Last week, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers vacated BLM’s rescission of the 2016 methane “Waste Prevention Rule.” Although Judge Rogers found many flaws in the rescission rule, I think that two are key.
Category Archives: Chevron
Sometimes, history repeats itself. Sometimes, that is not a good thing.
After the Obama WOTUS rule was promulgated in 2015, the challenges came fast and furious, and in multiple forums. The Supreme Court, as I put it, adopted the “give me a break” theory over the “just plain nuts” theory, and ruled that challenges to the rule had to be heard in district courts. … More
SCOTUS Gets One Right: Discharges To Groundwater Require Permits, But Only If They Are the Functional Equivalent of a Direct Discharge to Surface Water
The Supreme Court ruled today that discharges to groundwater are subject to the permitting requirements of the Clean Water Act, but only where the “discharge is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge from the point source into navigable waters.”
I don’t often say this about Supreme Court environmental decisions, but I think that the Court got it exactly right.
The apparent dilemma for the Court was that,… More
Late last month, Judge Emmet Sullivan of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, remanded to the Fish and Wildlife Service its decision to list the northern long-eared bat as threatened. The decision is lengthy and complicated, but its crux is not.
As Judge Sullivan noted, under the ESA, a species is “endangered” if it “is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” A species is “threatened” if it “is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. … More
Yesterday, Judge William Young ruled that discharges to groundwater are not subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction, even if they ultimately reach surface waters that are unambiguously waters of the United States. He did not wade into the murky waters, as it were, of the Maui case or any of the various judicial theories for or against jurisdiction. Instead, he took a simpler path.… More
According to Bloomberg Environment (subscription required), EPA’s Clean Air Science Advisory Committee cannot reach agreement whether to recommend that the NAAQS for PM2.5 be lowered. Even after two years, I guess I had not realized the extent to which the scientists relied on by this administration are willing to ignore what used to be generally known as the “scientific consensus.”
Last Friday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that EPA violated the Clean Air Act in failing to impose deadlines on upwind states violating the CAA’s Good Neighbor provisions. The Court concluded that, where downwind states face significant consequences in not meeting statutory deadlines to attain National Ambient Air Quality Standards, but don’t control their own fate because upwind states are contributing significantly to the downwind states’ nonattainment,… More
The D.C. Circuit today largely upheld EPA’s 2015 revisions to the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone. I’m not much of a prognosticator, but I pretty much called this one years ago. The Court was never going to require EPA to consider costs in setting the NAAQS – not a surprise, given that the Supreme Court concluded in Whitman v.… More
Last week, EPA proposed revisions to its regulations governing the issuance of water quality certifications under § 401 of the Clean Water Act. The regulations are long-overdue and, notwithstanding the source, some of the changes are appropriate. Nonetheless, the key element of the revisions is the provision that would preclude state and tribal agencies from considering issues other than those related to the water quality impacts of discharge being permitted – and to include that provision,… More
EPA Weighs In On Whether Discharges to Groundwater Can Be Subject to the CWA — You Won’t Be Surprised at the Answer
On Monday, EPA issued an Interpretive Statement concluding that point source discharges to groundwater are never subject to NPDES permitting requirements. EPA did a good job marshalling its arguments – much better than this EPA has done in a number of similar situations.
Are Discharges to Groundwater Potentially Subject to the Clean Water Act? A Circuit Split Tees It Up.
The Sixth Circuit ruled earlier this week that discharges to groundwater are not subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction. We now have the requisite circuit split, opening the possibility of Supreme Court review. For those who might still be open-minded, I commend both the majority and dissenting opinions in the 6th Circuit; they are each as clear and as persuasive as they could be.
Although I have long thought that it does not make sense to regulate discharges to groundwater under the CWA,… More
On Friday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated EPA’s “Delay Rule”, which postponed compliance with EPA regulations governing preparation of Risk Management Plans under the Clean Air Act. The decision comes only one day after another court decision vacating the “Suspension Rule” which postponed the Waters of the United States Rule.
Memo to EPA General Counsel’s office. If something labeled “Delay Rule” or “Suspension Rule” comes across your desk,… More
Score One For Rational Regulation: The 2nd Circuit Rejects Environmental and Industry Challenges to EPA’s Cooling Water Intake Structure Rule
On Monday, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals rejected all challenges to EPA’s cooling water intake structure rule. Notwithstanding the Court’s rejection of the industry challenges, it’s a big win for industry. As I noted when the rule was promulgated, industry dodged a major bullet when EPA decided not to require closed-cycle cooling at existing facilities.
The decision is really all about Chevron deference and is another bit of evidence in support of my ongoing effort to demonstrate that conservatives might want to be careful what they wish for when they discuss overruling Chevron.… More
Earlier this month, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on challenges to EPA’s National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants from the brick and clay industries. The Court granted the environmentalists’ petitions almost in their entirety and denied the industry petitions in their entirety.
The decision is not really surprising, because EPA had failed to justify a number of the decisions that it made. … More
The decision last week in City of Taunton v. EPA did not break any new ground, but it is certainly a reminder of just how much of an uphill battle it is to challenge an NPDES permit.
The City of Taunton challenged EPA’s decision to include a numeric limit for nitrogen in Taunton’s renewed permit. The Court rejected all of Taunton’s challenges in a tone that,… More
There’s been a lot of discussion regarding EPA’s decision to withdraw EPA’s Mid-term Evaluation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions for Model Year 2022-2025 Light-duty Vehicles. After pondering for a while, my question is how much deference courts will give to EPA’s decision.
The Trump administration. The gift that keeps on giving to bloggers. After posting last week about the order requiring DOE to send its energy efficiency standards to the Federal Register for publication, I noted that that regulatory delay cases were going to have to become a regular feature in this space. Lo and behold, on the same date, Judge Jeff White rejected EPA’s “Delay Rule” that would have postponed compliance deadlines under the Formaldehyde Act. … More
Last week, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down EPA’s rule implementing the 2008 ozone standards. My primary take-away? The structure of the Clean Air Act is so dense and so complicated that it gives me a headache, and I do like to think I’m something of an expert. Those of us who believe in government regulation need to be honest and admit that there’s a reason why some people become Libertarians. … More
Last week, the First Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Conservation Law Foundation’s argument that EPA’s acceptance of TMDLs in Rhode Island and Massachusetts carried with it a concomitant obligation to require permits of landowners contributing to violations of the TMDLs. Easy cases make good law.
CLF’s position was simple. EPA’s approval of the TMDLs meant that EPA had determined that stormwater controls are needed. … More
Last week, the Office of the Solicitor in the Department of the Interior issued a legal Opinion concluding that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act does not prohibit the incidental take of migratory birds. It’s a thorough Opinion. While I disagree with it on some individual issues and I’m sure many will disagree with its conclusions, I think it should survive judicial review, assuming that a reviewing court can get past the fact that it directly contradicts a prior Opinion of the Interior Department issued less than a year ago.… More
Yesterday, Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte granted summary judgment to plaintiffs and vacated the Bureau of Land Management’s notice that it was postponing certain compliance dates contained in the Obama BLM rule governing methane emissions on federal lands. If you’re a DOJ lawyer, it’s pretty clear your case is a dog when the Court enters summary judgment against you before you’ve even answered the complaint.
The case is pretty simple and the outcome should not be a surprise. … More
Earlier this week, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down part of an EPA rule promulgated pursuant to the Montreal Protocol. The section that was struck down would have required manufacturers of HFC-134a, which is not ozone-depleting and which had previously been determined by EPA to be an acceptable replacement for ozone-depleting compounds, to find other replacements, because EPA determined in 2015 that HFC-134a did not “reduce overall risks to human health and the environment.” Why? … More
Yesterday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals remanded EPA’s MACT standards for PCBs, polycyclic organic matter, and hexachlorobenzene to EPA. Rather than setting specific MACT standards for these compounds, EPA regulated them through “surrogates,” commonly particulate matter. The Sierra Club and others argued that EPA did not adequately justify the use of surrogates.
The three-part test for the adequacy of a surrogate is clear and worth repeating:
(1) the relevant hazardous air pollutant is invariably present in the proposed surrogate;… More
Does Chevron Ever Permit EPA to Rewrite a Statute? EPA’s Release Reporting Exemptions Are Struck Down
On Tuesday, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia vacated EPA’s final rule governing reporting of air releases from animal feeding operations. The Court found that EPA had no statutory authority to exempt AFOs from the reporting regulations.
The decision is also important because it is another in a recent line of cases regarding the extent of agency authority to interpret statutes. The issue was whether EPA had authority to exempt smaller AFOs from reporting requirements,… More
When EPA approved total maximum daily loads for the Charles River, but failed to require NPDES permits for persons discharging stormwater to the Charles, CLF sued. CLF alleged that EPA violated a non-discretionary duty when it failed to require the permits. Last Friday, Judge Richard Stearns dismissed CLF’s suit.
EPA’s regulations provide that it will issue NPDES permits where it:
Determines that the discharge,… More
The conservative cases in support of Chevron deference keep arriving. This week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed EPA’s federal implementation plan for compliance with its regional haze regulations by the Navajo Generating Station, which is apparently the largest coal-fired power plant in the western United States. Environmentalists challenged the FIP on a number of grounds, including EPA’s decision to grant Navajo Generating emission credits for some early NOx reductions as well as the amount of time the FIP gave the facility to attain the required reductions.… More
In January, I argued that conservative opposition to the Chevron doctrine seemed inconsistent with conservative ideology and I noted, at a practical level, that opposition to Chevron does not always yield the results conservative want.
Last Friday, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia provided more evidence supporting my thesis. The Court affirmed the decision of the Fish and Wildlife Service to delist the gray wolf as endangered in Wyoming,… More
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals just denied en banc review in a case involving the Fish & Wildlife Service’s designation of critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog. There are only 100 of these “shy” frogs left, and none of them live in the area in Louisiana designated as critical habitat by the FWS.
The focus of the panel decision – and both the panel dissent and the dissent from the denial of en banc review – was whether private land could be considered critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog if no frogs live in the area and the area could not currently support the frog.… More
With GOP control of Congress and the White House, conservatives appear to have Chevron deference in their crosshairs. Put simply, I don’t get it. There are at least two good reasons why conservatives should prefer Chevron deference to no deference.
First, the alternative is for courts to decide all questions of agency authority. But haven’t conservatives railed against unelected judges for years? … More
The drumbeat of cases, either approving agency action under the ESA – or reversing agency refusal to act – due to habitat alteration resulting from climate change continues to grow. In February, the 9th Circuit reversed a district court decision and approved the Fish and Wildlife Service’s designation of critical polar bear habitat. In April, Judge Christensen of the District of Montana vacated FWS’s decision to withdraw a proposed listing of the wolverine. … More
Last week, Judge John Preston Bailey ruled that EPA had violated a non-discretionary duty by failing comply with the requirement of § 321(a) of the Clean Air Act that it:
Conduct continuing evaluations of potential loss or shifts of employment which may result from the administration or enforcement of the provision [sic] of the Clean Air Act….
I’ve noted in the past that good lawyering matters. … More
FWS Goes Back to Square One On Listing the Wolverine. It’s Not Going to Be Any Easier This Time Around.
As we noted in this space in April, Judge Dana Christensen vacated the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to withdraw its proposed listing of a distinct population segment of the North American wolverine as threatened under the ESA. Bowing to the inevitable, the FWS has now published in the Federal Register a formal acknowledgement that the Court’s vacatur of the withdrawal of the proposed listing returns the situation to the status quo.… More
A Lumber Mill Biomass CoGen Need Not Consider Other Fuels In Its BACT Analysis. Other Sources Should Be So Lucky.
Ever since EPA began considering how BACT analysis would be applied to greenhouse gas emissions, there has been concern that EPA would use its BACT authority to “redefine the source” – with the particular concern that BACT for a coal plant would now be to burn natural gas instead. In Helping Hands Tools v. EPA, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals this week gave some protection to biomass plants from such redefinition of the source. … More
Earlier this week, the 7th Circuit affirmed the Department of Energy’s new energy efficiency requirements for commercial refrigeration equipment. This is a big deal in its own right, simply because the numbers are really large – according to DOE, the rule will save 2.89 quadrillion BTUs over the lifetime of equipment purchased under the rule. It’s a reminder that energy efficiency remains a key to reducing carbon emissions.… More
On Friday, the D.C. Circuit largely upheld EPA’s Boiler MACT rule. The industry challenges were a complete washout. The environmental petitioners won one significant victory and a number of smaller ones.
The environmental petitioners’ one significant victory is important. EPA included within relevant subcategories any source that burns a fuel containing at least 10% of the “subcategory-defining fuel.” However, for defining MACT, EPA included only those sources that burn fuel containing at 90% of the subcategory-defining fuel for existing sources,… More
Yesterday, Judge Scott Skavdahl of the District of Wyoming held that the Bureau of Land Management did not have authority to regulate the environmental impacts of fracking. I think Judge Skavdahl probably got it right, but I also think it’s a much closer question than the Judge acknowledged and I could imagine either the 10th Circuit or the Supreme Court reaching a different conclusion.
Judge Skavdahl first reviewed the various statutes cited by BLM as providing authority for the rule. … More
If You Don’t Like Nukes, Petition Congress: The D.C. Circuit Affirms the NRC’s GEIR On Nuclear Waste Storage
On Friday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected challenges by several states and the NRDC to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Generic Environmental Impact Statement analyzing the impacts of continued on-site storage of spent nuclear fuel. The decision is largely a plain vanilla application of Administrative Procedure Act deference to agency decisionmaking, but there were a few interesting nuggets.
- The Court agreed with the NRC that the GEIR itself was not a licensing action,…
Last week, EPA issued its “Supplemental Finding”, confirming that it still believes that its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are “appropriate and necessary.” I don’t have much to add to our post at the time of the proposed Supplemental Finding. In short, the Supplemental Finding isn’t going to change anyone’s mind, but it should be sufficient to withstand judicial review as long as the courts still believe in Chevron deference.… More
The Supreme Court today affirmed FERC’s Order No. 745, which required that demand response resources be treated the same as generation resources when participating in wholesale electricity markets. I’m feeling vindicated, because the post-oral argument prognosticators said that it looked bad for FERC, but I always thought that FERC had the stronger argument.
Does the Paris Agreement Provide EPA With Authority Under the CAA To Impose Economy-Wide GHG Controls? Count Me Skeptical
In a very interesting article, Michael Burger of the Sabin Center and his co-authors suggest that, following the Paris climate agreement, § 115 of the Clean Air Act provides authority for EPA to develop economy-wide GHG emissions reduction regulations that would be more comprehensive and efficient than EPA’s current industry-specific approach. And what, you may ask, is § 115? Even the most dedicated “airhead” has probably never worked with it.… More
Yesterday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to vacate EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. The decision was not a surprise. As I noted earlier this fall, there is a definite trend towards refusing to vacate complex EPA rules. Where the rule is sufficiently complicated and EPA can tell any kind of credible story that maintaining a slightly tarnished rule is better than no rule at all,… More
I finally caught up with the brief filed by the government last week, opposing the motion to stay the EPA Clean Power Plan rule, pending full judicial review. I just don’t see the stay being granted (of course, I did not see it coming with the WOTUS rule, either, so I’m not quite infallible). The motion should fail on both the irreparable injury and public interest prongs of the test for issuance of a stay.… More
Late last week, EPA issued a Supplemental Finding, concluding that it is still “appropriate and necessary” to regulate hazardous air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired electric generating units. The Supplemental Finding was necessary after the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that EPA’s original decision to regulate HAP emissions from EGUs was flawed because EPA did not consider costs in making the decision. Is the Supplemental Finding enough to ensure that the Mercury and Air Toxics rule is upheld this time around? … More
On Thursday, EPA finally released its final rule revising the ozone NAAQS to 70 ppb. I do not spend much time peering into a crystal ball, but I will go out on a limb and say that the industry challenges to the rule will fail. Just ain’t gonna happen.
The environmental group challenges pose a more interesting question. There’s a fair bit of evidence of health impacts below 70 ppb,… More
So the Clean Power Plan is out. It’s difficult to be pithy about such a big, sprawling, mess, other than to say that it’s probably about as good as it could be, though that may not be enough. Here are a few items that have caught my eye so far:
- Although the initial deadlines have been eased, the goal of 32% reduction over 2005 emissions by 2030 is a slight increase over the 30% in the draft.…
On Tuesday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed EPA’s update of its hexavalent chromium MACT rule. Suffice it to say that this was a little easier than review of the power plant MACT rule.
The Court rejected both industry and environmental group challenges, in what was largely a straightforward application of Chevron. The opinion is nonetheless useful in laying out what EPA must have in the record to justify ratcheting down MACT standards.… More
The short answer is, yes, though the majority is more wrong.
In fact, the issue in Michigan v. EPA seems so simple that the MATS rule could have been affirmed in a two-page opinion. Judge Scalia notes that the word “appropriate” – on which the entire 44 pages of the majority, concurring, and dissenting opinions focus – is “capacious”. I agree. … More
Earlier this week, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected both industry and environmental group petitions challenging EPA’s determination of what is a solid waste in the context of Clean Air Act standards for incinerators and other combustion units. It wasn’t actually a difficult case, but it does provide a lesson for Congress. When the technical nature of EPA’s decisions was layered on top of the fundamental deference given EPA’s interpretation of the statute under Chevron,… More
Half a Loaf May Not Be Too Bad: The 9th Circuit Affirms Most of EPA’s Approval of the San Joaquin Valley SIP
Earlier this week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals granted part of a petition challenging EPA’s approval of California’s SIP for ozone and PM 2.5 in the San Joaquin Valley. While the trade press has been focusing on the partial reversal, I think that EPA won much more than it lost.
What did it lose? California’s plans for complying with the ozone and PM 2.5 NAAQS relied in part on emissions reductions to be attained as a result of California’s authority under the CAA to impose more stringent mobile source emissions standards than are applicable nationally. … More
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals just reversed and remanded EPA’s rule allowing backup generators to operate for up to 100 hours per year as necessary for demand response. It’s an important decision that could have lessons for EPA and the regulated community across a wide range of circumstances, including eventual challenges to EPA’s proposed GHG rule.
EPA said that the rule was necessary to allow demand response programs to succeed while maintaining grid reliability. … More
The Supreme Court today ruled that, when an agency revises its interpretive rules, it need not go through notice-and-comment rulemaking. Although the decision, in Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association, required the court to reverse a long-held line of D.C. Circuit cases, the decision was not difficult; it was, in fact, unanimous. In short, the Administrative Procedure Act:
states that unless “notice or hearing is required by statute,” the Act’s notice-and-comment requirement “does not apply …… More
Yesterday, EPA finally proposed a revised ambient air quality standard for ozone – except that the agency is still hedging its bets. The Clean Air Science Advisory Committee had previously supported a revised ozone NAAQS of 0.060 to 0.070 ppm. EPA has narrowed the range slightly, proposing a revised NAAQS of from 0.065 to 0.070 ppm, but still has not yet picked a number.… More
Transportation Projects Get A Lot Of Deference in Demonstrating Compliance With Air Quality Standards
In a decision late last month, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals made clear just how much deference agencies can get under the Supreme Court decisions in Chevron and Auer. The question in NRDC v. USDOT was whether, in determining whether a project to connect the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to I-405 was in conformity with the California SIP,… More
Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision that arguably explains everything from why the Tea Party exists to why otherwise calm and sane executives suddenly lose all their hair. Perhaps most astounding, the decision is clearly correct. Perhaps the law is an ass.
In 2008, Avenal Power submitted an application to EPA for a PSD permit to construct a new 600 MW natural gas-fired power plant in Avenal,… More
83% of a Loaf Is Better Than None: The Supreme Court Affirms EPA’s Authority to Regulate “Anyway Sources”, But Rejects Regulation of Otherwise Exempt Sources
The Supreme Court today affirmed EPA’s authority to subject 83% of greenhouse gas emissions to its PSD and Title V Operating Permit programs. However, EPA’s rationale for the rule did not fare so well, and EPA does not have authority to regulate GHG emissions from facilities not otherwise subject to PSD review or the Title V program.
To EPA and the court below, the main issue – EPA’s authority – was not difficult.… More
More on EPA’s GHG Rule: I Am NOT Going To Set Odds on Whether the Rule Would Survive Judicial Review
Last week, in posting about EPA’s Clean Power Plan, I noted that some potential plaintiffs might face standing obstacles in seeking to challenge the rule, assuming it is promulgated as proposed. Today, I take a (very) slightly broader look at potential legal challenges.
First, I still think that the most obvious potential plaintiffs, owners of coal-fired power plants, might indeed have standing issues in challenging a rule which maximizes the options for attaining reductions in GHG emissions.… More
When Is An Agreement Not To Purchase Electricity a Retail Sale? The DC Circuit Strikes Down FERC Order 745
Last Friday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down FERC Order 745, which required that demand response resources be compensated in the same way as traditional generation resources, at the “locational marginal price”, or LMP. Why is this an environmental case? Because use of demand response at times of peak electricity demand substitutes for traditional generation and thus eliminates the emissions that would result from such generation.… More
The Wind Bloweth Where It Listeth — And the Supreme Court Says EPA Therefore Has Discretion in Regulating Wind-Borne Pollution
The Supreme Court today reversed the D.C. Circuit and affirmed EPA’s Transport Rule (known more formally as the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule). Whatever the hopes and dreams of the upwind states and the industry opponents, the decision does not surprise me. EPA pretty much did what it was told when the Bush era CAIR rule was struck down. Moreover, EPA crafted a rule that seems to me fully within its discretion under the Clean Air Act and which,… More
Cement Kiln Operators Better Hope that Their Control Technology Works: D.C. Circuit Vacates EPA’s Affirmative Defense Rule
Last week was hazardous air pollutant regulation week at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. First, as we reported, the Court affirmed EPA’s mercury air toxics rule, determining that EPA need not take cost into account in promulgating rules for electric generating units (EGUs) under § 112(n) of the CAA. On Friday, the Court affirmed the substance of EPA’s revised hazardous air pollutant rules for cement kilns,… More