It is well-known that the “economic benefit of noncompliance” is one of the factors to be evaluated in setting penalties under the Clean Water Act. Thus, it is not surprising that, after an oil spill at Citgo’s facility in Lake Charles, Louisiana, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals was unhappy when the District Court “did not quantify the economic gain to Citgo, finding it virtually impossible to do so given the evidence.” The 5th Circuit directed the District Court… More
Category Archives: Water
While the litigation over the WOTUS rule wends its tortuous way through the courts, EPA and the Corps have not been idle. Earlier this month, they jointly issued a memorandum on their plans for improving the permitting process. Among other measures, they have reemphasized their commitment to transparency, by making all jurisdictional determinations available on a single web site. The web site is now up and running and includes all JDs issued beginning in September.
Over time, the database should be very helpful both in maximizing regulatory consistency and in providing the regulated community with some idea of… More
The Clean Water Act regulates discharges of pollutants to waters of the United States. That term is not understood to include groundwater. The Sierra Club was unhappy about alleged discharges to groundwater from coal ash disposal facilities at the Chesapeake Energy Center power plant. The plant had a solid waste permit for the disposal facilities under Virginia law and, one can at least infer, was in compliance with the solid waste permit.
What’s a creative environmental lawyer to do?
Allege that the groundwater… More
The Sixth Circuit Stays the Waters of the United States Rule: Just a Plain Vanilla Preliminary Injunction — Not!
Today, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a nationwide stay against implementation of the “Waters of the United States” rule. The case is so weird, in so many ways, that I don’t even think I can count them. Here are a few.
The Court stayed the case, even though, as the dissent pointed out, there is question whether it even has jurisdiction to hear the appeal. How can it issue a stay if it does not have jurisdiction? If… More
In Sackett, the Supreme Court ruled that EPA could not issue enforcement orders under the Clean Water Act without allowing the subjects of the order the right to bring a pre-enforcement challenge to such orders under the Administrative Procedure Act. Now, in Ron Foster v. EPA, Judge John Copenhaver of the Southern District of West Virginia has ruled that Sackett’s victory was in fact hollow, and that the due process rights of subjects of EPA’s enforcement orders are only satisfied:
EPA Updates Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards For Steam Electric Generating Facilities – It’s Only Been 33 Years
On September 30, EPA released its long-awaited (long-feared?) final rule governing wastewater discharges from steam electric generating facilities. The trade press is presenting the rule as a victory for environmentalists (The Law360 headline was “Enviros Score Major Win in Final EPA Effluent Rules”) and I think that that’s probably a fair description.
Here is the quick summary of just the more important aspects of the rule for existing sources:
The most stringent aspects of the rule apply to coal-fired plants with a… More
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
Anyone who reads this blog must have seen the explosion of reports in the trade press that EPA ignored significant criticism from the Army Corps of Engineers in promulgating its Waters of the United States rule. I have not seen the memoranda, but, based on the press reports, it appears that EPA ignored criticism both that it was too stringent in some areas and that it was not sufficiently stringent in others. If EPA’s purpose wasn’t simply to make the rule more – or less – stringent, why did it ignore the Corps and try to bury the disagreement?
On Monday, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed EPA’s TMDL for the Chesapeake Bay. This should not be news. Although Judge Ambro comprehensively disposed of the appellants’ arguments in a thoughtful opinion, I think that the opinion probably could have been six pages rather than sixty.
The crux of the challengers’ arguments was that a TMDL must consist of a single number specifying the amount of a pollutant that a water body can accommodate without adverse impact. The Court agreed with EPA that such is not the case. … More
Yesterday, EPA and the Army Corps finally released their long-awaited rule defining “waters of the United States.” I’m actually with EPA and the Corps on this one. It’s an important rule, and I’m glad that EPA and the Corps did finally give up on the guidance approach and issue a rule, but here’s why I don’t see this as earth-shattering.
Since Rapanos, EPA and the Corps have made numerous jurisdictional determinations. While EPA and the Corps project a small increase in positive jurisdictional determinations under the rule as compared to recent practice, the increase is likely to… 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.
When a number of citizen groups petitioned EPA to determine that it is necessary under the Clean Water Act to promulgate water quality standards for nutrient pollution in the Mississippi River Basin and the Northern Gulf of Mexico, EPA did not decide to issue the standards. It did not decide not to issue the standards. It decided not to decide. Litigation ensued.
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
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… More
On Tuesday, Chief Judge Robert Chambers ruled that Fola Coal Company violated the Clean Water Act by discharging mine waste with sufficiently high levels of conductivity to cause or materially contribute to impairment of Stillhouse Branch. The decision appears designed to be bullet-proof to any appeal. Judge Chambers thoroughly explained why the opinion of the defendant’s expert should not be given “great weight,” why the plaintiffs’ experts were reliable, and why EPA’s “Field-Based Aquatic Life Benchmark for Conductivity in Central Appalachian Streams” is entitled to substantial Chevron deference.
In short, Judge Chambers found on a number of independent… More
On Tuesday, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the “permit shield” provisions of the Clean Water Act protected ICG hazard from Sierra Club claims that effluent from ICG Hazard’s Thunder Ridge mine caused exceedances of Kentucky water quality criteria for selenium. Thunder Ridge is covered by a general permit, not an individual site permit, and the Sierra Club argued that the shield should not apply. However, this seems like a classic case of a distinction without a difference, and the Court… More
It’s All Connected: EPA Finally Determines that the Science Supports an Expansive Definition of Waters of the United States
On Thursday, EPA issued its final report on Connectivity of Streams & Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review & Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence. The Connectivity report is intended to support EPA’s rule clarifying the definition of waters of the United States. I know that groups on all sides will be providing their two cents, but of this I am sure enough to abandon my usual reluctance to speculate: This report will be more than sufficient to insulate EPA’s final rule from judicial… More
On Monday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals dealt another blow to traditional operation of the massive water projects that supply California’s Central Valley. The Court reversed those parts of a District Court opinion that had rejected parts of the biological opinion issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service intended to protect various salmonid species in the Central Valley.
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
Last year, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that EPA has authority to withdraw its approval for the specification of sites for the disposal of fill material, even after the Army Corps has issued a permit for the discharge under section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Now, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the District Court for the District of Columbia has ruled that EPA properly exercised that authority with respect to the Spruce No. 1 Mine in West Virginia. The decision, which appears bullet-proof to me,… More
The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) recently released for public review and comment a draft update to the Ocean Management Plan for the Commonwealth. The Oceans Act, signed by Governor Patrick in 2008, required the Secretary of EOEEA to develop a comprehensive ocean management plan to be reviewed every five years. The first plan was released in 2009, and the recently released update is a result of this five year review. The plan addresses the areas of habitat, fisheries, sediment resources, recreational and cultural services, transportation and navigation, and… More
The Science Advisory Board has now provided its advice to EPA and the ACOE concerning their proposed rule clarifying the definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. In a brief letter that can only worry the National Farm Bureau and embolden those who thought that the EPA/ACOE proposal did not go far enough, the SAB concluded that:
the available science supports the conclusion that the types of water bodies identified as waters of the United States in the proposed rule exert strong influence on the… More
Over the past few months, I worked with a number of colleagues from the American College of Environmental Lawyers to provide the Environmental Council of the States with a balanced review of the history and background of how the term “waters of the United States” has been defined and interpreted under the Clean Water Act. In announcing the release of the memorandum, Dick Pedersen, President of ECOS, thanked “those members of ACOEL who spent significant time and effort developing this comprehensive memorandum.”
To which I can only add, that’s… More
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,… 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… 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
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
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
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
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
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
Last Friday, in American Farm Bureau Federation v. EPA, Judge Sylvia Rambo upheld EPA’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL. As Judge Rambo noted in her conclusion, while the environmental problems associated with the Chesapeake Bay are massive and the issues complicated, her review was not that difficult.
Notwithstanding the expansive administrative record, and the complexity of the numerous issues implicated herein, the court’s scope of review in this case is relatively narrow. In accordance with the deferential standards applicable to a court’s review of an agency’s actions, this court must give EPA’s… More
EPA’s used its blog today to announce that it and the Army Corps of Engineers have sent to OMB a draft rule clarifying the scope of jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. It appears that EPA has finally given up on its controversial efforts to solve the Rapanos problem through guidance. As I noted previously, when an agency is still working on its quick and easy guidance (with regulations to follow) eight years after the court decision that made the guidance necessary, it’s probably time to acknowledge that there is no quick and easy, so you… More
Last week, in Conservation Law Foundation v. EPA, Judge Mark Wolf ruled that CLF did not have standing to challenge EPA’s approval of total maximum daily loads promulgated for certain waters in and around Cape Cod. Given the increasing number of citizen suits involving TMDL promulgation, the decision is important.
CLF asserted two claims. First, it alleged that EPA wrongly classified certain sources, including septic systems, storm water systems, and waste water treatment facilities as non-point sources, rather than point sources. Second, it alleged that the TMDLs failed to take into account the need for additional stringency due to… More
More on 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
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
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
CZM Proposes Regulations to Implement Ocean Management Plan and Update Federal Consistency Review Program
The Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) recently released for public review and comment draft regulations designed to update federal consistency review requirements and implement the state’s Ocean Management Plan.
Governor Patrick signed the Oceans Act on May 28, 2008, requiring the Secretary of EOEEA to develop a comprehensive ocean management plan. The Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan was released on December 31, 2009. CZM has now drafted its proposed Ocean Management Plan regulations, which would implement the Ocean Management Plan largely through MEPA and other existing permitting processes. Key provisions of the regulations include the following:
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
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.
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.
I’ve struggled and failed to figure out how this story is relevant to my practice, but I certainly wish we had these kinds of problems in Newton, Massachusetts. It truly gives new meaning to the phrase “drinks like a fish.”
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 New York Times reported today that Governor Cuomo is proposing to spend $400 million to buy out owners of property to avoid a recurrence of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. I have to say that I have been persuaded over the past few years that we cannot put all our eggs in the mitigation basket, particularly since political gridlock in Washington has prevented much mitigation from occurring.
As a result, adaptation is going to be important and programs at least similar to what Governor Cuomo has proposed are going to be necessary. The hard question, of course,… 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
EPA Formally Withdraws Numeric Turbidity Standards from Its Stormwater Rule for Construction and Development Sites
Daily Environment Report announced yesterday that EPA notified BNA that, late last year, EPA reached a settlement with the Utility Water Act Group and the National Association of Home Builders resolving litigation over EPA’s rule imposing effluent limitations on the “Construction and Development Point Source Category” and over its Construction General Permit.
The most contentious aspect of EPA’s regulatory efforts in this area was EPA’s inclusion of numeric turbidity limits. The regulated community had severely criticized the data on which EPA relied in imposing the standard. EPA, to its credit, had acknowledged the data flaws and stayed the… More
In a curious, but unsurprising, decision yesterday, in Los Angeles County Flood Control District v. NRDC, the Supreme Court held that the flow of water containing pollutants from part of a river that has been culverted into a part of the river which still maintains natural banks is not a “discharge of a pollutant” within the meaning of the Clean Water Act. The decision appears to be controlled by the Court’s prior decision in Florida Water Management District v. Miccosukee Tribe, in which the Court had similarly ruled that pumping of polluted water from one part of a… More
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
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
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
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
Late last week, EPA issued a Notice of Data Availability concerning its proposed rule for cooling water intake structures at existing facilities. The NODA stated that, since it had issued the proposed CWIS rule, it had received more than 80 studies providing additional data on CWIS structures at existing facilities. Those studies have led EPA to consider potential revisions to the rule prior to promulgation.
Some of the specific revisions now under consideration include:
The addition of site-specific impingement mortality controls Compliance with impingement mortality limitations based on defined technologies such as closed cycle recirculating systems Streamlined permitting for modified… More
E&E News reported yesterday that the U.S. Conference of Mayors has requested a “moratorium” on Clean Water Act enforcement of stormwater limitations on municipalities. The report makes clear that the Mayors avoided an attack on either the CWA or the current EPA administration. Moreover, they acknowledged that there is still “much to be done to protect our water resources.”
Why the moratorium request, then? Two words – they’re broke. One of the mayors who spoke was Michael Bissonnette of Chicopee, in the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts. According to Mayor Bissonnette, the cost of stormwater compliance in Chicopee will be $200 million – this for… More
After the oral argument Sackett v. EPA presaged where the decision was coming down, I raised the question whether EPA would try to persuade district courts that nothing really had changed. On occasion, I call them correctly. According to E&E News, Mark Pollins, director of EPA’s Water Enforcement Division, in commenting on Sackett, said
What’s available after Sackett? Pretty much everything that was available before Sackett. Internally, it’s same old, same old.
Tone deaf doesn’t quite cover this one. If Mr. Pollins’s remarks are representative, and my experience tells me that they are, EPA just doesn’t get it. For one thing,… More
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
The decision last week by Judge Amy Berman Jackson – an Obama appointee – to reject EPA’s authority to withdraw its “specification” which authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to issue a § 404 permit to the Mingo Logan Spruce No. 1 mine would be important in its own right. In combination with the recent Supreme Court decision in Sackett, and given the language used in both cases, the combination rebuke to EPA is worth attention.
The permitting history of the Spruce No. 1 mine was lengthy… More
In its unanimous decision yesterday in Sackett v. EPA, the Supreme Court’s communicates more than a little exasperation with its co-equal branches of government. Justice Alito’s concurrence is an outright broadside attacking Congress for failing over decades to clarify the scope of the Clean Water Act which enabled the Executive Branch in the form of an arrogant EPA to employ what Justice Scalia in the majority opinion describes as the “strong-arming of regulated parties”.
The language used in Sackett is both sarcastic and highly personalized. In a sentence dripping with sarcasm, Justice Scalia notes that EPA’s order concluding… More
For once, speculation about oral argument proved solid. The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling today in Sackett v. EPA means that EPA must allow judicial review of enforcement orders issued pursuant to its authority under the Clean Water Act. The question now is what the true scope of the decision will be. That question really has two parts.
The first is what will happen to CWA enforcement. On that score, I actually largely share Justice Alito’s view:
The Court’s decision provides a modest measure of relief. At least, property owners like petitioners will have the right to challenge the EPA’s jurisdictional determination under the… More
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
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
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.
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.
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
Greenpeace Critiques Apparel Sector Companies for Failing to Manage Water Contamination by Suppliers
Some of the world’s most well-known apparel companies have come under criticism from Greenpeace for not sufficiently monitoring and limiting industrial wastewater discharges by suppliers. In a new report called “Dirty Laundry“, Greenpeace highlights the wastewater discharges from two major manufacturers in China that supply products to a range of major brands — including Adidas, Bauer Hockey, Calvin Klein, Converse, Lacoste, Nike, Phillips-Van Heusen and Puma.
In the report, Greenpeace alleges that the suppliers’ facilities discharge a range of hazardous chemicals into the Yangtze and Pearl River deltas –… 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
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
First Circuit Finds Coast Guard Violated NEPA in Attempt to Preempt Massachusetts Oil Spill Prevention Act
While not ones to unnecessarily toot our own horns, the First Circuit’s decision in United States et al. v. Coalition for Buzzards Bay et al. is worth a read. We (specifically, Buzzards Bay Guardian Jonathan Ettinger, Amy Boyd, and I) have been representing the recently-renamed Buzzards Bay Coalition in this case for a number of years and yesterday’s decision represents both a victory for the Coalition and an important First Circuit precedent with respect to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
In yesterday’s decision the First Circuit held that the Coast Guard failed to comply with NEPA when… 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
An adjudicatory hearing decision issued by MassDEP in September just came to my attention. The decision in the case, In the Matter of Town of Plymouth, is worth reading for those of you interested in the emerging issues related to concerns over nutrients and how nutrient discharges will be regulated in groundwater or surface water discharge permits.
What caught me eye about the decision, however, wasn’t its substance, but was instead its procedural history. The Town of Plymouth first obtained a permit for the groundwater discharge from its municipal wastewater treatment plant in 2000. The Eel River Watershed Association appealed that… More
What Are Citizen Groups Afraid Of? The Ninth Circuit Affirms Delegation of NPDES Authority to Alaska, Notwithstanding Alaska’s Fee-Shifting Provision
Almost all – 46 – states have delegated programs under the Clean Water Act. One criterion that EPA must determine has been satisfied before approving delegation is that the state has the ability to "abate violations of the permit … including civil and criminal penalties and other ways and means of enforcement."
EPA’s regulations provide that this criterion will be met if :
State law allows an opportunity for judicial review that is the same as that available to obtain judicial review in federal court of a federally-issued NPDES permit. A State will not meet this standard if it narrowly restricts the… More
As Superfund practitioners know, federal NPL sites are generally settled on the basis that the PRPs will first attain interim cleanup levels, though final cleanup levels are not determined until EPA is actually ready to issue its certification of completion of the remedy. Moreover, EPA insists that, should any ARARs change during the course of the cleanup, whatever standards are in effect at the time of site closure will be applied.
We saw the impact of this on the ground in 2001, when EPA revised the Safe Drinking Water Act maximum contaminant level, or MCL, for arsenic from 50 ppb… More
When clients are threatened with citizen suits – and particularly when the threatened litigation involves a matter where EPA or a state regulatory agency is heavily involved, the clients always want to know why they can’t somehow get rid of the citizen suit, given that EPA is on the case. The answer is that they can – but only in limited circumstances.
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
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
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
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
Yesterday, the Supreme Court decided, 8-0, in Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection, that a Florida law which allows the State DEP to fill in submerged land (owned, under Florida law, by the State), and then to cut off the littoral owners’ rights to accretion of the beach front without paying compensation, was not a taking requiring compensation under the 5th Amendment. The decision was fairly easy, even for the property rights wing of the court, because it concluded that Florida law had always provided for such a result, so that the action by… More
Last week, EPA released its Clean Watersheds Needs Survey 2008 Report to Congress. I have three immediate reactions to the Report. The first is that there are a lot of needs out there. The Report’s bottom line is that there is currently an expected shortfall of $298 billion over the next 20 years for clean water infrastructure. As Congress turns from short-term stimulus spending to long-term concerns about the deficit, it’s difficult to see Congress being eager to hear National Association of Clean Water Agencies Executive Director Ken Kirk say that
the federal government must become a long-term partner in developing a… More
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 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.
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 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
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
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.
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
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
On Tuesday, EPA announced its intention to issue new effluent guidelines for the Steam Electric Power Generating industry by sometime in 2012. The announcement follows an EPA study in 2008 which indicated that toxic metals, particularly those collected as part of flue gas desulfurization processes, can pose a problem in facility effluent. EPA’s announcement is not particularly surprising, given the ongoing study and given that EPA has not revised the guidelines since 1982. Indeed, notwithstanding EPA’s announcement, Environmental Integrity Project, Defenders of Wildlife and Sierra Club announced that they would still sue EPA over its failure to timely update the guidelines.
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
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
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
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.
Particularly this week, one needs to make a conscious effort to remember that it is not “all climate, all the time” on the environmental front. While climate change is obviously the President’s top priority at the moment, the administration did take the time this week to send letters to congressional leaders voicing the its support for amendments to the Clean Water Act to eliminate uncertainty concerning the Act’s scope following the Supreme Court decision in Rapanos.
While the administration has not provided suggested statutory revisions, the letters state that: “It is essential that the Clean Water Act provide broad… More
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
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.
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
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