Category Archives: Waterways

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

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

Cooperative Federalism is “Messy and Cumbersome” — EPA’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL is Upheld

Last Friday, in American Farm Bureau Federation v. EPA, Judge Sylvia Rambo upheld EPA’s Chesapeake Bay chesapeake-bayTMDL.  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

Yes, Indeed, A Victory For Regulation Over Guidance

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

Standing Matters, TMDL Version

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

Equal Protection Claims Concerning Disparate Enforcement of Environmental Laws Remain an Uphill Battle

In 2000, in its 2-page per curiam opinion in Village of Willowbrook v. Olech, the Supreme Court gave hope to developers and property owners that the equal protection clause could be used to prevent local zoning and environmental officials from engaging in disparate treatment against disfavored residents.  The Court stated that one may bring an equal protection claim as a “class of one” where

the plaintiff alleges that she has been intentionally treated differently from others similarly situated and that there is no rational basis for the difference in treatment.

Since Olech, however, the Courts of Appeal have been… More

When is a Park not a Park? The SJC Declines to Give Broad Interpretation to Article 97

Earlier this month, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) issued its decision in Mahajan v. DEP, holding that the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s (BRA) proposed redevelopment of Long Wharf in Boston is not subject to Article 97 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution.   Among other things, Article 97 protects park lands from being disposed of or used for other purposes, absent a supermajority vote from both branches of the Legislature.

This was an important win for the BRA, because the SJC reviewed the BRA’s powers of eminent domain, and affirmed that those and other legal tools “enable the BRA to guide private… More

MassDEP Regulatory Reform Release 2.0: Wetlands, Water, and Waterways

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.

On the wastewater front, the most significant change is the complete elimination of sewer extension/connection permits.  MassDEP has acknowledged that those permits are purely redundant… 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

The Wheels of Regulatory Reform May Grind Slowly, But In Massachusetts, At Least They Are Grinding

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… More

An Example of True Judicial Restraint: Judge Robert Chambers Affirms the Highland Mining 404 Permit

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 Dismal History of Superfund’s Water Body Sites

An article in the New York Times earlier this week reported on EPA’s attempts under the Superfund program to address contamination in water bodies, such as rivers, lakes and harbors. Although the article acknowledges that these water body sites are technically challenging, it does not remotely capture the tortured regulatory history of these sites or the dubious remedial approach that EPA is now pursuing. It is not an exaggeration to say that some of the most notorious Superfund failures involve water body sites.

Typical of the course of water body sites under the Superfund program is the More

New Rapanos Guidance: Is It Guidance Or Is It Really Legislation?

Industry groups and environmentalists continue to do battle over EPA’s efforts to update its post-Rapanos guidanceGreenwire 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

EPA Loses — Unanimously — In Sackett: How Broadly Does It Sweep?

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… More

One Small Step Forward For Mid-Atlantic Offshore Wind Development

offshore-wind-power-7259Yesterday, 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

For Those of You Who Cannot Get Enough About Sackett

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

Has the Battle Begun? A Look at One of the Front Lines of the Adaptation Issue

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

If You Build a Facility of Public Accommodation, but There’s No Public to Accommodate,What Do You Have? Empty Space

Chapter 91 is in many ways my favorite Massachusetts environmental statute. After all, very few statutory regimes allow one to discuss the Colonial Ordinances of 1641-47, and where the waters ebbeth and floweth. The gist is that these waters, and the land under them, belong to the Commonwealth, in trust for its citizens. Of course, the modern details get more complicated, but that’s still the essence.

As Boston Harbor in particular has gotten cleaned up, and efforts to revive the waterfront have really picked up steam (thank you, Liberty Wharf!), an issue that has reared its ugly head is the requirement… 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

Greenpeace Critiques Apparel Sector Companies for Failing to Manage Water Contamination by Suppliers

green_peace_china_01Some 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

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

EPA Issues New Rapanos Guidance: Perhaps the Agency Really Is Listening

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.

First, it is not a unilateral effort to expand agency jurisdiction. Instead, it responds to the Supreme Court Rapanos decision. Given the lack of a majority decision, Rapanos certainly left… More

How Is Mountaintop Mining Like Cool Hand Luke?

spruce mineIn 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… More

Fishing, Fowling, Navigation and Wind Energy: SJC Approves Cape Wind Siting Process

The Cape Wind project cleared another important hurdle yesterday with a 4-2 ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, holding that the state Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) can authorize local construction permits for the project’s transmission lines. The decision in Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound Inc. v. Energy Facilities Siting Board is particularly significant because it means that the renewable energy project has all of the state and local permits it needs to move forward.

In late 2007, after the Cape Cod Commission denied its proposed Development of Regional Impact (DRI), Cape Wind applied to the EFSB for… More

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.

The short version is that the Commonwealth holds the fee interest in “Commonwealth Tidelands” – those below the low water line. While the Commonwealth can… 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

Supreme Court Takings Jurisprudence: Not Exactly Crystal-Clear

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

The Arguments Are All Moot Now: The SJC Upholds the Legislature’s Chapter 91 Amendments

I’ve been waiting to write this headline ever since the SJC took this case. Today, the SJC issued its long-awaited decision in Moot v. Department of Environmental Protection. For those of you who pay attention to where the waters ebbeth and floweth – or at least where they ebbed and flowed in 1641 – you know that this is the second time that Moot has been before the SJC.

After the SJC struck down MassDEP regulations which provided that landlocked tidelands did not need a license under Chapter 91, as the Commonwealth’s waterways statute is now known, the Legislature took a… More

Massachusetts Releases First in the Nation Ocean Management Plan

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.

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

Next Battle in the Property Rights War?

In 1992, in South Carolina Coastal Council v. Lucas, the Supreme Court held that a state statute or regulation that denies a property owner all economic use of her property requires payment of just compensation under the Takings Clause. The Court distinguished statutes and regulations from restrictions inherent in background principles of the common law of nuisance – the latter types of restrictions do not require just compensation.

The Supreme Court announced earlier this week that in the fall 2009 term it will hear another, similar, property rights case. The Court will hear an appeal of a decision by the… More

Next on the Federal Agenda: Ocean Zoning

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.

The Massachusetts effort is based on the Oceans Act of 2008,… More

When Must Suits Be Brought Under MEPA; Too Late May Indeed Be Too Early

In December, I posted about the decision in Canton v. Paiewonsky, in which Judge Fabricant held that a party seeking to challenge the certificate of the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs approving an Environmental Impact Report must do so within 30 days of issuance of the first permit for a project – even if the plaintiff’s concerns about the project are totally unrelated to that permit and the plaintiff would not be harmed by issuance of the permit. As before, I’ll provide the disclaimer that this firm represents the plaintiff in the… More