EPA’s numeric turbidity standards, EPA had stayed the numeric standards.  It is now formally proposing to withdraw them.

EPA also responded to concerns that the rule contains certain exceptions where particular practices are infeasible, but does not define infeasibility.  The proposed definition is that:

Infeasible means not technologically possible, or not economically practicable and achievable in light of best industry practices.

EPA is taking comment on this… More

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.

While EPA got the result that it wanted here, the decision may come back to haunt it in the long run.  The decision was largely based on what is commonly known as Auer deference, the rule that… 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

Dog Bites Man: Supreme Court Edition

In a curious, but unsurprising, decision yesterday, in Los Angeles County Flood Control District v. NRDC, the Supreme Court held that the flow of water containing pollutants from part of a river that has been culverted into a part of the river which still maintains natural banks is not a “discharge of a pollutant” within the meaning of the Clean Water Act.  The decision appears to be controlled by the Court’s prior decision in Florida Water Management District v. Miccosukee Tribe, in which the Court had similarly ruled that pumping of polluted water from one part of a… More

And Some Potential Developments on the Water Side As Well

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.

The same story also notes that EPA expects finally to release its long-awaited revised post-Rapanos guidance on CWA jurisdiction. I’m with… More

Superfund Meets the Reality of Climate Change

What happens when Superfund runs headlong into Mother Nature?  Hurricane Sandy provides a vivid answer. As the New York Times reports today, Hurricane Sandy had a significant impact on the Gowanus Canal Superfund Site in Brooklyn, NY.  The Canal was completed in 1869 and for over a century was the recipient of industrial discharges from mills, tanneries, and chemical plants resulting in what EPA describes as “one of the nation’s most heavily contaminated water bodies.”  Contaminants include PCBs, heavy metals, and VOCs.

When Sandy’s storm surge arrived, it quickly flooded the the Gowanus Canal, causing the heavily contaminated water in the Canal to rush into basements and first floors of surrounding homes. … More

Mayors Request Moratorium on Stormwater Enforcement — Will EPA Listen?

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

Here’s a Suprise — A Cap-and-Trade System For Nutrients Would Substantially Decrease the Cost of Nutrient Reductions in Chesapeake Bay

bayslammYesterday, 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

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.

E&E Daily has now reported that, in… More

Coming Soon to Massachusetts: Adaptation to Climate Change

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

Score One For Affordable Housing: Chapter 40B Trumps Vague Local Environmental Concerns

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

EPA Delays Issuance of Stormwater Rule for Construction Sites

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

EPA Is Still In Business: Proposes Draft Construction General Permit for Stormwater

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

EPA Really Cares About Stormwater Enforcement

When EPA creates a web page solely addressing one stormwater settlement, you can safely assume that EPA thinks it is important and is trying to send a message. Thus, EPA’s announcement earlier this week of a settlement with Beazer Homes to resolve allegations that Beazer Homes violated federal stormwater requirements at construction sites in 21 – count ‘em, 21 – states should make everyone in the construction industry sit up and take notice.

The settlement requires Beazer Homes to pay a penalty of $925,000 (mostly to EPA, but some to each of the states). EPA estimated a price tag for… More

More on TMDLs, or Too Much Darn Litigation

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

A Combined Superfund and Stormwater Rant

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

Water, Water, Everywhere: More Than a Drop to Treat

Last week, EPA released its Clean Watersheds Needs Survey 2008 Report to Congress. I have three immediate reactions to the Report. The first is that there are a lot of needs out there. The Report’s bottom line is that there is currently an expected shortfall of $298 billion over the next 20 years for clean water infrastructure. As Congress turns from short-term stimulus spending to long-term concerns about the deficit, it’s difficult to see Congress being eager to hear National Association of Clean Water Agencies Executive Director Ken Kirk say that

the federal government must become a long-term partner in developing a… More

EPA’s Move to Regulate Stormwater Discharges from Development Gathers Steam; EPA Issues Mandatory Questionnaire For Public Comment

EPA is proceeding with its plan to establish a new program to regulate stormwater discharges from new development and redevelopment, with a target date for a final rule by November 2012. The next step: the reissuance of draft mandatory questionnaires that, once finalized, will be sent to various stakeholders, including approximately 738,000 owners and developers of residential, industrial and commercial sites. According to EPA, the “target population for the Owner/Developer Questionnaires is all development establishments in the United States,” as defined by 8 NAICS codes (see Part A.4 of EPA’s Supporting Statement for further information on… More

EPA Keeps Up the Stormwater Drumbeat: Releases Draft Permit for Charles River Communities

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.

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Developments on the Stormwater Front: EPA Region I Releases Draft Small MS4 Permit

Earlier this week, EPA announced release of a draft North Coastal Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System General Permit. Once finalized, the General Permit will affect 84 communities in eastern Massachusetts. EPA has noted that similar MS4 General Permits will also be rolled out for the rest of the Commonwealth.

The draft General Permit is only the latest salvo in an ongoing debate among EPA, MassDEP, municipalities and the regulated community regarding how to control stormwater discharges. The background to all of this is the increasing attention being given to the TMDL process and NGO efforts,… More

EPA Issues Construction Stormwater Rule — First National Standards With Numeric Limits

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

New Clouds on the Storm(water) Front: EPA Takes Enforcement Action Against 9 Municipalities

As we have reported, EPA and MADEP have both been taking steps over the past year to broaden the scope of their stormwater programs beyond existing regulation under the rules concerning stormwater discharges associated with industrial or construction activity. EPA has proposed using residual designation authority in Maine and Massachusetts and the MADEP proposed sweeping rules governing existing private facilities.

In the regulated community, there has been substantial concern that these efforts have focused too narrowly on private properties, with the MADEP proposed rules, for example, potentially requiring costly retrofits on many properties without consideration of whether there… More

Stormwater Discharges From Construction Activity: What Next From EPA?

Construction and development companies praying for an economic recovery next year have something else to worry about: pending new EPA regulations regarding stormwater discharges from construction activities – and claims from environmental groups that EPA’s proposal isn’t stringent enough.

EPA issued a proposal on November 28, 2008. That proposal is complex, but the aspect of it that has received the most attention is the requirement that certain construction sites greater than 30 acres meet numerical turbidity limits (specifically, 13 nephelometric turbidity units (NTUs), which I had to include in this post just because it sounds so cool). Developers have opposed the… More

Sustainable Stormwater Management: The Next Wave in Water Pollution Regulations?

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

EPA and Maine DEP Announce New Stormwater Controls

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.

The new designation can be found on EPA’s website. Notably, the new program will apply to impervious surfaces larger than one acre. This is a smaller area than is currently proposed for… More

It’s Not All About Climate Change: Massachusetts DEP Proposes New Stormwater Permitting Regime

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

EPA Issues New Industrial Stormwater Permit

On September 22, EPA issued a new Stormwater Multi-Sector General Permit (MSGP) to cover 4,100 facilities with discharges associated with an industrial activity. The permit replaces the MSGP that was issued in 2000 and expired in October 2005. The expired permit continued to be valid for facilities that were covered by the permit at the time it expired.

The new permit applies to states not authorized to implement EPA’s NPDES program, including Massachusetts and New Hampshire. It will be effective as of September 29, 2008.

Although EPA claims of regulatory reform sometimes ring hollow, the new MSGP truly… More