Last week, EPA withdrew guidance issued in the waning days of the Trump Administration interpreting the Supreme Court decision in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund. As the masochists who follow the torturous case law we call Clean Water Act jurisprudence are well aware, SCOTUS ruled in Maui that discharges from point sources to groundwater that are the “functional equivalent” of a direct discharge to surface water are required to obtain NPDES permits.… More
Category Archives: Litigation
Yesterday, Judge Rosemary Marquez vacated the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, the misnomer also known as the Trump WOTUS rule. In response to this citizens’ suit challenging NWPR, the Biden EPA and Army Corps of Engineers moved to remand the rule to the agencies, since they had already announced an intent to revisit the definition of WOTUS. However, for reasons that I have never understood, the agencies sought remand without vacatur,… More
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has largely affirmed a District Court order finding that Ameren Missouri violated the NSR provisions of the Clean Air Act in making major modifications to its Rush Island facility. The Appeals Court did reject the District Court’s requirement that Ameren Missouri make improvements at its nearby Labadie facility that was not in violation of the CAA.
I have three thoughts about the decision.… More
The Sacketts Got Their Day in Court on the Merits; Another Lesson in Being Careful What You Wish For
Last week, in what may or may not be the last round in the ongoing efforts by Michael and Chantell Sackett to build a house on wetlands in Idaho, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that:
EPA reasonably determined that the Sacketts’ property contains wetlands that share a significant nexus with Priest Lake, such that the lot was regulable under the CWA and the relevant regulations.… More
Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a challenge to EPA guidance that suggested a new statistical method, the Test of Significant Toxicity, for determining the toxicity of discharges subject to NPDES permits. The Court found that, because it was “nonbinding guidance,” it was not final agency action and was thus not subject to judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act.
May I ask my legal colleagues to wrap their heads around the concept of “nonbinding guidance?” Doesn’t the existence of “nonbinding guidance” imply the existing of “binding guidance?” If not,… More
On August 3, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals held that FERC could not avoid use of the social cost of carbon in assessing the impacts of natural gas projects by arguing that “there is no universally accepted methodology.” Given the growing recognition of the significant role FERC is going to have in combatting climate change, it’s an important decision.
FERC acknowledged that construction and operation of the projects under review would “contribute incrementally to future climate change impacts.” However,… More
Last week, District Judge Susan Mollway ruled that the County of Maui must obtain a NPDES permit for discharges to groundwater by the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility. It is the first trial court decision applying the factors identified by Justice Breyer in the SCOTUS Maui decision.
Judge Mollway found the most important factors to be what she considered to be the relative short distance from the discharge to the surface water (½ mile) and the relatively short time between the groundwater discharge and the surface water discharge (as little as 84 days and,… More
At What Level of Government Are We Going to Regulate Climate Change? (Hint — It Is a Global Problem.)
Last week, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled that the Berkeley ordinance essentially banning use of natural gas in new construction was not preempted by the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. I’m not here to opine on the legal merits of the decision. I will note note that the Judge’s reliance on textual analysis and the asserted federalist bent of SCOTUS’s conservative wing might give this opinion more life than one would otherwise expect – though I’ll also note that the conservative wing’s federalist proclivities often seem to turn on whether they agree with the underlying policy at issue. … More
EPA Withdrawal of Its Proposed Veto of a 404 Permit Is Reviewable — This Should Not Be Earth-shattering News
Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that EPA’s decision to withdraw its proposed veto of the Army Corps’ Section 404 permit for the Pebble Mine project in Bristol Bay, Alaska, was subject to judicial review. Although there was a dissent and the majority opinion was 39 pages, I don’t think that the case should have been so hard.
The Court noted the “strong presumption” that final agency action is subject to judicial review. … More
This week, Judge Karen Green denied Exxon Mobil’s motion to dismiss claims brought by Massachusetts under its Consumer Protection Act. The complaint alleges that Exxon Mobil both mislead Massachusetts investors in its marketing to them of Exxon Mobil securities and mislead Massachusetts consumers in its marketing of its products to those consumers. Judge Green rejected Exxon Mobil’s arguments that it was not subject to jurisdiction in Massachusetts with respect to these claims. … More
On Wednesday, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers announced that they plan to revise the definition of “Waters of the United States”. Simultaneously, DOJ moved to remand the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, in a challenge to the Trump-era rule brought by the Conservation Law Foundation. Can you say “déjà vu all over again”?
This is such a target-rich environment that I almost don’t know where to begin – but I’ll try.… More
Earlier this Month, Judge James Boasberg, who had previously ruled that the easement allowing construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline must be vacated due to a failure to comply with NEPA, nonetheless declined to issue an injunction requiring that the pipeline cease operations. The Court’s rationale was clear and straightforward. The Court of Appeals ruled that Judge Boasberg could not enjoin use of the pipeline without finding that all elements of the four-factor test for an injunction had been met. … More
Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that only settlements that explicitly resolve liability under CERCLA trigger the contribution provisions of section 113 of CERCLA. I have previously commented on the Court’s tendency to treat CERCLA as much more straightforward and unambiguous than practitioners have understood it to be. The Court’s approach to section 113 in yesterday’s decision followed this now well-worn path. In a short, sweet, and unanimous decision,… More
The saga of judicial efforts to enforce the one-year limit on state review of applications for water quality certifications under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act shows no sign of reaching a conclusion.
First, in Hoopa Valley Tribe v. FERC, the D.C. Circuit held that an agreement between the applicant and the state pursuant to which the applicant repeatedly withdrew and resubmitted its 401 application could not escape the statutory time limit on state review.… More
Last week, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirmed vacatur of the easement issued to the Dakota Access Pipeline by the Army Corps of Engineers. As I noted last month in connection with the Biden Executive Order concerning Keystone XL, no one in the industry is rushing out to plan any new pipelines and no one in the financing business is rushing out to provide the cash to build any new pipelines. … More
Last month, I noted that the Trump administration had suffered “one final judicial defeat” – the rejection of its Affordable Clean Energy Rule. Of course, I spoke too soon. Last week, Judge Brian Morris rejected EPA’s rule “Strengthening Transparency in Pivotal Science Underlying Significant Regulatory Actions and Influential Scientific Information” – also known as the “Secret Science Rule.”
The Secret Science Rule was promulgated on January 6,… More
Yesterday was the last full day of President Trump’s term. On environmental issues, it closed on a fitting note – another major judicial defeat. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals vacated EPA’s Affordable Clean Energy Rule. In doing so, the Court – thanks to what appears to have been a misguided strategic decision by EPA – confirmed EPA’s authority to use a range of tools to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.… More
The recent decision by the 8th Circuit that the Coyote Creek Mining Company did not require a major source permit under the Clean Air Act is both fascinating and important. The question on the merits was whether CCMC had to include its fugitive emissions in determining its potential to emit. Such emissions are normally excluded, but are included if they are part of a “coal processing plant.”
The Court concluded that the regulations are ambiguous and that EPA guidance did not resolve the issue. … More
The 4th Circuit Stays Construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline — A Lesson in Preventing a Fait Accompli
Earlier this week, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The Court did so with a two-sentence order stating that an opinion would follow. The order was issued hours after oral argument. Why the hurry?
It could be that, as reported by Bloomberg (subscription required), the plaintiffs had somehow learned of “a call in which pipeline officials told investors they would quickly trench through streams ‘before anything is challenged.’”
Last week, Judge Scott Skavdahl vacated BLM’s 2016 methane Waste Prevention Rule. The Judge spends 10 pages documenting the “loopty-loops” of the litigation surrounding the 2016 Rule and the Trump administration’s efforts to rescind the rule. Here, I’m with him. It’s difficult to review the tangled process of judicial review of this rule without being embarrassed for our judicial system.
Judge Skavdahl then spent 47 pages on the merits. … More
Last week, Judge James Jones declined to issue a preliminary injunction that would have prevented implementation of the Trump Administration’s NEPA revisions. Judge Jones’s explanation was fairly sparse. He merely noted that the plaintiffs had not made the required “clear showing” that they are likely to succeed on the merits, though he did indicate that testimony, including expert opinion, is likely to be necessary.
I can’t say I’m shocked,… More
Last week, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals vacated EPA’s approval of Pennsylvania’s SIP for attaining the 2008 NAAQS for NOx. Specifically, the Court found that EPA’s approval was arbitrary and capricious with respect to three separate, but related, provisions of the SIP. The flawed provisions were:
- The NOx standard for power plants utilizing selective catalytic reduction was set at 0.12 pounds/MMBtu.…
On Wednesday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the injunction requiring the shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline. It’s a victory for the operator, Energy Transfer LP, simply because it lives to fight another day. From a legal point of view, however, I wouldn’t take that much comfort from the decision.
The basis for the stay was that the District Court did not make explicit findings on the need for an injunction. … More
Last week, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a $20M penalty imposed on ExxonMobil for Clean Air Act violations at its Baytown facility, remanding the case for a more particularized review by the District Court regarding whether the plaintiffs have demonstrated that they have standing with respect to all of the violations committed by ExxonMobil. The Court held that it is not enough to show that each of the claims in the complaint are traceable to ExxonMobil’s conduct. … More
On Tuesday, Judge John Koeltl ordered EPA to issue a final rule addressing its obligations under the Good Neighbor provisions of the Clean Air Act by no later than March 15, 2021. Two aspects of the decision are worth note.
The big issue in the case, once the Judge disposed of EPA’s jurisdictional arguments, was whether it is impossible for EPA to issue a final rule by the plaintiffs’ suggested date. … More
On Monday, Judge David Faber found Bluestone Coal Corporation liable for 1,904 days of violations of its discharge permit at the Red Fox Surface Mine. All of the violations related to excessive discharges of selenium. Bluestone’s defense, rejected for a second time by Judge Faber, was that the existence of a consent decree precluded the separate action for enforcement of the permit. However, the permit and its specific discharge limit for selenium only came into effect after the entry of the consent decree.… More
BLM Rescission of the Methane Waste Prevention Rule Has Been Vacated; Two Thoughts About the Implications
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.
Last week, Judge William Shubb of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California ruled that the Agreement between California and Quebec to jointly operate a GHG cap-and-trade market did not violate either the Foreign Affairs Doctrine. Judge Shubb had previously ruled that the Agreement did not violate either the Treaty Clause or the Compact Clause.
What is the Burden on States Petitioning EPA Under the Good Neighbor Provisions of the Clean Air Act?
Yesterday, the D.C.. Circuit Court of Appeals granted New York’s petition appealing EPA’s rejection of New York’s request under Section 126 of the Clean Air Act to require emissions reductions from upwind states alleged to be contributing to New York’s noncompliance with the ozone NAAQS. The Court found that:
The EPA offered insufficient reasoning for the convoluted and seemingly unworkable showing it demanded of New York’s petition.… More
I don’t like to speculate, so I won’t say that July 6, 2020, was the beginning of the end of fossil fuel infrastructure in the United States. I will say, with apologies to Judith Viorst, that it was a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
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
State Climate Suits Really, Really, Belong in State Court When They Allege Misleading Statements To Investors
On Thursday, there was yet another opinion addressing whether state and local climate suits belong in state or federal court. This time, Judge William Young issued an opinion explaining his March bench decision to remand Massachusetts’ case against ExxonMobil to state court.
The Massachusetts case for remand was easier than in the cases seeking a remedy for climate change. The Massachusetts case does not make nuisance claims or seek a substantive remedy for the impacts of climate change. … More
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has issued two rulings that, combined with the recent 4th Circuit ruling in the Baltimore case, makes it more likely that state and local public nuisance climate cases will be heard in state courts, rather than federal courts. The two California cases got to the 9th Circuit via different routes.
Last week, Chief Judge Brian Morris of the Federal District Court for the District of Montana vacated an “Instruction Memorandum” issued by BLM in 2018 – and also vacated numerous oil and gas leases issued in reliance on the 2018 IM. The 2018 IM changed the way BLM interpreted land management plans issued by BLM in 2015 in order to preserve sage grouse habitat, and avoid the necessity for listing the sage grouse as endangered under the ESA.… More
On Tuesday, President Trump issued an Executive Order on Regulatory Relief to Support Economic Recovery. I’ll leave to others a discussion of the provisions telling agencies to look for more regulations to roll back. I’m in general agreement with commenters who have said that those provisions don’t add much to Trump’s prior deregulatory efforts and are likely to face mostly the same reception in the courts as prior efforts.… More
Earlier this week, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals became the latest court to reject EPA’s position that its decision to bar scientists receiving grants from EPA from serving on its advisory panels was not subject to judicial review. The D.C. Circuit went farther than the First Circuit; it went to the merits and found that EPA’s policy was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act.… 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
Last week, EPA formally revised the cost-benefit analysis for its rule limiting the emissions of hazardous air pollutants from coal-fired power plants. The rule jettisons consideration of so-called “co-benefits,” in this case, the benefits from the reduction in emissions of PM2.5 that result from limits on mercury emissions. The very idea of excluding consideration of co-benefits is just plain incoherent.
I’ve spent my career defending cost-benefit analysis to many of my environmentalist friends. … More
It’s Still Good to Be King; SCOTUS Continues to Interpret CERCLA In Ways Unrecognizable to Practitioners
I have previously discussed how nice it must be for Supreme Court justices to reach judicial decisions from on high, without getting their collective hands dirty worrying about the practical consequences of their decisions. The same has always been true with respect to SCOTUS decisions concerning CERCLA, which has seemed far simpler to SCOTUS than to us poor lawyers who have to actually make it work.
Exhibit A for this argument is the latest SCOTUS Superfund decision. … More
On Monday, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals held that EPA’s directive forbidding those who receive EPA grants from serving on EPA advisory committees is subject to judicial review. It’s an important issue, because the advisory boards are one of the few checks on EPA’s efforts to undermine of the use of science in its rulemaking.
EPA argued that it retains discretion over the composition of its advisory committees and that plaintiffs’ claims were not justiciable. … More
Last week, Judge William Shubb of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California ruled that the Agreement between California and Quebec to jointly operate a GHG cap-and-trade market did not violate either the Treaty Clause or the Compact Clause. These are not parts of the Constitution that are normally a focus of environmental law classes, so take what follows with an appropriately sized grain of salt.… More
Last week, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court decision remanding Baltimore’s climate change litigation to state court. I wouldn’t read too much into the decision, which is founded on the niceties of federal law governing removal of cases to federal court.
Basically, federal law severely limits courts of appeal authority to reverse erroneous remand orders:
An order remanding a case to the State court from which it was removed is not reviewable on appeal or otherwise,… More
Almost 50 years ago, Christopher Stone published “Should Trees Have Standing,” suggesting that the natural world should be given legal rights to ensure its protection for future generations. It is not, I say with my usual gift for understatement, an idea that has taken widespread hold in legal systems in the United States. It has had broad philosophical influence, however, and attempts are made periodically to implement Stone’s idea. … 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
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has denied the petition for rehearing in the “once in, always in” case. It was a one sentence order. Judge Rogers, who dissented from the original panel opinion, dissented from the denial. Judge Rogers is still right.
Earlier this month, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a long-term failure by a state to submit to EPA a TMDL for an impaired water can constitute a “constructive submission” of no TMDL, triggering an obligation on EPA’s part to reject the constructive submission and, in turn, to issue the requisite TMDL itself.
The logic of the decision is straightforward. The Clean Water Act unambiguously imposes a non-discretionary duty on states to submit TMDLs for waters on the so-called “303(d) list.” In turn,… More
Last week, Judge Richard McNamara ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in their challenge to the very stringent standards for PFAS in drinking water promulgated by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. However, given the importance of the issues, the Court stayed its injunction until December 31, to give the parties time to appeal to the NH Supreme Court.
The Court ruled against the plaintiffs’ claims that the regulations constituted an unfunded mandate and that DES failed to give fair notice and an opportunity to comment on the regulations (DES’s final regulations were substantially more stringent than its proposed regulations). … 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
Last week, Federal District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill granted a preliminary injunction to various NGOs, barring the Bureau of Land Management from implementing amendments BLM had made in 2019 to protection plans for the sage grouse promulgated by BLM in 2015. It makes compelling reading. In 29 pages, it pretty much summarizes everything the Trump administration has done in the environmental arena, and how courts have reacted.… More
Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a District Court ruling requiring the Department of Energy to publish in the Federal Register four rules finalized by the Obama administration, but not previously published.
The Trump administration DOE tried to take advantage of DOE’s “error-correction rule”, which gives DOE time to fix mistakes in its rules before they are published in the Federal Register.
The problem with DOE’s argument is that the error-correction rule is clear that error correction is a ministerial task. … More
On Tuesday, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals vacated EPA’s “Close-Out Rule,” which basically concluded that upwind states contributing to exceedances of the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone in downwind states did not have to undertake any additional actions to reduce their contribution to downwind state ozone concentrations. The decision was inevitable following last month’s decision in Wisconsin v. EPA,… More
On Monday, District Judge Rodney Sippel ordered sweeping injunctive relief against Ameren Missouri, intended to remedy violations of PSD requirements he had previously identified resulting from upgrades to the Ameren Missouri Rush Island generating plant.
Notwithstanding the lengthy opinion, most of the Court’s findings are fairly plain vanilla. Basically, Judge Sippel ordered Ameren Missouri to submit a PSD permit application and he ruled that BACT for control of SO2 emissions at Rush Island required installation of wet flue gas desulfurization equipment.… More
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
Earlier this week, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the “Wehrum Memo,” which reversed EPA’s longstanding policy of “once in, always in” regarding MACT jurisdiction, was not final agency action subject to judicial review. Like Judge Rogers, I dissent.
The majority makes much of its effort to clarify this “byzantine” area of the law. My take is that,… More
Earlier this week, Judge Christopher Cooper of the District Court for the District of the Columbia, struck down EPA’s approval of Total Maximum Daily Loads established by the District of Columbia for the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. Why?
Because the District’s TMDLs did not conform to the plain meaning of the words “Maximum” or “Daily.” The decision is lengthy and complicated, because the statutory framework is complicated. … More
Those seeking to address climate change through litigation have taken two different paths. Some cases, probably best represented by Juliana v. United States, have plaintiffs who are swinging for the fences. These are stereotypical examples of impact litigation; the plaintiffs are hoping to change the world. Other cases involve plaintiffs who are just hoping – for now, at least – to hit a few singles. … More
Last week, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. It’s the second time that the Court has rejected the FWS approval of the project. I have previously suggested that the Trump administration cares more about providing material for the President’s Twitter feed than advancing its deregulatory or energy dominance agendas. … More
Late last month, New Hampshire filed two law suits seeking to recover a variety of costs and damages it alleges have resulted from contamination caused by releases of PFAS. It’s a wide ranging suit; New Hampshire asserted claims for negligence, defective design, failure to warn, trespass, and damage to public trust assets, among others.
And what relief does the state seek? Not much. It merely seeks that the court enter a judgment:
Finding Defendants liable,… More
When the Supreme Court decided that the district courts had jurisdiction over challenges to the Obama administration WOTUS rule, I described it as a victory of the “give me a break” doctrine of statutory interpretation over the “just plain nuts” theory. I also noted that the Supreme Court had the luxury of ignoring the chaos that would ensue.
Whatever one may think of the merits of the competing theories,… More
Earlier this week, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals partially reversed a district court decision, and ordered the Bureau of Land Management to vacate the NEPA approvals and permits it had issued authorizing the drilling of a number of fracked wells in the Mancos Shale, near Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. The decision is not earthshattering – pun most definitely intended! – but there are a few features of note. … More
On Monday, District Judge Haywood Gilliam imposed a schedule on EPA for review of state plans under EPA’s 2016 rule for emissions from municipal solid waste landfills. The ruling is notable for two reasons.
Because EPA did not dispute that it had missed certain deadlines, its first line of defense wasn’t that it complied with the statute; it was that the states challenging EPA’s delay did not have standing. … More
In 2016, DOI Secretarial Order 3338 imposed a moratorium on new coal leases on federal land until BLM prepared a programmatic environmental impact statement intended to address, among other issues, the impact of coal leasing on climate change.
Times do change. In 2018, DOI Secretarial Order 3348 eliminated the moratorium and the requirement to prepare a PEIS. Litigation ensued.
Last week,… More
Some cases just make you wonder what people were thinking. I’m not sure even Donald Trump would have tried to get away with what Dico, Inc., tried to get away with.
In 1994, EPA issued an administrative order, requiring Dico to address PCBs in insulation in buildings it owned in Des Moines, Iowa. Without informing EPA, Dico sold the buildings. Dico did not inform the buyer of the buildings about either the presence of PCBs or the EPA order.… More
In 2008, EPA issued an administrative order to Chantell and Michael Sackett, requiring them to remove what EPA had concluded was illegally placed fill on their property in Northern Idaho. Litigation followed, including a fairly well-known Supreme Court decision.
After the Supreme Court ruled that the Sacketts were entitled to appeal the administrative order, the case was remanded to the District Court. … More
Yesterday, the Washington Post (subscription required) published an article about the Trump Administration’s inability to defend many of its policies in court. Yours truly was among those quoted. I liked the story and it was largely accurate, including its quotes from me, except that Fred Barbash stated that I had “been looking forward to deregulation under Trump.” On that issue, I can only say that Fred and I had a misunderstanding,… More
When Is Property Damage From a Release “Expected or Intended”? Only After the Owner Learns of the Spill and Ignores It
Any good trial lawyer will tell you that the law is about telling stories.
Once upon a time, Timothy and Stacy Creamer bought a house. Only after they closed did they realize that some strategically placed rugs were hiding the evidence that, “up from the ground come a bubblin’ crude.”
Unlike Jed Clampett, rather than finding themselves millionaires, the Creamers found themselves with a million dollar liability – literally.… More
Two recent cases illustrate the potential scope of, and the potential limitations on, injunctive relief in RCRA citizen suits. First up, Schmucker v. Johnson Controls.
Contamination was detected at the Johnson Controls manufacturing facility in Goshen, Indiana. In response, Johnson Controls performed substantial remediation under the auspices of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s Voluntary Remediation Program. Nonetheless, significant contamination remains at the site,… More
Late last month, Federal Judge Rodney Sippel ruled that EPA could obtain injunctive relief against Ameren Missouri in the long-running NSR enforcement case concerning Ameren’s Rush Island Plant. The Court had already ruled that Ameren had violated the Clean Air Act by failing to obtain a PSD permit prior to implementing substantial modifications at the plant.
Having lost at the liability stage, Ameren took three shots at avoiding injunctive relief. … More
On Tuesday, the Massachusetts Appeals Court denied a regulatory takings claim brought by a plaintiff whose development plans for her property in Falmouth were denied by the Falmouth Conservation Commission. Plaintiff’s evidence showed that the property was worth $700,000, if developable, and $60,000, if not.
The Court ruled, in conformity with the “vast majority” of decisions in other states, that there is no right to a jury trial on the question whether a regulatory taking has occurred.… More
Yesterday, Judge Paul Diamond dismissed climate litigation brought by the Clean Air Council and two minor plaintiffs. Like the Juliana case in Oregon, the plaintiffs argued that the government had violated the their rights by failing to take robust action against climate change. Here are some of the failures that Judge Diamond identified in the complaint.
Earlier this month, EPA released its recommendations for its National Compliance Initiatives for 2020-2023. I face a dilemma in posting about the NCI, because I actually agree with the two biggest changes EPA is proposing. This administration has given regulatory reform a bad name. It’s sort of like a reverse “Nixon in China” situation. These changes might be credible if they were made in any administration other than this one.… More
Last week, a federal judge once more rejected the Environmental Assessment for the expansion of the Spring Creek Mine in Montana. The case does not really break any new ground, but it does add to the growing number of cases in which courts have rejected federal action approving a variety of large facilities related to energy production in one way or another. The crux of this case was the failure of the EA to consider downstream,… More
Last month’s decision in Ohio v. Breen was the most blatantly, obviously, and incontrovertibly wrong Superfund decision I have ever come across. How wrong was it? Saints/Rams level wrong.
The case involved Superfund claims brought by the state of Ohio concerning a former pesticide operation. The State sued numerous people, including the current owner of property that had been contaminated as the result of the pesticide operations. … More
On Friday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that applicants for licenses under the Federal Power Act may not reach private agreements with states to circumvent the FPA requirement that states act on water quality certification requests under § 401 of the Clean Water Act within one year.
The facts are important here and somewhat convoluted. The short version is that PacifiCorp operates a number of dams on the Klamath River. … More
A lot of proverbial ink has been spilled regarding the Trump administration’s proposal to amend the definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. The administration has focused on what it views as a more reasonable legal interpretation of the historical scope of the term. It has also emphasized returning authority to the states and providing more certainty to landowners.
In August, a judge in South Carolina issued a nationwide injunction against the “Suspension Rule,” which delayed the effective date of the 2015 Waters of the United States rule. Now, a judge in Washington state has gone even further. Judge John Coughenour has vacated the rule.
The core of the new decision is the same as that in South Carolina. … More
Deja Vu All Over Again — The Trump Administration Refuses to Provide “Good Reasons” For Its Change in Course on Keystone XL
Yesterday, Judge Brian Morris granted summary judgment to plaintiffs on some of their claims challenging the State Department’s new Record of Decision for the Keystone XL project. Whatever our Tweeter-in-chief may say, it’s actually a fairly balanced decision, which ruled in the Administration’s favor on a number of issues.
The most noteworthy part of the decision takes the State Department to task for failing to provide “good reasons” for the change in the ROD concerning climate change. … More
Last week there were two court decisions on cases in which groups of citizens are seeking court orders requiring the government to act on climate change. The biggest news was that the Supreme Court denied the stay requested by the United States in Juliana v. United States. This “Case of the Century” was supposed to go to trial on October 29.
If I were the plaintiffs,… More
Earlier this month, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals granted something of a reprieve to EPA’s New Source Review enforcement initiative. The Court first confirmed what everyone other than EPA and DOJ already knew – that failure to get a pre-construction permit is a one-time offense, so that penalty claims for alleged violations more than five years prior to filing are barred by the statute of limitations.… More
As Carol Holahan discussed, the 7th Circuit last month affirmed the Illinois zero emission credit program. Now the 2nd Circuit has weighed in, agreeing with the 7th Circuit and affirming the similar New York State ZEC program. Whatever one’s views on the merits, it seems pretty clear at this point that state programs to encourage generation of renewable or zero-emissions energy will be upheld by the Appeals Courts,… More
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 Wednesday, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a District Court ruling and rejected the Sierra Club’s citizen suit against Virginia Electric Power alleging that releases of arsenic from a coal ash landfill and settling ponds at its Chesapeake Energy Center power plant violated the Clean Water Act and the plant’s NPDES permit. Notably, the issue that most concerned me at the time of the District Court opinion,… More
On Friday, Judge John Woodcock held that an ordinance enacted by the City of South Portland, Maine, that prohibited loading crude oil from a pipeline terminating in South Portland onto tankers in South Portland Harbor, in order to prevent certain adverse local impacts, did not violate the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. It’s potentially a very important decision in this area. Congratulations to my partner Jonathan Ettinger and our entire team that worked on the case. … 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
On Thursday, the Trump Administration’s “Suspension Rule,” which delayed implementation of the Obama Waters of the United States Rule for two years was struck down. Judge David Norton of the District of South Carolina issued a nationwide injunction against the rule.
It’s important to note that the case was not about the merits of the WOTUS rule. It was simply about the Trump administration’s failure to comply with the Administrative Procedure Act in promulgating the Suspension Rule.… More
Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered EPA to revoke all tolerances for chlorpyrifos within 60 days. It’s another fairly devastating indictment of the Trump administration.
First of all, the merits were pretty clear. Clear enough that the administration did not attempt to defend the case on the merits! The statutory language requires EPA to ban pesticides from use on food products unless:
There is a reasonable certainty that no harm will result from aggregate exposure to the pesticide.… More
According to Greenwire (subscription required), EPA has acknowledged that it possesses no records providing a factual basis for claims made by Scott Pruitt that GHG emissions are not a primary contributor to global warming.
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 issued a decision that is a must-read for anyone who will be needing at some point to relicense an existing hydroelectric facility. The short version is the status quo may no longer be good enough and dam operators may have to improve on existing conditions in order to succeed in relicensing. At a minimum, facility operators will have to take the cumulative impacts of dam operation into account in performing environmental assessments under NEPA required for relicensing.… More
On Thursday, Judge John Keenan dismissed New York City’s climate damages law suit against five oil majors. The basis for the decision was the same as in last month’s decision dismissing similar claims in California:
- Because climate change is an interstate and international problem, such claims cannot be resolved under state law; if such claims are valid, they must be brought under federal common law.…
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
The debate over the definition of “Waters of the United States” goes on and on. I tend to think that Kennedy’s “significant nexus” test was a reasonable approach to making sense of a vague statute. I also think that the Obama administration definitional rule was supported by good science.
What we sometimes lose track of in the ongoing debate is that the definition – whatever we choose – matters,… More
Late last month, when I reported on the dismissal of the California climate change public nuisance litigation, I stated boldly that we should not expect advocates to stop trying. I did not really think I was going out on a limb with that prediction, but I also did not know that I’d be proved correct so quickly. Less than a week later, on July 2, the State of Rhode Island brought its own public nuisance claim.… More
As a follow-up to my June 27 post about the dismissal of public nuisance claims brought by the City of Oakland and the State of California against five oil majors concerning their contribution to climate change, I note that ClimateWire (subscription required) is reporting that the Dutch government is appealing a court order that would require it to cut carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2030. … More
On Monday, Judge William Alsup dismissed the public nuisance case brought by the City of Oakland and the State of California against five major oil companies. The suit sought payment of damages into a fund to be used for necessary adaptation expenditures to deal with sea level rise.
Why did he dismiss the case? Simple. The courts are not the right forum in which to address the problems of climate change. … More
Earlier this week, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a District Court opinion and held that West Virginia had not “constructively submitted” no TMDLs for waters affected by ionic toxicity. (And, yes, that sentence is difficult to parse.)
The basic issue is pretty simple. The responsibility for promulgating TMDLs in the first place belongs to the states. Once a state submits TMDLs to EPA,… More
EPA Must Produce Any Agency Records Supporting Administrator Pruitt’s Statement that Human Activity Is Not the Largest Contributor to Climate Change
Last Friday, EPA was ordered to produce documents, in response to a FOIA request, on which Administrator Pruitt relied in stating on CNBC that: “I would not agree that [carbon dioxide] is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” and “there’s a tremendous disagreement about of [sic] the impact” of “human activity on the climate.”
I’ve done a fair number of FOIA requests in my time. … More
Last Friday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated EPA’s rule adding the West Vermont Drinking Water Contamination Site to the National Priorities List, finding EPA’s decision to be arbitrary and capricious and not supported by substantial evidence. As the opinion makes clear, EPA has to work pretty hard to lose these cases.
Why did EPA lose?
The critical issue was whether the overburden and bedrock aquifers beneath the site were directly connected. … More
Last month, a decision in a case involving the Lake Erie toxic algae blooms demonstrated some “issues” concerning the nature of cooperative federalism. Such blooms have been a problem for some time and pretty much everyone knows about the 2014 bloom, which left Toledo without water for several days.
Notwithstanding what pretty much everyone who can read or watch the news already knew,… More
On April 13, 2018, Massachusetts’ highest court ended a significant chapter in Exxon’s long-running dispute with Attorney General Maura Healey. In 2015, Healey issued a Civil Investigative Demand regarding Exxon’s knowledge of the effects of fossil fuels on climate change. Exxon then undertook what a federal judge in New York last month called “a sprawling litigation involving four different judges, at least three lawsuits, innumerable motions and a huge waste of the [New York and Massachusetts] AGs’ time and money.” (You can read a full analysis of that decision by my colleague Seth Jaffe here.) Exxon’s actions in Massachusetts’ courts have been mercifully compact,… More
Last week, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals – not the most liberal court in the land – joined the 9th Circuit in ruling that discharges from a point source to groundwater can be subject to the Clean Water Act. The decisions follow a number of district court cases to the same effect. It’s hard to deny the trend at this point.
I’ve always been skeptical of these cases,… 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.
BLM Loses Another One: Resource Management Plans for Coal Leasing Areas Are Sent Back to the Drawing Board
Late last month, Judge Brian Morris granted summary judgment to plaintiffs on three claims alleging that the environmental impact analysis supported BLM’s Resource Management Plans for managing coal leases in the Powder River Basis were flawed. It’s a very thoughtful decision. Judge Morris rejected three of plaintiffs’ claims and did not provide the injunctive relief that they sought. Nonetheless, it’s an important setback for BLM and further evidence that courts are going to require more of BLM in assessing climate impacts associated with energy resource development.… More
Yesterday, Judge Valerie Caproni dismissed claims brought by ExxonMobil against New York Attorney General Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney General Healey. Boiled down to their essence, ExxonMobil’s claims were that investigations by Schneiderman and Healey into the possibility that ExxonMobil had committed fraud by misleading investors regarding the risks that climate change poses to ExxonMobil’s business were politically motivated and in bad faith.
The decision was not difficult. … More
On Wednesday, EPA lost yet another regulatory delay case. After the Obama EPA promulgated rules updating requirements concerning certification and use of “restricted use pesticides” in January 2017, the Trump EPA purported to delay the rule’s implementation date five separate times. According to the Court, EPA provided no notice and opportunity to comment on four of those occasions; once, they provided a four-day (yes, four) comment period.… More
Just a few weeks ago, Federal Judge William Alsup ruled that claims brought by San Francisco and Oakland against certain large oil companies belonged in federal court, because they raise issues of federal common law. Last week, in a similar law suit asserting similar claims, Judge Vince Chhabria remanded the case to state court. Why? Because there is no federal common law applicable to such climate-related claims. … More
Today, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected environmental and state/industry challenges to EPA’s Regional Haze Rule. In essence, the ruling confirms that EPA was reasonable in determining that compliance with its Cross-State Air Pollution Rule was sufficiently stringent to constitute “better-than BART” and thus could excuse states from complying with Best Available Retrofit Requirements where they are subject to CSAPR.
Boy, that was a mouthful.… More
Yesterday, the 9th Circuit rejected the Trump administration’s request for a writ of mandamus ordering the trial court to dismiss litigation brought by 21 children alleging that the government’s failure to address climate change had violated their constitutional rights. It appears that the plaintiffs will get an opportunity to prove their claims.
It’s important to remember that this opinion is not about the merits. … More
Earlier this week, Judge William Alsup denied a motion by Oakland and San Francisco to remand their public nuisance claims against some of the world’s largest fossil fuel producers to state court. However, I’m not sure that this is a victory for the oil companies. This might be more of a “be careful what you wish for” scenario.
As I’ve noted previously, the fight over the Trump Administration’s effort to change course on a number of Obama environmental initiatives is going to focus in significant part on FCC v. Fox Television Stations, in which the Supreme Court stated that agencies are free to reconsider policies so long as:
the new policy is permissible under the statute, there are good reasons for it,… More
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, I noted that EPA had been ordered to respond to a petition by Connecticut under § 126(b) of the Clean Air Act. This week, DOE was ordered to promulgate energy efficiency rules under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. My mother used to say that comparisons are odious, but I have to say that DOE’s conduct was even more egregious than that of EPA.… More
Earlier this week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a District Court decision and reinstated the National Marine Fisheries Service’s decision to list the Arctic ringed seal as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The decision was not a surprise, because the 9th Circuit had already affirmed NMFS’s decision to list the bearded seal on identical grounds.
What caught my eye was this language in the opinion – actually a quote from the bearded seal decision.… More
In November, Attorney General Sessions issued a memorandum prohibiting DOJ from issuing regulations disguised as guidance.
Now, DOJ has taken the prohibition a step further. It will no longer rely on guidance issued by other agencies when taking civil enforcement action. The memorandum has made the regulated community and the NGO community sit up and take notice.
I am sympathetic to the concerns raised in the Sessions memo. … More
NGOs Again Fail to Establish that EPA Has a Non-Discretionary Duty Under the CWA Stormwater Regulations
Last month, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Conservation Law Foundation’s argument that EPA had a non-discretionary duty to require persons owner property where stormwater runoff contributes to an exceedance of a TMDL to obtain NPDES permits. Now, Judge George Russell has ruled that EPA does not have non-discretionary duty under the Clean Water Act to determine whether commercial, institutional, and industrial users contribute to a violation of water quality criteria in the Back River watershed. … More
Earlier this week, EPA was ordered to take final action on a Clean Air Act § 126(b) petition filed by the State of Connecticut, asserting that emissions from the Brunner Island Steam Electric Station in Pennsylvania contribute to nonattainment in Connecticut. EPA did not dispute liability; it had clearly missed the original statutory deadline. The case was all about the remedy. EPA asked to be given until December 31,… More
As I’ve previously discussed, whether a discharge to groundwater may be subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction is currently in dispute. Now the 9th Circuit has weighed in, finding that point discharges to groundwater are subject to the Clean Water Act, so long as an ultimate discharge of pollutants to surface waters of the United States is “fairly traceable” to the discharge to groundwater. … More
Settling Federal Environmental Enforcement Claims — Some Payments to Third Parties May Be Allowed (But Not Many)
Earlier this month, Jeffrey Wood, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources issued a memorandum expanding on Jeff Sessions’ memorandum of June 5, 2017, generally barring payments to third parties as part of government settlements. (And, yes, I know there should be another “s” after the apostrophe, but I’m hereby announcing a new rule; if I can’t pronounce it, I’m not writing it!) The Wood Memorandum affirms – of course – the June 5 Memorandum,… 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
On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that challenges to the WOTUS Rule must be heard in the district courts. At a certain level, the decision was easy and obvious – as evidenced by the absence of any dissent.
After all, the Clean Water Act does assign jurisdiction to the district courts of all cases under the Act other than in seven specifically identified categories,… More
In the early days of Superfund, defense lawyers used to joke that all government lawyers had the same oral argument script. It was three sentences long.
Good afternoon, your honor. My name is _____ and I represent the government in this case. We win.
Lawyers in Massachusetts rightly feel that that pretty much remains the state of affairs in Massachusetts, at least for private cost recovery or property damage claims. … More
If this Administration’s first year has taught us anything, it is that determining when EPA has an affirmative duty to act is going to be very important over the remaining 3 (or 7!) years of the Trump presidency. That was the subject of last week’s decision in A Community Voice v. EPA, in which the 9th Circuit ordered EPA to issue a proposed rule updating its lead paint standards within 90 days,… More
Some Extreme Climate Events Would Not Have Happened But For Climate Change: Lawyers Are Paying Attention
Today’s ClimateWire (subscription required) contained a long summary of evidence that scientists are increasingly able to demonstrate that climate change is what we lawyers would call the “but for” cause of extreme weather events. One of the most interesting is the recent paper “Explaining Extreme Weather Events of 2016: From a Climate Perspective,” from the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. It looked at a number of extreme events and found – for the first time –
that some extreme events were not possible in a preindustrial climate. … More
In July, EPA released the recommendations of the Superfund Task Force. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a FOIA request, looking for documents related to the operation of the Task Force. This week, the AP reported on EPA’s defense of the inevitable law suit that PEER filed when EPA did not turn over any documents.
It turns out that, according to Johnny Walker,… More
I’ve noted numerous times that the NSR program is incomprehensible gibberish. These are scientific and objective comments. The most recent example of this is the DTE litigation, in which a one-judge minority somehow ended up writing the opinion of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, allowing EPA enforcement claims against DTE Energy to continue.
The question in DTE Energy is whether EPA can second-guess a generator’s pre-construction prediction of future actual emissions and bring a claim for an NSR violation – even where post-project actual emissions did not show a significant net increase in emissions. … More
Everyone knows what a problem invasive species can be. Difficult problems require difficult solutions. In a recent case decided by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, the scope of the government’s authority to address one invasive species – the Asian Longhorned Beetle – was made clear.
On the merits, the case was relatively simple. In order to combat the ALB, the USDA removed numerous trees from plaintiff’s property without permission. … More
Whether the Clean Water Act regulates discharges to groundwater has been a topic of significant debate. At this point, there seems to be something of a trend in the cases towards concluding it does, but it remains true that all of the courts of appeal that have addressed the issue have concluded that it does not. As I have noted, the problem with the “yes” answer is that pretty much all groundwater eventually discharges to surface water,… More
As regular readers know, the tension between guidance and regulation is one of my favorite topics. My view is that, in general, guidance is too often used simply to avoid notice and comment rulemaking and that, once issued, it is treated by those implementing it in the agency street-level bureaucracy as though it were a rule. Nonetheless, guidance is sometimes appropriate. The recent decision in Sierra Club v.… More
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt today issued a Directive prohibiting the practice of “sue and settle.” He also issued a Memorandum to senior staff explaining in more detail some of the concerns about “sue and settle.” They are two very strange documents.
As to the substance of how EPA will handle future citizen suit claims, there are some specific concrete steps which individuals and groups across the political spectrum actually can support. … More
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a District Court decision allocating 100% of CERCLA response costs at a San Diego Superfund site to TDY Holdings, which operated an aeronautical manufacturing plant from 1939 to 1999. TDY has sought contribution from the United States, which was the source of the vast majority of TDY’s business, and which directed TDY to use certain hazardous substances,… 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
Last week, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed as prudentially unripe appeals of last year’s District Court decision striking down BLM’s 2015 fracking rule. The District Court ruled that BLM had no authority to issue the rule. At the time, I thought that the District Court was on shaky ground. So did BLM and various environmental groups. They appealed.
Last week, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded a District Court decision approving a decision by the Bureau of Land Management to approve new leases on mines that account for 20% of U.S. coal production. The decision is just the latest in a series of cases making clear that courts will not approve new – or renewed – energy production that does not appropriately address the impacts of a project on climate change.… More
Yesterday, Judge Mark Wolf dismissed part of the Conservation Law Foundation’s claims in its litigation against ExxonMobil concerning ExxonMobil’s Everett Terminal facility. The opinion is both interesting and pleasurably concise – a rare combination!
Judge Wolf found that CLF had credibly alleged that the Terminal is violating its NPDES permit. Importantly, he also found that CLF stated that there is:
substantial risk”… More
In June, I posted about Foley’s brief in support of those challenging Executive Order 13771, the so-called “2 for 1” EO. By ignoring the benefits of existing and proposed regulations, the Order ignores the purposes behind the legislation pursuant to which regulations are promulgated. The Order is thus the definition of arbitrary and capricious.
In 2011, the National Parks Conservation Association sued EPA for failure to enforce the regional haze requirements of the Clean Air Act. EPA and the NPCA settled in 2012, establishing a schedule by when SIPs or FIPs had to be promulgated. The only state remaining is Texas. After several extensions, EPA is required to approve a SIP or promulgate a FIP by September 9, 2017. You can hear the clock ticking.… More
Earlier this week, a divided 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed entry of a consent decree between the Sierra Club and EPA, resolving litigation over EPA’s failure to promulgate attainment designations for the sulfur dioxide NAAQS under the Clean Air Act.
I would have thought that entry of the settlement would be fairly straightforward. EPA misses deadlines with some regularity. Persons sue over such failures with some regularity. … More
In a very interesting – and extremely rare – case, Emhart Industries has successfully defended itself against a unilateral administrative order issued by EPA under CERCLA, on the ground that key decisions made by EPA were arbitrary and capricious. The decision, concerning the Centredale Manor Restoration Project Superfund Site, is worth a read for CERCLA practitioners, even though it weighs in at 108 pages.… More
Last week, a divided panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that FERC violated NEPA in failing to assess downstream greenhouse gas emissions resulting from construction of the Sabal Trail pipeline, part of the Southeast Market Pipelines Project. If the decision stands, it is going to have a very significant impact on review and development of gas pipelines.
(Full disclosure – Foley Hoag represents NextEra,… More
Earlier this week, the Judge Donald Malloy of the District Court for the District of Montana granted summary judgment to the Montana Environmental Information Center on several of its claims alleging that the Office of Surface Mining had violated NEPA in approving a modification of a mining plan to expand the Bull Mountains Mine No. 1. The decision is important for two reasons.
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
Earlier this week, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs went live with two new web sites intended to increase the public availability of information concerning regulated entities in Massachusetts. The first, ePLACE, will provide information about on-line permit applications. However, since MassDEP began accepting on-line applications on May 5, 2017, ePLACE is going to be of much more interest in the future than it is today. … More
Hard on the heels of decision upholding the Illinois “zero-emission credit” program to prop up nuclear plants in that state, Judge Valerie Caproni of the South District of New York has now upheld a similar ZEC program in New York. There’s definitely a trend here. So long as state programs do not directly interfere with wholesale markets, it looks as though they will be affirmed.
(Renewed caveat: This firm represents,… More
Late last month, the 2nd Circuit Court of appeals rejected a challenge to Connecticut laws intended to encourage use of renewable energy. Earlier this month, Judge Manish Shah, of the Northern District of Illinois, issued a companion decision, rejecting challenges to the Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act, which grants “Zero Emission Credits” to certain facilities, “likely to be two nuclear power plants owned by Exelon in Illinois.”
(Caveat: This firm represents,… More
Last month, Attorney General Sessions barred DOJ from entering into settlements that provide for payments to non-governmental persons not a party to the dispute. At the time, I peered into my crystal ball and proclaimed that the practice of incorporating supplemental environmental projects into environmental settlements was “hanging by a thread.” For once, my speculation was accurate.
Yesterday, DOJ notified the District Court for the District of Columbia that the United States and Harley-Davidson had jointly agreed to modify a consent decree that had already been lodged with the Court. … 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
Earlier this week, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals handed environmentalists at least a temporary win in what I think was the first case to reach judicial decision in Scott Pruitt’s great environmental roll-back tour of 2017. The Court rejected EPA’s effort to stay the effective date of the New Source Performance Standards for fugitive emissions from oil and natural gas operations, pending EPA’s reconsideration of certain aspects of the Obama-era rule.… More
Last week, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a District Court decision rejecting a challenge to Connecticut statutes intended to encourage renewable energy development in Connecticut. It’s a critical win, not just for Connecticut, but for many renewable energy programs in other states across the country as well.
(Important caveat. These cases are bloody complicated and no blog could possibly summarize them without omitting important details. … More
EPA Does Not Have a Non-Discretionary Duty to Assess the Impact of Clean Air Regulations on Employment
Yesterday, the Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit reversed a District Court decision and rejected the lawsuit by Murray Energy which argued that EPA had a non-discretionary duty under § 321(a) of the Clean Air Act to:
conduct continuing evaluations of potential loss or shifts of employment which may result from the administration or enforcement of the provision of this chapter and applicable implementation plans,… More
Earlier this week, EPA and the ACOE began implementing the Trump administration’s efforts to deconstruct the Obama rule defining “Waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. EPA and the ACOE submitted for Federal Register publication a proposed rule that would temporarily restore the WOTUS definition that existed prior to the promulgation of the Obama rule in 2015, while they go about drafting a narrower definition.… More
Last Friday, the Supreme Court issued an important regulatory takings case, refining the test to be used to determine what is the appropriate unit of property to use to assess the impact of a regulation. It’s an interesting case and I think that the Court probably got it right. However, that’s not what caught my eye about the case. To me, Justice Thomas’s dissent is the most intriguing.… More
On June 14, 2017, the District Court for the District of Columbia issued a decision in Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Court found that the Army Corps of Engineers (“the Corps”) had not adequately considered several issues in its environmental assessment (“EA”) for the Dakota Access Pipeline, and that therefore the Corps’ decision-making was arbitrary and capricious.
Earlier this week, Attorney General Sessions issued a brief memorandum barring DOJ from entering into any civil or criminal settlement that would provide for a payment by a defendant to any non-governmental person that is not a party to the dispute.
Where does this leave the common practice of mitigating enforcement penalties through the implementation of Supplemental Environmental Projects? Hanging on by a thread, I’d say.… More
On Monday, on behalf of our client, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Foley Hoag filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in the case challenging President Trump’s Executive Order 13771, the so-called “2 for 1” EO. One paragraph from the brief pretty much summarizes the argument:
It is important to note, as Executive Order 13771 acknowledges, that agencies are already required,… More
Last November, the District Court of Oregon denied the motion of the United States to dismiss claims that the United States had violated a public trust obligation it owes to US citizens to protect the atmosphere from climate change. Not surprisingly, the government sought interlocutory appeal. On Monday, Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin issued a Finding and Recommendation that the request for interlocutory appeal be denied. … More
Last year, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the decision by District Judge David Hittner not to impose any penalties on ExxonMobil for violations alleged in a Clean Air Act citizens’ suit concerning ExxonMobil’s Baytown facility. At the time, I asserted that the case was largely a win for ExxonMobil.
Last week, Judge Hittner, in an opinion which was admirably scrupulous in not trying to dodge the 5th Circuit remand,… More
Last Friday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a District Court decision ruling that the Fish & Wildlife Service decision that listing of the whitebark pine as endangered or threatened was “warranted, but precluded” was not arbitrary and capricious. The decision seems correct, but as the frustration of the Court reflects, it’s only because the ESA is designed to fail.
The procedural history is lengthy and not really necessary to repeat here. … More
Earlier this week, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a District Court decision and vacated an injunction which had prevented the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service from reintroducing the Mexican gray wolf onto certain federal lands in New Mexico. The decision seems fairly straightforward and plainly correct. The interesting aspect of the case is the Court’s discussion of state sovereignty.
The State of New Mexico argued in part that the reintroduction of wolves onto federal land without a permit from the State was a violation of the State’s sovereignty. … More
Last week, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that AEP, which entered into a consent decree requiring it to install certain pollution controls at its Rockport 1 and 2 power plants, could not force the owner of those plants to pay to install the controls. The case involved the interpretation of specific contractual language under New York law, but it still has lessons for power plant owners and operators everywhere.… 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
Earlier this week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected challenges to the Federal Implementation Plan EPA promulgated after finding that Arizona’s regional haze State Implementation Plan was inadequate. I think that the result is both correct and unsurprising.
However, one part of the opinion – a recitation of black-letter law – caught my eye. In discussing the standard of review, the court noted that the arbitrary and capricious standard is “highly deferential.” No surprise there. … More
On Wednesday, Judge Ed Kinkeade ordered that Exxon Mobil’s suit against NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey be transferred to the Southern District of New York. The AGs must be breathing sighs of relief this morning.
It’s a very curious order. It’s 12 pages long, yet contains just one sentence explaining why the case is being transferred:
The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York is the proper venue for this case because “a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred” in New York City,… More
On Wednesday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals held that regulation of takes of the Utah prairie dog, a purely intrastate species, does not violate the Constitution. Reversing the decision below, the 10th Circuit joined all four other circuit courts to have dealt with the issue thus far in upholding the ESA against such Commerce Clause challenges.
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
On Wednesday, federal Judge Christopher Cooper ordered EPA to promulgate emissions standards for 13 sources of hazardous air pollutants by June 30, 2020. EPA admitted that it missed statutory deadlines to do so; the only argument was over how much time EPA should have. EPA asked for 4 ½ years, while the plaintiffs suggested two. Judge Cooper pretty much split the difference.
Why is the case important? … 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
Last week we wrote about the Conservation Law Foundation filing suit against EOEEA Secretary Beaton and DEP Commissioner Suuberg for actions associated with the approval of an amendment to the South Boston Waterfront District Municipal Harbor Plan. In that suit, CLF alleged that the Secretary’s decision approving the plan was arbitrary and capricious.
This week, CLF is in the news again for sending a letter to Secretary Beaton requesting that he delay the state’s approval process for another Municipal Harbor Plan located just across the Fort Point Channel.… 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
Earlier this week, the 9th Circuit found that the Bureau of Reclamation had authority under 1955 legislation to order additional releases of water to the Trinity River from the Lewiston Dam beyond the amount designated in an official release schedule, where necessary to protect downstream fish populations. The Court basically held that general language in the 1955 Act trumped later legislation that seemed to prescribe or at least authorize more limited releases.… More
Acting in response to state legislation, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection ceased work on promulgation of total maximum daily loads related to ionic toxicity. Ionic toxicity is a consequence of mountaintop removal coal mining. In case you weren’t aware, the coal industry has a certain amount of political clout in the Mountain State (and can they keep the nickname if they chop the tops off of all of their mountains?).… 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
Last Monday, in a comprehensive, 189-page opinion, Judge Rodney Sippel ruled that Ameren Missouri had violated EPA’s PSD regulations by failing to get permits for upgrades in 2007 and 2010 at its Rush Island facility. As I noted when Judge Sippel denied cross-motions for summary judgment, the result is not really a surprise.
Moreover, Judge Sippel’s decision is not based on any extreme reading of the law. … 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
Earlier this month, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that NPDES permit holders must comply with all of the terms of their permits. I’m not sure why this should be earthshattering news, but the case does have some relevance for defining the scope of the permit shield.
The case involved the Fola Coal Company and the recurring issue of high conductivity resulting from surface coal mining operations. … More
The NSR Regulations Still Make No Sense: The 6th Circuit Reverses the DTE Decision Based on a 1-Judge Minority Opinion
Last week, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed – for the second time – a District Court decision granting summary judgment to DTE Energy in the United States’ case alleging that DTE Energy had violated EPA’s NSR regulations. According to the 6th Circuit, EPA has authority to bring an enforcement action against DTE Energy, notwithstanding that the regulations don’t provide for EPA review of DTE Energy’s emissions projections prior to construction and also notwithstanding that the project did not in fact result in a significant net emissions increase.… More
Earlier this week, Judge Mary Lisi, of the District Court of Rhode Island, dismissed the Conservation Law Foundation’s Residual Designation Authority law suit against EPA. CLF had asked the Court to order EPA to require permits from stormwater dischargers alleged by CLF to be contributing to exceedances of the Total Maximum Daily Load established by Rhode Island for certain impaired water bodies.
CLF alleged that EPA’s approval of the TMDLs constituted a determination that certain stormwater dischargers were contributing to exceedances of water quality criteria and that the controls on these dischargers are necessary to meet the TMDL and thus attain the water quality criteria.… More
Does MassDEP Have Authority to Regulate Electric Generating Emissions Under Section 3(d) of the GWSA? I’m Not So Sure.
As I have previously noted, I sympathize with the difficulties faced by MassDEP in trying to implement the SJC decision in Kain. However, that does not mean that MassDEP can simply take the easy way out. After rereading Kain, I have come to the conclusion that DEP’s proposal to limit GHG emissions from electric generating facilities in Massachusetts would in fact violate Kain,… More
As I noted when the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed EPA’s disapproval of Texas’s regional haze plan, EPA had pretty much no chance of winning. Although the parties then stayed the litigation to talk settlement, EPA announced yesterday that it was seeking a voluntary remand of the final rule. You don’t have to be privy to any confidential information to draw the conclusion that a certain election on November 8 rather drastically reduced EPA’s leverage in those negotiations.… More
When the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in Kain that § 3(d) of the Global Warming Solutions act requires MassDEP to promulgate emission limits for multiple source categories, requiring declining annual emissions enforceable in Massachusetts, I sympathized with the difficult task MassDEP was given. To DEP’s credit, they are working hard, determined to get draft regulations out by mid-December.
I still sympathize, but evidence to date only demonstrates further that Kain was a mistake and it’s forcing a waste of resources at MassDEP and a misallocation of attention if we really want to attain further significant GHG reductions in Massachusetts. … 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
As an MIT grad and loyal resident (Go Sox!), I’m always happy to see stories about Massachusetts’ role in the innovation economy. Last week, news arrived of more innovation in Massachusetts – this time on the legal front. CLF sued Exxon Mobil for not adapting its Everett storage terminal to harden it against the effects of climate change.
Last week, Judge Michael Fitzgerald granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs in a citizen suit alleging that BLM’s Environmental Impact Statement prepared to address whether to open certain lands in California to mineral development was inadequate. Judge Fitzgerald concluded that the EIS pretty much completely failed to address the potential risks of fracking and that, as a result, the EIS did not comply with NEPA.… 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
Massachusetts is a Home Rule state (Commonwealth, actually, but that’s a separate issue). Our 351 cities and towns can pretty much legislate as they please, so long as the local action is not preempted. Our state Wetlands Protection Act specifically allows municipalities to enact their own wetlands bylaws. The result?
Today, our Appeals Court rejected an appeal from a property owner, and instead affirmed the Wayland Conservation Commission’s conclusion that the owner’s property contains wetlands as defined under the Wayland bylaw,… More
Although citizen groups have suffered some defeats in Clean Air Act cases in the NSR/PSD context recently, a decision last week in a different kind of CAA case is a reminder of just how powerful a weapon citizen suits can be, and just how difficult they can be to defend, even when the operator appears to have a good working relationship with the regulator. In NRDC v.… More
The Arbitrary and Capricious Standard Remains Deferential: The Corps’ Nationwide Permit 21 Survives Review
Late last week, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected challenges to the Army Corps’ Nationwide Permit 21, which allows small surface mining projects to proceed without individual permits under § 404.
The plaintiffs argued that NWP 21 was arbitrary and capricious because the Corps imposed numeric limitations on new projects – and described those limitations as “necessary” to prevent more than minimal environmental harm – but did not impose those same numeric limitations on existing projects.… 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
I will confess that I do enjoy being correct. In 2014, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to defer to a state agency determination of the procedural and substantive fairness of a CERCLA consent decree. Various parties and commentators promptly began, if I may say so, to run around like chickens with their heads cut off. However, I remained calm. I stated then:
I’m assuming that,… More
Earlier this month, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed EPA’s disapproval of the Texas and Oklahoma regional haze state implementation plans, as well as EPA’s promulgation of its own federal implementation plan. The opinion is a thorough rejection of EPA’s decision. Although this was only a stay order, I would rate EPA’s likelihood of ultimately prevailing on the merits as approximately zero. There are a number of significant take-aways from the decision:
- EPA’s assessment of regional haze SIPs is not generally of “nationwide scope or effect” and therefore will be subject to review in the court of appeals responsible for the state at issue,…
Three Strikes and Mingo Logan Is Out: The D.C. Circuit Affirms EPA Withdrawal of Approval of Mountaintop Removal Disposal Sites
In 2013, the D.C. Circuit affirmed EPA’s authority to withdrawal approval of mountaintop mining disposal sites, even after the Army Corps has issued a Section 404 permit. In 2014, the District Court rejected Mingo Logan’s challenge to EPA decision on the merits, finding that EPA’s withdrawal was not arbitrary and capricious. Finally, early this week, the D.C. Circuit affirmed the District Court,… More
On June 15, 2016, Exxon sued Massachusetts AG Maura Healey in federal court in Texas, seeking to bar the enforcement of AG Healey’s April 19, 2016 civil investigative demand, issued pursuant to M.G.L. c. 93A, the Commonwealth’s unfair and deceptive practice statute. Under c. 93A, § 6, the AG may issue investigative demands “whenever [s]he believes a person has engaged in or is engaging in any method, act or practice” prohibited by c.… 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
Minnesota May Not Prohibit Power Sales That Would Increase Statewide CO2 Emissions. Why Not? Pick Your Reason.
If you needed any further proof that energy law is very complicated, Wednesday’s decision in North Dakota v. Heydinger should convince you. The judgment is simple – the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a Minnesota statute which provides in part that:
no person shall . . . (2) import or commit to import from outside the state power from a new large energy facility that would contribute to statewide power sector carbon dioxide emissions;… More
In an interesting decision last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected challenges to BLM’s decision to issue a right-of-way permit for Tule Wind’s plan for a wind farm southeast of San Diego. It’s not exactly earthshattering, but it is a helpful decision both for decisionmakers reviewing wind farm applications and for wind farm developers. Here are some of the highlights:
- BLM’s inclusion of DOI’s goal under the 2005 Energy Policy Act to increase nonhydropower renewable energy on federal lands as part of the “purpose and need”…
Since yesterday’s post on the Peterborough Oil case, a little birdie told me that MassDEP may be taking the position that MTBE is covered by the “oil exemption”, because it is a hydrocarbon. If so, that would be good news for PRPs, because most cleanups don’t involve third parties. If MassDEP says that MTBE is covered by the exemption, then a PRP cleaning up a site with an “oil” release containing MTBE could still close out the site based on the MassDEP interpretation.… More
Unlike CERCLA, the Massachusetts Superfund law, Chapter 21E, does include oil within its ambit. However, oil is not treated exactly the same as hazardous materials. One difference is that, in 2007, MassDEP revised the Massachusetts Contingency Plan to provide that, in certain circumstances, where “Contamination is limited to oil,” the exposure point concentration is measured at the Public Water Supply well, rather than in each of the monitoring wells, as is otherwise the case.… 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,…
In a decision that was not a surprise based on oral argument, the Supreme Court today ruled that Army Corps of Engineers Jurisdictional Determinations concerning “waters of the United States” are final agency action subject to judicial review under the APA. As we previously noted, this continues the Court’s emphasis on the practical consequences of Corps decisions. Indeed, Chief Justice Roberts noted that the Court’s decision:
Tracks the ‘pragmatic’ approach we have long taken to finality.… More
5th Circuit Vacates Verdict for ExxonMobil in CAA Citizen Suit: Still Not Much of a Win for the Plaintiffs
Last Friday, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a District Court decision which had refused to impose penalties on ExxonMobil for various violations of the Clean Air Act at ExxonMobil’s Baytown refinery. While the trade press has focused on the remand, I think that this is largely a win for ExxonMobil and, on balance, helpful to the regulated community. Here’s why:
- The Court agreed that “deviation reports”,…
Last week, Judge John Agostini ruled that the Natural Gas Act preempts Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution, which otherwise would have required a 2/3 vote of the Legislature before Article 97 land could be conveyed to Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company for construction of a gas pipeline to be built in part through Otis State Forest.
Not only did Judge Agostini conclude that Article 97 is preempted,… More
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
A Substantive Due Process Right to Climate Change Regulation? What’s a Lonely Apostle of Judicial Restraint To Do?
Late last week, Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin concluded that the most recent public trust case, which seeks an injunction requiring the United States to take actions to reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations to 350 parts per million by 2100, should not be dismissed.
Under the Endangered Species Act, a species is “threatened” when it is “likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future.” As scientists continue to predict that climate change will alter habitat over the coming century, it certainly seems “foreseeable” that more species will become endangered. That’s what the Fish & Wildlife Service concluded about the wolverine in early 2013. When FWS backtracked in 2014, Defenders of Wildlife sued. … More
According to the trade press, today’s argument in Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes did not go well for the government. Pretty much the entire Court was seen as likely to conclude that Corps jurisdictional determinations are final agency subject to judicial review. The reach of Sackett expands a bit more.
Environmental lawyers live for acronyms. Why is CSAPR > BART? Because EPA determined that, on net, EPA’s Transport Rule is “better than BART,” meaning that compliance with the Transport Rule yields greater progress towards attaining EPA’s regional haze goals than would application of best available retrofit technologies to those sources that would otherwise be subject to BART. On Monday, the 8th Circuit agreed that EPA’s decision that the Transport Rule is better than BART was not arbitrary or capricious.… More
The Statute of Limitations Narrows a Bit More on PSD Violations: Sierra Club Suffers a Self-Inflicted Wound
The law is full of fine distinctions. Today’s example? A divided 10th Circuit panel affirmed dismissal of the Sierra Club’s citizen suit claims against Oklahoma Gas and Electric concerning alleged PSD violations at OG&E’s Muskogee plant because the Sierra Club did not sue within five years of the commencement of construction – even though Sierra Club did sue within five years of the completion of construction.… More
On Monday, the 9th Circuit reversed a district court decision that rejected the critical habitat designated by the Fish and Wildlife Service for protection of the polar bear, which was listed as threatened in 2008. The case is largely a straightforward application of accepted Endangered Species Act principles, but does make a few important points.
At least since the Standells’ Dirty Water in 1966, cleaning up the Charles River has been on the mind of Bostonians (and Cantabrigians and those farther upriver). Notwithstanding significant recent progress, there remains work to do. The questions are, as always, how much and who pays? Is this largely a municipal infrastructure problem? Is it just a matter of better implementation of some simple best management practices? … More
Given EPA’s recent run of defeats in its NSR enforcement initiative, it’s probably breathing a sigh of relief over last week’s decision in United States v. Ameren Missouri, regarding Ameren’s Rush Island coal-fired power plant. True, the court denied EPA’s motions for summary judgment. However, it also denied Ameren’s motions and on balance probably left EPA feeling better than Ameren about its prospects at trial. … More
Earlier this week, the 9th Circuit denied Arizona’s challenge to EPA’s decision to reject Arizona’s SIP addressing regional haze requirements and instead promulgate its own federal implementation plan. The decision has a number of interesting elements and is well worth a read, but it’s most notable for its treatment of the deference issue.
We all know that courts defer to reasonable agency decision-making. … More
I know that pointing out CERCLA’s stupidity has something of a dog bites man quality, but sometimes Superfund’s stupidity bears repeating. Today’s exhibit? New York v. Next Millenium Realty, in which Judge Feuerstein held – rightly, I am compelled to note – that New York’s natural resources damage claim was timely, because the site at issue had been added to the National Priorities List less than three years before the suit was filed.… More
Prognosticating the Ozone Standard Litigation: EPA to Win, Environmental Petitioners to Place, Murray Energy to Show
Earlier this week, the “Public Health and Environmental Petitioners” challenging EPA’s decision not to reduce the ozone standard below 0.070 ppm filed their “Non-Binding Statement of Issues.” My crystal ball still tells me that the most likely outcome is that the Court of Appeals upholds EPA’s 0.070 ppm standard.
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.
Last month, I went out on a limb and predicted that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals would not stay the CPP. Today, the Court vindicated my faith in judicial rationality and refused to grant a stay. In a brief order, the Court simply stated that “Petitioners have not satisfied the stringent requirements for a stay pending court review.”
The Court did expedite briefing,… More
Conservatives sometimes talk about lawless, i.e., liberal, judges. Let me tell you a story about Judge Robert Clive Jones, who presided over the United States v. Estate of E. Wayne Hage, until the 9th Circuit this week reversed several of his decisions and instructed the Chief Judge to assign the case to a new judge on remand.
Wayne Hage grazed cattle on federal land in Nevada.… More
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 to “consider its analysis of the [penalty] factors afresh after making a reasonable approximately of economic benefit.”… 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
Determining when a person has “arranged” for the disposal of a hazardous substance has long been difficult. The Supreme Court brought some clarity to the issue in Burlington Northern, when it said that:
While it is true that in some instances an entity’s knowledge that its product will be leaked, spilled, dumped, or otherwise discarded may provide evidence of the entity’s intent to dispose of its hazardous wastes,… 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
I have never understood why 43 states – including the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts – have independent elected attorneys general. I’m sure my new colleague, former Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, would disagree with me, but I just don’t think that the value of having an AG independent of the Governor is worth the lack of policy consistency. Exhibit A to my argument is the current dispute in Colorado between Governor John Hickenlooper and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman concerning EPA’s Clean Power Plan. … 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
Last week, a trial judge in Washington State, in Foster v. Washington Department of Ecology, ruled that the Public Trust Doctrine requires the State of Washington to address climate change more aggressively. Greenwire’s headline for its story on the decision was “Kids declare victory in Wash. warming lawsuit.” I’m here to throw a little cold water on all the excitement. Why?
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.… More
This week, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals held, in Merrick v. Diageo Americas Supply, that the Clean Air Act does not preempt source state common law remedies seeking to control air pollution – even where the defendant is in compliance with CAA requirements. The 6th Circuit joins the 3rd Circuit, which reached the same conclusion in Bell v. Cheswick in 2013. … More
So the Clean Power Plan has been published in the Federal Register. For those who cannot get enough, you can find all of the important materials, including EPA’s Technical Support Documents, on EPA’s web site for the CPP.
Not surprisingly, given the number of suits brought before the CPP was even finalized, opponents were literally lining up at the courthouse steps to be the first to sue. … More
Far too frequently, we are reminded just how hard judges must work to save CERCLA from itself. The decision last week in California River Watch v. Fluor Corporation is the most recent compelling example.
Fluor Corporation has been performing response actions at a site, including operating a soil vapor extraction system, since no later than 1997. Fluor’s remedial action plan was not approved until 2011 and a modified RAP was approved in 2014.… 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.…
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,… 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
Last Wednesday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals remanded EPA’s rule exempting stationary engines that operate up to 50 hours per year to supply non-emergency service to power providers from the EPA NESHAP for reciprocating internal combustion engines. Why is that news?
Because, once more, a court has acceded to EPA’s request that it remand without vacatur, leaving the rule in place. We’re now seeing something of a trend towards remand without vacatur. … More
When the Town of Lexington detected PCBs in building caulk and then in indoor air in an elementary school built in 1960-61, it sued Pharmacia, alleging that Pharmacia sold a product – PCBs – with a design defect. In alleging the design defect, Lexington largely relied on the decision to ban the sale of PCBs, and the extensive regulation of PCBs under TSCA. Judge Denise Casper of the District of Massachusetts concluded that this was not enough and she granted Pharmacia’s motion for summary judgment. … More
Yesterday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the latest effort to stay EPA’s Clean Power Plan before it has even been promulgated in the Federal Register. The Court simply stated that “petitioners have not satisfied the stringent standards that apply to petitions for extraordinary writs that seek to stay agency action.”
Really? Tell me something I did not know.
I’m sorry. The CPP is a far-ranging rule. … More
Last year, after a string of defeats for EPA in its NSR enforcement initiative, I suggested that the initiative was in trouble, but that EPA was probably not yet ready to concede defeat. After the latest blow, earlier this month, EPA has to be reconsidering. I assume that EPA won’t give up completely until it has lost everywhere or the Supreme Court has weighed in, but the NSR initiative is definitely on life support at this point.… 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. … More
No Short Cuts Allowed: The FWS Must Comply with NEPA Before Extending Programmatic Take Permits to 30 Years
Earlier this month, the Judge Lucy Koh set aside the Fish & Wildlife Service’s decision to extend its programmatic permit for bald and golden eagle takes from five to 30 years. The extension was sought by the wind industry for the obvious reason that the uncertainty attached to a five-year permit makes financing a 20- or 30-year project very difficult. I agree with the concern and support the extension,… More
The Clean Air Act’s good neighbor provision prohibits upwind states from emitting air pollutants in amounts that will “contribute significantly to nonattainment” of a national ambient air quality standard in a downwind state. On Wednesday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals held that, while upwind states have to be good neighbors, EPA cannot force them to be extraordinarily super-special neighbors. Just good enough will have to do.… More
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
On Friday, Judge Claire Eagan dismissed Oklahoma’s latest challenge to EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Yes, that plan. The one that hasn’t been promulgated yet.
Following rejection by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals of a prior law suit, Oklahoma tried again, this time on what it presumably hoped would be more friendly ground, the Northern District of Oklahoma. Not so much.… More
When Colorado enacted a referendum petition strengthening its renewable portfolio standard, the Energy and Environment Legal Institute sued, arguing that the RPS violates the dormant commerce clause, because it harms out-of-state coal producers. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, in an opinion by Neil Gorsuch (son of the EPA former administrator), disagreed. Pretty much telegraphing the outcome in the first sentence, Judge Gorsuch framed the question as follows:
Can Colorado’s renewable energy mandate survive an encounter with the most dormant doctrine in dormant commerce clause jurisprudence?… More
On Tuesday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the Commerce Department’s designation of critical habitat for the southern distinct population segment of green sturgeon, once again reminding us just how difficult it is to fight city hall – or the capital – where the ESA is concerned.
Section 4 of the EPA provides that
The Secretary shall designate critical habitat .… More
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. … 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
Recent events have me pondering this question.
Most notably, in two court decisions last week, courts ordered the State of Washington and the government of the Netherlands to take more aggressive action against climate change. In the Washington case, in response to a complaint from eight teenagers, a trial court judge has ordered the Washington Department of Ecology to reconsider a petition filed by the teenagers requesting reductions in GHG emissions. … More
In an important decision last week, United States District Judge Jorge Alonso rejected the Environmental Impact Statement for the Illiana Corridor Project, which would connect I55 in Illinois to I65 in Indiana. (And why Illiana? Why not Indianois?)
The two key criticisms were raised by metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) in Illinois and Indiana. First, they argued that DOT used a “market-based” population forecast that showed much faster growth in rural areas than the “policy-based” forecast used by the planning agencies. … More
I have previously noted that EPA, perhaps recognizing that an unfriendly Congress will lead to budgetary constraints on government enforcement, has been trying to facilitate citizen enforcement efforts. EPA’s latest move on this front was the recent release of “EJSCREEN: Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool.”
Putting aside the definitional concerns that many people have concerning environmental justice, there is no doubt that tools such as EJSCREEN can provide powerful assistance to groups who think that they may have suffered disparate environmental impacts. … More
Easy way to tell when you’ve lost your appeal? When a pithy judge starts making fun of you in the first sentence of the opinion. In a case that was only ever going to have one outcome, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals today rejected all of the pre-promulgation challenges to EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Judge Kavanaugh began by noting that:
Petitioners are champing at the bit to challenge EPA’s anticipated rule restricting carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.… 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
In an interesting, but not really difficult, decision on Tuesday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the National Association of Home Builders did not have standing to challenge a consent decree pursuant to which the Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to a schedule for moving 251 species from “warranted-but-precluded” status under the ESA to either warranted or unwarranted. The FWS, short of resources to make final listing decisions under the ESA,… More
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals today rejected Kansas’s challenge to EPA’s disapproval of Kansas’s SIP revisions intended to comply with the Interstate Transport Rule. The Court found that EPA was not arbitrary or capricious in rejecting Kansas’s SIP, noting that:
The discussion of interstate transport in Kansas’s SIP was only one page long and failed to provide any analysis at all of the downwind effect of its in-state emissions.… 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
Unsatisfied with the pace of the administration’s implementation of the Global Warming Solutions Act, the Conservation Law Foundation sued the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, seeking a court order requiring MassDEP to:
promulgate regulations establishing a desired level of declining annual aggregate emissions limits for sources or categories of sources that emit greenhouse gas emissions.
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
Last week, Judge John Copenhaver refused to allow a motion by the United States to enter a consent decree that would have resolved government claims against DuPont concerning alleged violations of the Clean Air Act, CERCLA, and EPCRA at its facility in Belle, West Virginia. The motion was unopposed.
Instead, Judge Copenhaver ordered the United States to file a revised memorandum in support and he specifically directed that the memorandum address certain issues that concerned him,… 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. … More
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. … More
Last week, District Judge Ralph Beistline allowed the summary judgment motion filed by the United States Forest Service, and dismissed citizen claims challenging the Forest Service decision to approve an logging project in an old growth area in the Tongass National Forest known as Big Thorne. The case seems interesting because of the deference Judge Beistline showed to the Forest Service. Reading between the lines of the record,… More
In Black Warrior Riverkeeper v. ACOE, decided this week by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Court was faced with a quandary. “On the eve of oral argument”, in a case challenging The Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permit 21, which allows certain surface coal mining activities without an individual permit, the Army Corps of Engineers informed the Court that it had significantly underestimated the acreage that would be affected by NWP 21. … More
As we noted in 2013, two different Courts of Appeal had ruled that injunctive relief is not available in PSD/NSR enforcement cases against former owners. Both United States v. Midwest Generation and United States v. EME Homer Generation held that, because the former owner no longer controls the site, courts cannot impose injunctive relief against them. As the Court stated in EME Homer Generating:
with time travel yet to be discovered,… More
In a potentially significant opinion last week, in Little Hocking Water Association v. DuPont, Judge Algenon Marbley gave hope to citizen plaintiffs everywhere, with a remarkably expansive reading of the imminent and substantial endangerment language in RCRA’s citizen suit provision. The decision covers a lot of ground, and is well worth reading (and, in fairness, Judge Marbley did reject some of plaintiffs’ claims).
The most significant holding was that DuPont’s emissions of perflourooctanoic acid,… 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,… 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
Fully five years ago, I noted that the cavalier treatment by government officials of FOIA requests made by opponents of government policy revealed a degree of self-righteousness that was both offensive and self-defeating – because it undermines support for the very policies that those officials were pursuing.
It now seems as though little has changed – except that now a federal judge has taken the time to put on record his dissatisfaction with how EPA responds to FOIA requests. … More
In Paradise Lost, John Milton wrote that “easy is the descent into Hell, for it is paved with good intentions.” A modern environmental lawyer might say that the road to waste, inefficiency, and obstruction is paved with good intentions. Nowhere is that more apparent than with citizen suit provisions, as was demonstrated in the decision earlier this week in Nucor Steel-Arkansas v.… More
On Sunday, the Boston Globe had a fairly comprehensive look at the causes of the current failings of the MBTA. Interesting reading for those who like to belabor the obvious. The short version? Lack of political will and combined with a typical willingness to spend money we didn’t have.
As an environmental lawyer, I found the article interesting, because a discussion of the origin of the Big Dig transit commitments – a story I know pretty well – for the first time turned on a light bulb for me. … 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,… More
The decision earlier this month in Cyprus Amax Minerals v. TCI Pacific Communications is a useful reminder that corporate form exists for a reason and that parent corporations who ignore corporate niceties do so at their peril. In the Bestfoods decision, the Supreme Court made clear that CERCLA does not displace state corporate law and that a parent corporation will only be held indirectly liable for the acts of its subsidiaries when the corporate veil can be pierced under applicable state law.… 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,… 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. … More
Last week, EPA released its report on Enforcement Annual Results in EPA Regions for Fiscal Year 2014. As always, the report is worth reading, if only for the interactive map which shows where EPA has brought various kinds of cases.
Notwithstanding the traditional self-congratulatory tone of the report, the press coverage has almost uniformly focused on the year-to-year decrease in cases brought and dollars recovered. … More
On Wednesday, Judge David Hittner, of the District Court for the Southern District of Texas, in a decision long enough to require two separate pdfs, declined to impose an injunction or penalties (plaintiffs sought $642,697,500) against ExxonMobil in a Clean Air Act citizens’ suit brought by Environment Texas and the Sierra Club concerning the ExxonMobil facility in Baytown, Texas. The plaintiffs lost even though Judge Hittner did find a number of violations of the CAA. … More
Last Friday, FERC sought a further stay of the decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals striking down FERC Order 745. Whereas the United States had previously only indicated that it was considering filing a cert. petition, the latest filing clarifies that the United States has definitively decided to seek Supreme Court review. On Monday, Chief Justice Roberts granted the extension. The United States now has until January 15,… More
On Monday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that EPA does not have an obligation to amend PSD regulations for a criteria pollutant within two years of revising the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for that pollutant.
WildEarth Guardians had sued EPA under section 304(a)(2) of the Clean Air Act, which authorizes suits against the Administrator for a failure “to perform any act or duty … which is not discretionary….”
What was the basis for the alleged nondiscretionary duty? … 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
Do Takes of the Utah Prairie Dog Affect Interstate Commerce? Only When McDonalds Starts Serving Prairie Burgers
Earlier this week, in a suit brought by the beautifully named People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners, Judge Dee Benson ruled that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service could not regulate takes of the Utah prairie dog on private land. Relying on the Supreme Court decisions in United States v. Lopez and United States v. Morrison,… More
If readers have been wondering when GHG regulation would truly feel real, EPA may have delivered the answer yesterday, with its announcement of a $350 million settlement with Hyundai and Kia over allegations of violations of EPA’s GHG tailpipe standards. The details may matter only to those subject to the tailpipe rule, but they do demonstrate that EPA is not merely regulating GHG emissions for show;… More
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has stayed its mandate vacating FERC Order no. 745, regarding demand response. The mandate is stayed at least until December 16, 2014, by which point FERC must petition the Supreme Court for review. If FERC does seek cert., the stay will continue until the Supreme Court denies the petition or rules against FERC on the merits.
I don’t know if FERC will seek cert. … More
Notwithstanding Congressional gridlock on climate change legislation, cap-and-trade remains the tried and true efficient method for reducing air emissions. Although the acid rain provisions of the Clean Air Act are the most well-known example, the CAA also provides for cap-and-trade programs to implement its regional haze regulations. On Monday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the cap-and-trade program adopted by New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.… More
I have previously noted that standing is a double-edged sword. Most commonly, the regulated community uses standing to keep citizen plaintiffs out of court. However, as the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals demonstrated yesterday, the regulated community is sometimes hoist on its own collective petard.
Opponents of EPA’s Clean Power Plan have not been willing to wait until a final rule has been promulgated before challenging EPA’s authority. On Monday, Nebraska’s challenged was dismissed – not surprisingly – as premature.
Nebraska’s claim was simple – the Clean Power Plan relies in part on technology demonstrated with funding pursuant to the Energy Policy Act of 2005. However, that statute precludes EPA from finding that technologies have been adequately demonstrated for the purposes of § 111 of the Clean Air Act based “solely” on use of the technologies by facilities funded under the Energy Policy Act.… 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.… More
The last frontier of citizen climate litigation has been state-based litigation alleging that states have a public trust obligation to mitigate climate change. As I have previously noted, I’m skeptical that these cases are viable. A decision last month by the Supreme Court of Alaska suggests that such skepticism is well-founded.
In an important decision yesterday, Judge Douglas Woodlock of the District of Massachusetts confirmed that CERCLA preempts local cleanup bylaws. The case involved one aspect of the cleanup of the W.R. Grace Superfund Site in Acton, Massachusetts. In 2005, EPA issued a Record of Decision requiring operation of a groundwater pump and treat system in what is known as the Northeast Area of the Site. However, EPA recognized that the contamination in the area was limited and stated in the ROD that the treatment system might be turned off in three years if certain criteria were met.… More
EPA Proposes to Eliminate Affirmative Defenses for Excess Emissions During Startups, Shutdowns, or Malfunctions — Get Ready for Some Citizen Suits
This past April, the D.C. Circuit struck down the part of EPA’s cement kiln rule that would have provided an affirmative defense to civil penalties for excess emissions resulting from unavoidable malfunctions. As we noted at the time, that decision clearly had implications beyond the cement kiln rule.
Those implications were made more concrete this week when EPA issued a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking in which it proposed to rescind its policy allowing affirmative defenses to penalties for excess emissions during startup,… 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.… More
Last week, Judge Walter Smith, Jr., ordered the Sierra Club to pay more than six million dollars – yes, you read that correctly – to Energy Future Holdings and Luminant Generation, after finding that the Sierra Club’s Clean Air Act citizen suit against them concerning the Big Brown (great name for a coal-fired facility!) plant was “frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless.”
The Sierra Club had avoided a motion to dismiss,… 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
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.… More
In an important decision last week, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals made clear just how high the hurdles are in the way of building highways in wildlife refuges. The decision in Defenders of Wildlife v. North Carolina DOT sent the Federal Highway Administration and the North Carolina DOT back to the drawing board in their efforts to find a solution to transportation problems on Hatteras Island. … More
How Much Deference Do States Get in Entering CERCLA Consent Decrees? Probably A Lot, But Perhaps Not As Much as You Thought
In Cannons Engineering, the First Circuit Court of Appeals famously stated that, when CERCLA consent decrees arrive at the courts of appeal for review, they do so “encased in a double layer of swaddling,” because both the EPA decision to enter into the decree and the district court review of the EPA decision are entitled to significant deference. Last week, in Arizona v.… 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.… 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.… More
Who Gets to Review EPA Actions? The Court of Appeals? The District Court? (Hint: The Answer Is Not “Neither One”)
The general rule under the Clean Air Act is that any:
person may bring suit in district court against the EPA Administrator for an alleged failure to perform a nondiscretionary act or duty, and the district court has jurisdiction “to order the Administrator to perform such act or duty,” as well as to “compel . . . agency action unreasonably delayed.” By contrast, “judicial review of final action by the EPA Administrator rests exclusively in the appellate courts.… 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].… More
Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed EPA’s approval of Nevada’s State Implementation Plan for regional haze against a challenge by WildEarth Guardians. The decision isn’t earthshaking. However, because it found that WildEarth Guardians did not have standing to challenge EPA’s reasonable further progress determination for measuring visibility improvements, but did have standing to challenge EPA’s determination regarding the Best Available Retrofit Technology for the Reid Gardner Generating Station in northeast Nevada,… 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.… 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.… More
The Reach of Sackett is Not Infinite: Regulated Facilities May Not Challenge EPA Notices of Violation
After the Supreme Court held in Sackett v. EPA that EPA must provide hearings to those to whom it issues unilateral administrative orders, the regulated community immediately began to wonder how broadly the ruling would sweep. It is clear that EPA’s order authority under similar statutory provisions – such as those in the Clean Air Act – is also subject to Sackett.… More
In contrast to the early days of Superfund when no argument for extending CERCLA liability was too far-fetched, the Second Circuit recently rejected one of the all-time “Hail Mary” passes for CERCLA contribution. The case, ASARCO LLP v. Goodwin, involved a 2009 settlement by ASARCO of Superfund liability involving several contaminated mines it owned in Everett, Washington. After settling, ASARCO asserted contribution claims against residuary trusts established in 1937 by the will of John D.… 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 Does the Sixth Circuit Set EPA Rules for the Entire Country? When EPA Regulations Require National Uniformity
In a fascinating decision issued today, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down EPA’s Summit Directive. The Summit Directive – sounds ominous – was issued in response to the 2012 decision in Summit Petroleum Corp. v. EPA, in which the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that EPA could not consider two facilities as “adjacent” for Title V and NSR permitting purposes unless they are,… More
Massachusetts Land Trusts Breath a Collective Sigh of Relief: The SJC Rules That There Is No Requirement to Promote Public Access For Land to Be Tax-Exempt
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today ruled that land trusts or other charities which own and preserve conservation land may take advantage of a state tax exemption on such land even if they do not affirmatively encourage public access to the land. The land trusts have dodged a potentially major bullet.
The New England Forest Foundation owns a 120-acre forest parcel in Hawley. The Hawley Board of Assessors ruled that the property was not tax-exempt,… 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
Last Friday, EPA lost another NSR enforcement case. Not only that, but this was a case EPA had previously won. As we noted last August, Chief Judge Philip Simon of the Northern District of Indiana, had previously ruled that the United States could pursue injunctive relief claims against United States Steel with respect to allegations by EPA that US Steel had made major modifications to its plant in Gary,… 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
D.C. Circuit Affirms EPA’s Utility Air Toxics Rule: An “Appropriate” Rule Need Not Be Justified By Cost-Benefit Analysis
Yesterday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed EPA’s rule setting limits for emissions of mercury and other air toxics from fossil-fuel-fired electric steam generating units. The focus of the decision – and the issue on which Judge Kavanaugh dissented – was whether EPA was required to consider the costs that would be imposed by the rule. EPA said no and the majority agreed.
Section 112(n) of the Clean Air Act required EPA to perform a study of the health hazards related to hazardous emissions from EGUs prior to regulating them. … 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.… More
Dispatches From the “Sue and Settle” Front: Trade Groups Do Not Have Standing to Challenge Settlements Regarding ESA Listing Procedures
Last week, a federal court, for the fourth time, found that property owners’ groups do not have standing to challenge a settlement between the administration and conservation groups under which the administration agreed to make listing decisions under the Endangered Species Act on more the 250 candidate species by 2016. Judge Emmet Sullivan, who entered the original settlements, ruled that settlements imposing procedural deadlines on the Fish and Wildlife Service did not cause any redressable injuries to the plaintiffs.… More
As the lawyers among our readers know, the denial of a certiorari petition does not establish precedent. However, that doesn’t make it unimportant. Yesterday, the Supreme Court denied cert. in Mingo Logan Coal Co. v. EPA. The cert. denial leaves in place the decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals holding that EPA has authority retroactively to withdraw a site specification for a Clean Water Act § 404 permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers. … More
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.… 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,… 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,… More
Yes, Virginia, NSR Really is a Preconstruction Permitting Program: Another NSR Enforcement Case Fails on Statute of Limitations Grounds
The trend of cases holding that the NSR provisions of the Clean Air Act constitute a one-time preconstruction review requirement got stronger earlier this month, as the decision in Sierra Club v. Oklahoma Gas and Electric Company dismissed claims by the Sierra Club related to facility modifications that occurred more than five years prior to entry of a tolling agreement between the parties. The decision may not break any new ground,… More
Last week, in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed EPA’s 2012 New Source Performance Standards for particulate matter emissions from fossil-fuel-fired steam electric generating units. The opinion is largely a plain vanilla administrative law decision, but does provide some useful guidance on the appeal of CAA regulations. It is also a useful reminder of the extent of deference to EPA in an ordinary case.… 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,… More
One of the critical elements of NEPA is that project proponents must assess the feasibility and impacts of not only the preferred alternative, but also a range of alternatives. However, there is a tension in NEPA, because it is widely understood that the proponent, and not either courts or opponents, get to define its own project. On the other hand, the proponent may not define the project so narrowly that its preferred alternative is the only one remaining.… More
The Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, or MESA, is similar in some respects to the federal ESA, but is definitely its own kettle of (endangered) fish. Indeed, after the decision by the Supreme Judicial Court yesterday in Pepin v. Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, one could almost say that MESA is a blank slate, authorizing DFW to write any regulations it chooses that might arguably benefit species that are endangered,… More
As I have previously noted, the government’s record in NSR enforcement cases has been going downhill, particularly with important defeats before the 3rd and 7th Circuits’ Courts of Appeals. The latest governmental defeat came late last week, in Pennsylvania v. Allegheny Energy, when Chief Judge Conti granted judgment for the defendants on claims alleging both NSR and NSPS violations.… 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. … More
Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiffs that the Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to support oil and gas leasing in the Chukchi Sea was flawed. Although the decision was split and the Ninth Circuit’s track record on appeal is less than perfect, I think that they probably got it right. Moreover, the flaws identified by the court provide a useful lesson to agencies in performing environmental analysis of probabilistic outcomes.… More
Cape Wind Survives a Legal Challenge to FAA Approval: Is the Opposition Strategy to Play Whac-A-Mole?
On Wednesday, the Court of Appeals rejected a challenge by the Town of Barnstable to the FAA’s “no hazard” determination for Cape Wind. As background, the same court had determined in 2010 that a prior no hazard determination by the FAA had not been adequately supported. This time, the FAA did better, in part because the facts on the ground were better. One significant concern in 2010 had been the potential impact of the turbines on the radar system at Otis Airfield. … More
The specter of environmental harm used to frighten courts and spawned a generation of decisions extending Superfund liability to virtually any party with a nexus to a site that was contaminated. One case that signaled just how willing courts were to impose a broad view of environmental liability was the 1988 decision by the Fifth Circuit in Tanglewood East Homeowners v. Charles-Thomas, Inc.. In that case,… 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,… More
In environmental personal injury cases, proof of causation is key and that causation almost always hinges on expert opinion. A recent appellate decision in Pennsylvania in Snizavich v. Rohm and Haas Company provides useful clarification about the line between junk science and admissible expert opinion.
In Snizavich, the wife of a deceased worker at a chemical plant alleged that her husband had died because exposure to hazardous chemicals in the workplace had precipitated his brain cancer. … More
The Old Razzle Dazzle Is Not Sufficient: DOE May Not Collect a Nuclear Waste Disposal Fee If It Has No Way to Dispose of the Waste
In an opinion last week surprising only for the shortness of the shrift that the Court gave to DOE’s arguments, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that DOE may not continue to collect nuclear waste handling/disposal fees from nuclear plant operators when DOE does not have a plausible estimate of the cost to construct and operate a nuclear waste disposal site.
The Court had previously ruled that DOE had violated a statutory obligation to determine annually what the waste disposal fee should be. … More
Hoist on Its Own Petard: The Ninth Circuit Reverses EPA’s Approval of Nanosilver Pesticides in Textiles
Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals remanded EPA’s approval of two nanosilver pesticides for use in textiles. The case, NRDC v. EPA, is a fascinating application of the issue of “how safe is safe” and, in particular, how much conservatism must be applied to risk estimates when there is significant uncertainty in the analysis.
EPA sets the acceptable exposure to pesticides under FIFRA by determining the risk and then addressing uncertainties. … 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.
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,… More
As the EPA budget continues to get squeezed by the ongoing sequester and a GOP-controlled House that is, shall we say, less than sympathetic to EPA’s mission, it is not surprising that EPA would try to shift more of the enforcement burden to citizen groups. According to a report in Greenwire yesterday, that is precisely what EPA has in mind.
Greenwire quotes Cynthia Giles, EPA’s enforcement czar as saying that “we have far too much noncompliance,… More
In State of New York v. Next Millenium Realty, decided earlier this week, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed the wisdom of Gilbert and Sullivan. It is very difficult to blow the statute of limitations in CERCLA cases.
The question before the court was whether New York could recover from PRPs the cost of a granulated activated carbon (GAC) system and an air stripper tower,… More
Last spring, Robby Sanoff complained in this space about the problem resulting from appellate courts’ refusal to give appropriate discretion to district judges in performing their gatekeeping function under Daubert. As Robby put it:
The difference between “shaky but admissible” and unreliable and inadmissible evidence would seem to be entirely in the eye of the beholder.
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.… 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,… More
More on Old NSR Claims: Injunctive Relief Remains Available Against Original Owners Foolish Enough Not to Have Sold
As we noted last week and last month, the 3rd and 7th Circuits have ruled that violations of the obligation to undertake NSR review prior to implementing major modifications are not continuing, but are instead one-time violations occurring at the time the facilities undertake the modification. These holdings meant that EPA could not pursue either former owners – because they no longer control the facilities – or current owners – because they never violated the statute and have no ongoing obligation to correct the former owner’s violation.… More
The Final Nail In the Coffin on EPA’s Enforcement Initiative Against Historic PSD Violations? The Third Circuit Agrees That PSD Violations Are Not Ongoing
Only last month, the 7th Circuit ruled that alleged violations of the Clean Air Act’s PSD requirements are not ongoing. On Wednesday, in United States v. EME Homer Generation, the 3rd Circuit agreed. Like the 7th Circuit, the 3rd Circuit did not really even view the question as difficult, finding the statute unambiguous and never reaching the second step of traditional Chevron analysis.… More
The Atomic Energy Act Preempts Vermont’s Efforts To Close Vermont Yankee: Sometimes, Legislative Intent Is Just Too Clear To Ignore
Last week, in Entergy v. Shumlin, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals largely struck down Vermont’s efforts to close Vermont Yankee. Although three separate Vermont statutes were at issue, and Entergy made both preemption and dormant Commerce Clause arguments, the essence of the case was simply that Vermont sought to require explicit legislative approval for Vermont Yankee’s continued operation. Dismissing various proffered rationales for Vermont’s scheme,… 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,… More
What Is the Burden In Proving a Violation of a Stormwater Permit? If It Walks Like a Stormwater Discharge …
Those of us who do NPDES work know that enforcement, including citizen enforcement, against industrial point sources can often be all to straightforward. The plaintiff marches into court with a pile of the defendant’s discharge monitoring reports and the liability phase may be over quickly. Stormwater cases are different, as last week’s 9th Circuit decision in NRDC v. County of Los Angeles demonstrates.
The case had a number of twists and turns,… More
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.… More
We Still Don’t Need No Stinkin Cooperative Federalism: The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Holds that GHG Sources Require PSD Permits Even Absent a State Implementation Plan
Last Friday, I posted about the limits to EPA’s cooperation with states in the name of “cooperative federalism” under the Clean Air Act. On the same day, in Texas v. EPA, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals only emphasized my point, by affirming EPA’s assertion of PSD permitting jurisdiction in Texas and Wyoming in the face of those states’ failure to prepare state implementation plans to incorporate permitting programs to implement EPA’s greenhouse gas rules under the PSD program.… More
Last Friday, the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Oklahoma v. EPA, affirmed EPA’s rejection of Oklahoma’s state implementation plan setting forth its determination of the Best Available Retrofit Technology, or BART, to address regional haze. The Court also affirmed EPA’s promulgation of a federal implementation plan in place of the Oklahoma SIP. While rehearsing the Clean Air Act’s “cooperative federalism” approach, the Court seemed more focused on deference to EPA’s technical assessment of the SIP than on any obligation by EPA to cooperate with states.… More
Mississippi v. EPA: Support of the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee is Not Necessary to Affirm EPA’s NAAQS
On Tuesday, in Mississippi v. EPA, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed EPA’s 2008 NAAQS for ozone of 0.075 ppm. However, it remanded EPA’s decision to set the secondary NAAQS, for public welfare, at the same 0.075 ppm level. With respect to the primary standard, the Court gave short shrift to industry and red-state challenges that the standard was too stringent. This is not surprising,… More
The old warning that “past performance is no guarantee of future results” apparently applies not only to investments but also to environmental nuisance suits in Tennessee. In Freeman v. Blue Ridge Paper Products, a class of 300 residents living 26 miles downriver from a paper mill plant had obtained a $2 million jury verdict in state court on the ground that the paper mill had interfered with the use and enjoyment of their property from 1999 to 2005 by putting chemicals into the river that caused odors,… More
Section 126 of the Clean Air Act and Cooperative Federalism: EPA May Cooperate with the Downwind State Rather than the Upwind State
On Friday, in GenOn REMA v. EPA, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that, in response to a petition from a downwind state under § 126 of the Clean Air Act, EPA may issue a rule imposing emission limits on a source in the upwind state without waiting for the upwind state to complete its own SIP process, which would presumably result in appropriate controls to protect the downwind state. … More
One Step At A Time Is Just Too Late: The DC Circuit Strikes Down EPA’s Deferral of GHG Regulation of Biomass Emissions
On Friday, in Center For Biological Diversity v. EPA, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down EPA’s rule deferring regulation of GHG emissions from “biogenic” sources. EPA had promulgated the rule, delaying regulation of emissions from biogenic sources from July 20, 2011, to July 21, 2014, on the ground that the carbon cycle is sufficiently complex that EPA is not yet in a position to judge what the actual carbon impact of different biogenic sources might be. … More
The Seventh Circuit Cuts the Gordian Knot of NSR Interpretation: Preconstruction Review Cannot Lead to Continuing Violations
Earlier this week, in United States v. Midwest Generation, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of EPA’s NSR enforcement action against Commonwealth Edison. Commonwealth Edison was the prior owner of the plants at issue and modified them at various times from 1994-1999 without obtaining PSD/NSR approvals before doing so. Midwest Generation purchased the plants and continued to operate them. In 2009, the United States sued both Commonwealth Edison and Midwest Generation. … 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.… More
The Supreme Court Agrees to Review the CSAPR Decision: Might EPA Avoid Version 3 of the Transport Rule?
The Supreme Court today granted certiorari in EPA v. EME Homer City, the challenge to EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, or CSAPR. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia had struck down the rule, over a fairly blistering dissent from Judge Judith Rogers.
Speculation over the reasons why the Supreme Court takes a case is often pointless, but I will say this: Consideration of the history of EPA’s rulemaking leads to the conclusion that the rule should be upheld.… More
As Superfund lawyers know, the Supreme Court decision in Burlington Northern required proof of an intent to dispose hazardous substances as a prerequisite to imposition of arranger liability. While lower courts have often blissfully ignored the holdings in Supreme Court decisions under CERCLA, arranger liability seems to be one area in which the lower courts have taken the Supreme Court decision to heart.
In any event,… More
Everyone who represents PRPs in Superfund settlements has his or her own horror stories regarding the scope of EPA’s oversight cost claims. We all know that oversight costs can end up as an appreciable percentage of total site costs. We’ve all cringed to go to meetings with EPA and see not just multiple EPA employees in the room, but several disembodied voices from EPA’s Ada, Oklahoma, lab. Insult to injury is when there are 3 or 4 representatives of EPA’s outside oversight contractor. … More
Just as tortfeasors take their victims as they find them, s0 PRPs take their hazardous waste sites as they find them. This rule has been around since the beginning of CERCLA and means that a party which arranges for the disposal of its waste at one location can be generally be held responsible for whatever response costs that waste generates, including environmental cleanup costs at a second location if that waste is transshipped without the knowledge of the PRP.… More
It has not been a good run for plaintiffs in private climate change litigation. As we noted last week, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal in Comer v. Murphy Oil. Now, on Monday, the Supreme Court denied certiorari in Native Village of Kivalina v. Exxon Mobil. Kivalina ended more with a whimper than a bang,… More
Environmental litigation, particularly toxic tort litigation, inevitably turns on scientific evidence about causation. Beginning with the Supreme Court’s Daubert decision in 1993, trial courts have repeatedly been admonished to take seriously their role as gatekeepers who are required to keep from juries and other fact-finders “junk science” and other expert evidence that is not sufficiently reliable to be considered.
Although no one would disagree that one key responsibility of any judge is to protect against the admission of unreliable evidence, … More
A Nice, Straightforward Administrative Law Decision: HHS’s Decision to List Styrene as Reasonably Anticipated to Cause Cancer is Affirmed
Last week, in Styrene Information and Research Center v. Sebelius, Judge Reggie Walton of the District Court for the District of Columbia rejected challenges to the decision by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to list styrene as “reasonably anticipated” to be a carcinogen. The case does not really break any new ground, but is a solidly written summary of several recurring issues in administrative law relating to review of agency decisions.… More
Jarndyce v. Jarndyce Has Nothing On Comer v. Murphy Oil: The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal
Readers of this blog will recall the bizarre history of Comer v. Murphy Oil. In 2005, Plaintiffs brought tort claims against major GHG emitters, claiming that those emissions, by causing global warming, led to plaintiffs’ damages from Hurricane Katrina. The District Court dismissed, ruling both that plaintiffs had no standing and that the claims were really non-justiciable political questions. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded. … More
In a decision that should not have come as a surprise to anyone, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday, in Conservation Northwest v. Sherman, that the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies implementing the Northwest Forest Plan could not amend the NFP without complying with the procedural requirements of the Federal Land Policy Management Act. The rationale of the decision should apply far more broadly than just the FLPMA,… 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,… 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.… More
The Fourth Circuit handed down a primer on CERCLA liability last week in PCS Nitrogen Inc. v. Ashley II of Charleston. It should be required reading for Superfund lawyers. The facts in the case are worthy of a law school law school exam question on CERCLA– contamination arising from manufacturing of fertilizer beginning in the 19th century with the original corporate operator long since dissolved giving rise to new generations of corporate owners and operators —… More
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. … More
Sometimes you read a decision and it’s hard to understand how there really were two plausible sides to the dispute. Arrowood Indemnity Company v The Lubrizol Corporation is one such a decision. There, a policyholder sold back its liability coverage for claims “arising out of” certain named environmental sites. When the policyholder subsequently received a PRP notice letter for a site that included a property that had allegedly been contaminated by waste migrating from one of the named environmental sites,… More
For the first time in CERCLA’s history, a court has concluded that a Superfund claim was barred by the “act of war” defense. In that case, In Re September 11 Litigation, the judge ruled that a property owner a block from Ground Zero could not recover the costs of cleaning up dust on his building from the collapse of the World Trade Center towers because the dust resulted from an act of war. … More
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.… More
Logging Road Runoff Does Not Require an NPDES Permit: The Supreme Court (For Now) Defers to EPA’s Interpretation of Its Own Regulations
Yesterday, in Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, the Supreme Court ruled that runoff from logging roads does not constitute a discharge from a point source that requires an NPDES permit. The decision upholds EPA’s interpretation of its own regulations and overturns – what a surprise! – a 9th Circuit decision which had held that permits were necessary for logging runoff.
While EPA got the result that it wanted here,… 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.… More
In Sierra Club v. EPA, issued today, The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected EPA’s rules governing “significant impact levels” and “significant monitoring concentrations” for determining PSD permitting requirements for new sources of PM2.5. Both the SIL and SMC provisions provided important exemptions from the PSD permitting regime. The Court ruled that neither provision was justified given the inflexible language of the Clean Air Act.… 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. … 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.… More
On Friday, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected EPA’s approach to implementation of the PM2.5 NAAQS. The fine particulate NAAQS was first published in 1997, and EPA issued implementation rules in 2007 and 2008. Those rules specified that EPA Subpart 1 of Part D of title I of the CAA – the general implementation provisions – rather than Subpart 4, which applies specifically to PM10. … More
Can Wind Energy Serve As Baseload Power? The First Circuit Agrees with the NRC That, For Now, The Answer Is “Not Yet.”
In an interesting decision issued last Friday, the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in Beyond Nuclear v. NextEra Energy Seabrook, affirmed the decision by the NRC rejecting a challenge to Seabrook’s relicensing posed by a coalition of environmental groups. The decision seems clearly correct, but raises an important policy issue that is likely to recur as renewable energy technologies advance,… More
In Burlington Northern, the Supreme Court made clear that, in order to impose liability on a defendant as an “arranger” under Superfund for the sale of a product, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant
must have entered into the sale of [the product] with the intention that at least a portion of the product be disposed during the transfer process.
Although courts do not seem thus far to have taken to heart the Supreme Court’s allocation discussion in Burlington Northern,… More
Last week, EPA announced that it had reached yet one more – its 24th – settlement under as a result of its NSR enforcement initiative. This time, it was Louisiana Generating’s Big Cajun II plant, in New Roads, Louisiana. By now, the contours are familiar, including a penalty of $14 million and injunctive relief estimated to cost approximately $250 million. Changes will include:
- Installation of SNCR (not SCR) on all units to control NOx.…
At California’s inaugural auction of greenhouse gas allowances last week, bidders bought all 23.1 million allowances for 2013 emissions sold at $10.09 per ton, a few significant cents above the floor price of $10. The price and relatively high demand for the allowances — with the state receiving three times as many bids as allowances available for sale — bodes well for the fledgling market. There is clearly more interest in the California market than for RGGI: the $10.09 per ton price is over five times the price garnered at the latest RGGI auction ($1.93),… More
There have been so many developments recently on the air front (and I’m so far behind due to an appellate brief) that I thought I would combine a few recent items.
First, oral arguments were heard Monday on the challenges to the Bush EPA ozone NAAQS of 0.075 ppb. As I have previously noted, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has made pretty plain that EPA cannot ignore the recommendations of the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee in setting the NAAQS. … More
Indemnification Agreements Under CERCLA Do Not Affect Liability to Entities That Are Not Parties to the Agreement
Section 107(e) of CERCLA provides that
No indemnification, hold harmless, or similar agreement or conveyance shall be effective to transfer from the owner or operator of any vessel or facility or from any person who may be liable for a release or threat of release under this section, to any other person the liability imposed under this section. Nothing in this subsection shall bar any agreement to insure,… More
Although some of the proposed tax plans and budgets being discussed in this election year suggest that the same dollar can be counted and spent multiple times, a growing number of courts have held that CERCLA response costs can only be allocated once. The most recent holding comes in the Lower Fox River litigation where Judge Greisbach ruled that CERCLA pre-empts most ancillary state law claims – whether styled as state law contribution claims or common law claims for negligence and strict liability: “If the funds were expended pursuant to CERCLA,… More
Late last month, in Wildearth Guardians v. Lamar Utilities Board, Judge David Ebel ruled that Lamar violated the Clean Air Act by not obtaining a MACT determination, given that its potential emissions of hydrochloric acid were 10.3 tons per year, above the 10 tpy limit for any single hazardous air pollutant. The decision provides an abject lesson on the costs imposed by regulatory uncertainty.
The facts,… More
More Evidence That the Government No Longer Automatically Wins Superfund Cases: New Jersey Requires Proof of a Nexus Between a Discharge and Response Costs
As I have previously noted, government attorneys’ traditional approach to litigating Superfund cases has been to announce that they represent the government and that they therefore win. There was hope, following the Supreme Court’s decision in Burlington Northern, that those days were nearing an end.
It is clear to me, following too many cases after Burlington Northern,… More
Another Nail in the Public Nuisance Litigation Coffin: The 9th Circuit Affirms Dismissal of the Kivalina Claims
On Friday, in Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals may have sounded the death knell for public nuisance litigation concerning the impacts of climate change, affirming dismissal of the damage claims brought by the City of Kivalina and the Native Village of Kivalina against major greenhouse gas emitters.
As most readers will know, last year,… More
Last week, in United States v. Louisiana Generating, EPA won a ruling regarding what type of projects fall within the routine maintenance, repair or replacement exception from the rule that facility modifications are subject to PSD/NSR requirements. The decision is thorough in that it carefully reviews the so-called “WEPCO Factors” – the nature, extent, purpose, frequency, and cost of the work, and applied them to the work at issue in this case,… More
I finally had an opportunity to review the recent Final Decision in In the Matter of Palmer Renewable Energy, concerning the proposed Palmer biomass facility. Last week, MassDEP Commissioner Ken Kimmell affirmed the Recommended Final Decision by Presiding Officer Timothy Jones, rejecting challenges by the Conservation Law Foundation to the air permit issued to the project by MassDEP. For practitioners, the case is important, but a decidedly mixed bag.… 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,… More
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.… More
Judicial Activism and Judicial Restraint: The 5th Circuit Vacates EPA’s Disapproval of Texas SIP Revisions Concerning Minor Sources
On Friday, in Texas v. EPA, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated EPA’s decision rejecting Texas’s SIP revisions that would have implemented (and did implement, for 16 years) a Flexible Permit Program for minor NSR sources. While genuflecting at the altar of deference to agency decisionmaking, the Court concluded that EPA’s rejection was not based on either EPA factual determinations or on its interpretation of federal,… 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,… 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 …… More
Score a victory for EPA in its long-running set of disputes with the State of Texas and generation facilities in Texas. Yesterday, in Luminant Generation Co. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed EPA’s decision to partially approval and partially reject the Texas SIP, essentially rejecting both environmentalist and industry challenges to EPA’s determination regarding excess emissions during startup,… More
On Friday, EPA announced that it was reconsidering part of the Utility MACT rule. As part of the reconsideration, EPA will stay the effectiveness of the new source emission standards in the rule for three months.
EPA stated that:
We anticipate that he focus of the reconsideration rulemaking will be a review of issues that are largely technical in nature. Our expectation is that under the reconsideration rule new sources will be required to install the latest and most effective pollution controls and will be able to monitor compliance with the new standards with proven monitoring methods.… More
On Wednesday, I discussed the DC Circuit’s decision affirming EPA’s revised NAAQS for NOx. Today, the DC Circuit upheld EPA’s revised SO2 standard. The tenor of today’s decision, written by David Sentelle, another Reagan appointee (the NOx decision was written by Douglas Ginsburg), is fairly similar to that in the NOx decision. Here’s the short version of the opinion:
EPA must establish NAAQS that protect public health with “an adequate margin of safety.” For that reason,… More
For those of you following the public trust climate litigation in New Mexico, Judge Sarah Singleton has now issued a written decision denying the state’s motion to dismiss the case. There is no discussion of the issues, but it did seem worth noting that Judge Singleton also denied the state’s request for immediate interlocutory appeal (though providing that the request could be renewed after summary judgment),… More
Not a Good Start for Challenges to EPA NAAQS Revisions: The District of Columbia Court of Appeals Affirms EPA’s New NOx NAAQS
Yesterday, in American Petroleum Institute v. EPA, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed EPA’s revisions to the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for NOx. The revisions adopted, for the first time, an hourly NAAQS for NOx, in addition to the annual standard.
API made a number of assertions that EPA had been arbitrary and capricious in its review of the scientific evidence concerning potential short-term impacts. The most important were EPA’s reliance,… More
Last month, Judge Robert Wilkins dismissed the federal public trust climate change law suit, Alec L. v. Jackson. Judge Wilkins ruled on two alternative grounds. First, he held that there was no federal public trust doctrine. Second, he held that, even if there ever had been, such public trust doctrine had been displaced by the federal Clean Air Act.
Last Thursday, in response to a court order, EPA finally proposed revisions to the national ambient air quality standard for PM2.5. The most significant part of the rule is EPA’s proposal to lower the primary annual standard from 15 ug/m3 to a range of from 12 ug/m3 to 13 ug/m3.
At a certain level, the proposal should not really be news and should not have a significant impact. After all,… More
In RGGI News: Compliance is Up, Emissions are Down, Sales are Flat, and New Jersey and New Hampshire are Either In Or Out
There have been a number of news stories about the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in the last few weeks. First, nearly all of the 211 power plants subject to the requirements of RGGI’s first compliance period met their compliance obligations for 2009-2011. Only five facilities failed to hold enough allowances in their compliance accounts to cover their emissions from this period — four plants from New York,… More
Yesterday, the District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the so-called “public trust” climate change law suit. I will certainly give the plaintiffs in these cases credit for both originality and persistence. Legal merit and good public policy are another matter.
In any case, the plaintiffs sued EPA and various other federal agencies, seeking a finding that the agencies have failed adequately to protect a public trust asset,… More
The first is that, as a policy matter, the deferral was absolutely the right thing to do. The science remains complex and not fully understood. Any regulations promulgated now are likely to be revised at some point. That kind of regulatory uncertainty is not any way to run an agency.… More
The Lower Fox River Superfund site continues to pump out decisions on key CERCLA issues. Most recently, the federal court in Wisconsin in US v. NCR Corp. took on the issue of divisibility of harm in granting a preliminary injunction requiring one of the PRPs, NCR, to complete the removal of 660,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediments from a portion of the Lower Fox River. In entering that injunction,… 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.
Last week, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled (for the second time) that a CGL policy issued to AES Corporation did not require Steadfast Insurance to provide a defense to AES for claims brought again AES in Kivalina v. Exxon Mobil. The decision, in AES Corporation v. Steadfast Insurance, held simply that, based on the “eight corners” of the complaint and the insurance policy,… More
It’s always satisfying to find an open-minded judge who is willing to change his decision when he is shown to be wrong, but Judge Greisbach of the Eastern District of Wisconsin may be crossing the line from open-mindedness into a chronic inability to make up his mind. In the past 9 months, Judge Greisbach has issued three separate decisions in US v. NCR on the subject of whether a party,… More
I have had a number of clients ask me recently about the status of EPA’s efforts to regulate coal combustion residuals under RCRA. It turns out that some environmental groups have been asking themselves the same question. Being environmental groups, however, they did more than ask about it. They sued.
Deciding statute of limitations issues in CERCLA cases is not always a straightforward matter as the recent 54 page opinion in American Premier Underwriters Inc. v. General Electric Company illustrates. There, a federal court in Ohio was faced with the unenviable task of trying to determine whether remedial actions and removal actions at four separate railroad sites located in four different states were barred by statutes of limitations under CERCLA and state law. … 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,… 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,… More
2012 is shaping up to be the Year of the Commerce Clause. Not only is the Commerce Clause at the center of the Supreme Court ‘s impending review of the Affordable Care Act later this spring; it is also at the heart of a statement made by a federal district judge in Voggenthaler v. Maryland Square, LLC that the Constitution bars the application of RCRA’s citizen suit provision in the case of a local groundwater contamination plume:
The central issue in this case is an alleged contamination plume located in Las Vegas,… More
Since I already violated my rule against speculating on the outcome of a case based on oral argument, I might as well do it again. I have always said that EPA’s endangerment finding would survive judicial review and that conclusion seems only more likely to prove correct following yesterday’s oral argument before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Both the Daily Environment Report and GreenWire noted in their reporting on the argument that the groups challenging the rule emphasized that EPA had not considered the policy implications of making the endangerment finding. Of course. Precisely. That’s because the Clean Air Act itself divorces the endangerment finding from its policy implications. If there were any doubt about that,… More
Do We Need the Precautionary Principle To Protect Us From Potential Risks From Nanotechnology? The NRDC Thinks So
In a prior rant, I raised the concern that EPA would oppose the use of new cleanup technologies based on nanotechnologies on the basis of the precautionary principle. I may not have been exactly on the mark, but I was pretty close. On Thursday, the NRDC announced that it has filed suit challenging EPA’s decision to issue a conditional registration of a nanosilver-based
antimicrobial agent. … More
As readers of this blog know, the impact of EPA air rules, including in particular the Utility MACT rule, on the reliability of the nation’s electric grid has been the subject of much speculation. Last week, the Congressional Research Service weighed in, with the exciting headline: EPA’s Utility MACT: Will the Lights Go Out?” Of course, notwithstanding the sexy title, the CRS conclusion can be summarized pretty simply: the MACT rule will not cause the lights to go out. Money quote:
although the rule may lead to the retirement or derating of some facilities,… 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,… More
The decision yesterday in United States v. Minnkota Power Cooperative serves as a useful reminder regarding how important the burden of proof is in review of agency decisions. The case started in 2006, as part of DOJ’s NSR enforcement initiative, when the United States and North Dakota brought suit against Minnkota’s Milton R. Young Station. The parties settled and a consent decree was entered. Apparently,… More
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today affirmed the decision by the Department of Public Utilities to approve the power purchase agreement, or PPA, between Cape Wind and National Grid. (Full disclosure: Foley Hoag represented the Department of Energy Resources in support of the contract before the DPU.) The decision doesn’t mean that Cape Wind will now get built. Given the (one hopes) temporary problems with the federal loan guarantee program and Cape Wind’s failure thus far to sell the rest of the power from the project,… More
On Wednesday, EPA promulgated the final Utility MACT rule. I doubt that anyone reading this blog isn’t already aware of the big news.
As seems frequently to be the case with EPA rules, this one, weighing in at 2.4MB and 1,117 pages, cannot easily be summarized here. In fact, the rule is so complicated – and controversial – that EPA had to generate four separate fact sheets to summarize the rule and its impacts: (1) Costs and Benefits (or,… 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.… More
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,… More
As one Potentially Responsible Party in Wisconsin recently discovered, Superfund consent decrees are the gift that requires you to keep giving. In US v. Wauconda Sand & Gravel Co., a PRP which thought it was extinguishing its liability by signing a consent decree in 1994, received a demand from EPA a decade later to perform additional work. The PRP balked, claiming that it believed it had completed its obligations under the consent decree. … More
Earlier this week, Greenwire noted a Los Angeles Times story reporting that businesses are using the California Environmental Quality Act – California’s version of NEPA – as a tool of economic competition, trying to kill or delay projects for economic reasons. Much like Claude Rains, I am shocked, shocked, to find that there is strategic litigation going on here. In the past two years,… More
It is, as the lawyers say, black letter law that the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, is a procedural statute, which provides no substantive protection to the environment. It merely requires the appropriate level of assessment of the potential environmental consequences of federal action. Whether the action should be taken is outside NEPA’s purview.
Watch What You Do With That Shovel (Or Heavy Equipment): Another Developer Faces Superfund Liability For Site Redevelopment
More than 20 years ago, in the Tanglewood East decision, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a developers could potentially be liable under CERCLA for conducting site development activities that moved contamination on the site, exacerbated conditions, and required additional cleanup. There have not been many reported cases on this issue since then, so the decision earlier this week in Saline River Properties v.… More
As part of its efforts to control the impact of mountaintop removal mining, EPA has implemented a number of changes – both procedural and substantive – into how § 404 permit applications for such activities will be reviewed. None of these changes have gone through notice and comment rulemaking. As we previously noted, Judge Reggie Walton already expressed skepticism about EPA’s mountaintop removal guidance. Last week, in the latest decision in National Mining Association v.… More
EPA may have had problems in court in recent years defending its regulations, but it has generally fared much better in its enforcement cases. Earlier this week, however, EPA suffered what will be, if it is affirmed, a devastating defeat in its PSD/NSR enforcement initiative. In United States v. EME Homer City Generation, Judge Terrence McVerry concluded that the government could get no relief against either the former owners of the facility or the current owners or operator. No penalties. No injunctive relief. No relief under state law. Nothing. Nada.… More
As some of our clients know all too well, I am spending much time these days defending citizen suits. As federal and state agency budgets get slashed, we’re only going to see more such suits, unless a Tea Party-controlled Congress amends the relevant statutes to cut back on citizen suit provisions.
The public perception is that big, bad corporations can just spend as much money as necessary to win in court. Those of us in the trenches know that the reality differs. Indeed, at least with respect to actions brought by government environmental agencies, the most common defense experience is for the DOJ attorney to introduce him or herself by saying. “Good morning, your Honor, my name is ________. I represent the government,… More
The Virginia Supreme Court decided on Friday that an insurer does not have a duty to defend its insured in the face of a climate change nuisance case, because intentional emissions, even if they have unintended results, are not an “accident” under the insurance policy. The case, AES Corp v. Steadfast Insurance Company, had been closely watched as the first of its kind, pitting the new breed of climate change defendants against their insurers.… More
In an interesting decision issued today, in Zoning Board of Appeals of Holliston v. Housing Appeals Committee, the Massachusetts Appeals Court held that a local zoning board of appeals cannot use vague local environmental concerns as a basis for denying a comprehensive permit under the Massachusetts affordable housing statute, Chapter 40B. As those practicing in this area know, Chapter 40B consolidates all local permitting before the zoning board of appeals. The board can deny permits based on local needs,… More
Following EPA’s decision last week to scrap its reconsideration of the 2008 ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard, the parties to the litigation challenging the 2008 standard are back in court. This week, EPA submitted a brief to the Court of Appeals, which was pretty much a six-page version of Roseanne Roseannadanna’s “Never mind.” After telling the Court for years that it should defer to EPA’s reconsideration process – a decision on which was always just around the corner,… More
Yesterday, in commenting on the court battle over EPA’s reconsideration of the ozone NAAQS, I said that I would be surprised if EPA doesn’t issue the new standard within six months. Oops. My bad. Today, President Obama directed EPA to give up on the reconsideration effort. It’s difficult not to be cynical about the White House decision. As much as I admire Cass Sunstein, his letter to EPA providing the basis for the White House decision is not persuasive. Basically,… More
This week, EPA filed a brief with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that, notwithstanding its fourth delay in issuing a decision on its reconsideration of the NAAQS for ozone, the court cannot and should not order EPA to issue a decision. Industry shouldn’t get too excited, however. In the same brief, EPA telegraphed pretty clearly, consistent with its 2010 proposed rule, that it remains on track to significantly decrease the ozone standard from the 0.075 ppm standard promulgated by the Bush administration in 2008.… More
Late last week, Greenwire reported that EPA is delaying its proposed construction general permit, or CGP, for stormwater. The delay is certainly a victory for the real estate industry, which has been fighting hard to delay the rule and, in particular, its numeric turbidity limit. The industry had complained about the data on which the standard was based, calculation errors by EPA, and what it views as a 10-fold underestimate of the compliance costs.… More
Yesterday, the SJC issued its eagerly awaited decision in Ten Persons of the Commonwealth v. Fellsway Development. I think that the SJC probably got it right. It says something about MEPA jurisprudence, however, that the decision is good for neither citizen plaintiffs nor for developers. I’d suggest that the legislature go back to the drawing board, but it won’t happen and, if it did, I wouldn’t trust the legislature to get it right.… More
It’s easy enough to complain about EPA; I’ve even been known to do it on occasion. However, in Massachusetts, we have a different problem. We let local municipalities regulate all sorts of matters in which they have no expertise. We even delegate to municipalities the implementation of our state Wetlands Protection Act. That’s how we end up with cases such as Lippman v. Conservation Commission of Hopkinton. … More
Environmental liability has always been a dish best served in as many slices as possible. Hence, CERCLA jurisprudence in its first two decades was characterized by a judicial willingness to entertain ever more creative theories to extend environmental liability to new classes of parties, such as a developer who unknowingly moved contaminated soil (Tanglewood East) to a toll manufacturer who merely directed the production of a useful product with knowledge that there would be hazardous waste by-products (Aceto).… More
What is it with Texans and light bulbs lately? The gradual increase in energy efficiency requirements of light bulbs required under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 survived Congressman Joe Barton’s (R-Texas) challenge last week when the Better Use of Light Bulbs (BULB) Act, which would have repealed the standards, failed to pass the House by a vote of 233-193. But on Friday,… More
Last week, in Center for Biological Diversity v. EPA, Judge Henry Kennedy reminded us that, in thinking about whether the existing Clean Air Act requires EPA to address climate change, the actual words of the statute matter. The scope of the climate problem does not obviate the need to parse individual provisions of the CAA and Massachusetts v. EPA did not resolve all issues. … More
Yesterday, EPA finalized the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, or CSAPR, which was the Transport Rule, which had been the Clean Air Interstate Rule. (EPA must have decided that CSAPR results in a more mellifluous acronym.)
The rule is almost too big to describe, except in its broadest terms. EPA has provided a summary of costs and benefits, but even EPA’s summary does not really explain how the rule will be implemented.… 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 in that liberal 9th Circuit,… More
Yesterday, the Supreme Court announced its decision in American Electric Power v. Connecticut, holding that EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act displaced federal common law nuisance claims. I have always thought that the displacement argument was correct, so the decision is not really a surprise (and the 8-0 decision and crisp opinion only confirm that view). The decision is nonetheless important and,… More
This week, in Webster v. USDA, Judge John Bailey of the Northern District of West Virginia rejected a challenge to the Environmental Impact Statement filed for a USDA flood control project. The decision is not particularly startling and does not break new ground, but it does serve as a reminder just how limited judicial review under NEPA is supposed to be – and just how often that limitation is honored only in the breach,… More
As much as I’ve always found EPA’s use of unilateral administrative orders under Section 106 of CERCLA to be offensive, I still expected EPA’s authority to withstand challenge. As I noted previously, not every law that is unfair is unconstitutional. At least for now, the issue has probably been laid to rest. Yesterday, the Supreme Court denied GE’s petition for certiorari seeking to appeal the D.C.… More
The uncertain and often lengthy time to get permitting decisions is always near the top of the list of industry complaints. Section 165 of the Clean Air Act provides some relief by requiring certain permit decisions to be made within one year. Last week, in Avenal Power Center v. EPA, District Judge Richard Leon, in what may comfortably be described as a strongly-worded opinion, held that EPA may not circumvent the one-year limit on permit decisions by carving out from the one-year period the time spent by the Environmental Appeals Board reviewing EPA’s permit decision.… More
In an interesting decision issued late last week in Industrial Communications and Electronics v. Town of Alton, the First Circuit Court of Appeals held that private citizens who had intervened to defend a local zoning limit on cell tower height could continue to do so, notwithstanding that the cell tower provider and the municipal defendant were prepared to settle the case.
Industrial Communications sought to build a 120’… 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).… More
A Quid Without a Quo? Massachusetts Towns May Not Condition Subdivision Approvals On Unrelated Land Donations
Anyone who does development knows the subtle and not-so-subtle quid pro quos that are sometimes exacted by local planning boards. In Massachusetts, a decision issued on Tuesday by the Appeals Court has emphasized that there are limits to what planning boards may require in return for approval of subdivision plans.
Thursday afternoon, EPA and the Tennessee Valley Authority announced one of the largest pollution reduction consent decrees in US history – resulting in between $3 to $5 billion of investment in air pollution controls, and retirement of almost one-third of TVA’s coal-fired generating units within the next few years. Over the next decade, it will reduce TVA’s total emissions of nitrogen oxides by 69% and sulfur dioxide by 67%. … 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 with the legislative mandate.… More
The Regulators Really Do Hold the Cards in Massachusetts: DFW’s Priority Habitat Regulations Survive a Challenge
Anyone who has ever tried to challenge a regulation in Massachusetts knows that it is an uphill battle. Just how tilted the playing field is was reinforced late last month in the decision in Pepin v. Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, rejecting a challenge to DFW’s “priority habitat” regulations. The case involves the Eastern Box Turtle, perhaps the most common of state-listed species.
As our Massachusetts readers know,… More
Recently, I expressed concern that District Courts, which traditionally have never seen a CERCLA plaintiff they didn’t like, would ignore the Supreme Court’s Burlington Northern decision – at least until there is another Supreme Court decision affirming that Supremes really meant the two-part holding in Burlington Northern: (1) divisibility isn’t that hard and (2) parties aren’t liable as arrangers unless they actually intended to dispose of hazardous material. … 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.
Toto, I’ve a Feeling We’re Not in Massachusetts Anymore: Exceeding a Cleanup Standard Is Not Necessarily An Imminent Hazard
In an interesting decision issued earlier this month, Judge Lewis Babcock of the District of Colorado ruled, in County of La Plata v. Brown Group Retail, that detection of contamination at levels exceeding state cleanup standards does not, by itself constitute an imminent and substantial endangerment under RCRA. I think that Judge Babcock is correct, but I can’t help but feel that the decision might be different in the blue state of Massachusetts. I was particularly taken by Judge Babcock’s description of the nature and purpose of state regulatory standards:
Regulatory screening levels,… More
If anyone had any doubts about the significance of the conventional pollutant regulations that EPA would be rolling out, even in the absence of a full cap-and-trade program for GHG, Wednesday’s release of EPA’s revised power plant MACT proposal should go a long way towards eliminating those doubts. As most readers know, the rule replaces the Bush-era MACT rule that would have created a trading program.
The rule poses a problem for critics of EPA. While arguments can be made about the feasibility of some of the standards and the cost to comply,… More
Last month, in discussing the Administration’s brief in the American Electric Power case, I praised the nuanced and persuasive approach that the Administration took in seeking reversal of the 2nd Circuit opinion allowing the states’ public nuisance climate litigation to go forward. The states seeking to prosecute the law suit have now filed their brief and it turns out that they also do nuance. I still think that the Supreme Court will reverse,… More
In late 2009, Judge Griesbach ruled, in Appleton Papers v. George A. Whiting Paper, that parties who were significantly more “blameworthy” than others were not entitled to contribution from the less blameworthy parties. Last week, Judge Griesbach ruled on the cross-contribution motions from the defendants.
The defendants took a simple view. If the plaintiffs are not entitled to contribution from the defendants,… More
While EPA remains under attack by the GOP-majority House, that doesn’t mean that coal is off the hook. To the contrary, coal remains under attack itself. A number of recent stories demonstrate the multi-pronged effort by those who want to reduce or eliminate use of coal. For example, the Environmental Integrity Project and two Texas-based NGOs just filed suit against the Lower Colorado River Authority’s Fayette Power Project,… 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,… 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,… More
This week, the United States filed its brief in American Electric Power v. Connecticut. The brief is a nicely nuanced and persuasive argument for dismissal of plaintiffs’ public nuisance claims against five large power generators. The brief is nuanced in that it acknowledges that plaintiffs have Article III standing – allowing the Court to avoid reaching a constitutional standing issue – and provides a vehicle for the Court to avoid reaching the political question doctrine issue.… More
A Man’s Home (Or Mall Or Other Business) May Be His Castle — But He Still Has to Provide Access When Contamination Is At Issue
Two recent decision illustrate that PRPs do hold some cards in hazardous waste litigation, particularly if they are willing to be aggressive in investigating the contamination. Both cases demonstrate that “victims” or bystanders can face serious consequences if they do not cooperate with the investigation.
Last month, I noted that, in the absence of comprehensive climate legislation, U.S. carbon policy would be a mish-mash of several elements – including more NSR enforcement. In fact, Phillip Brooks, director of EPA’s Air Enforcement Division, had just told an ALI/ABA forum that EPA’s NSR enforcement initiative is alive and well and he predicted more closures of old coal plants as a result of EPA’s NSR enforcement. … 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. … More
Earlier this week, the United States brought another NSR/PSD enforcement action, this time concerning the Homer City Plant, in Pennsylvania. The suit itself isn’t big news, though it’s helpful to have periodical reminders that the NSR enforcement initiative remains active at EPA and DOJ; it is a significant part of the government’s arsenal against traditional pollutants.
It’s also important to remember that,… More
EPA Delivers an Early Christmas Present to Electricity Generators and Refiners — New Source Performance Standards for GHGs
Today, EPA announced settlements of litigation with states and environmental groups which will require EPA to promulgate New Source Performance Standards for greenhouse gas emissions from electric generating units and refineries. EPA will thus give those of us who practice in this area an opportunity to decide which program we find more cumbersome and ill-suited to regulate GHGs, the PSD/NSR program or the NSPS program.… More
How Much Circumstantial Evidence Is Enough To Establish Liability? More Than Just Proximity and a Bad Name
Sometimes, good lawyering does matter. When DVL found PCBs on its property in Fort Edward, New York, and when it looked up and realized that GE had operated a manufacturing facility which utilized PCBs “almost adjacent” to DVL’s property, DVL and its attorneys may have thought that they had a slam dunk case on liability. Not so fast. Last week, in DVL v. General Electric, Judge Lawrence Kahn awarded GE summary judgment on liability,… More
As a follow-up to last week’s post, if you want a handy-dandy rundown of what U.S. carbon policy looks like in the absence of comprehensive federal legislation, take a look at the presentation I gave last week to the Harvard Electricity Policy Group, which summarizes federal, regional, and state regulatory efforts – many of which are not explicitly directed at CO2 – that are likely to have significant impacts on U.S.… 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.… 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,… More
As the holiday approaches, I am particularly thankful that I am not counsel to the Washington State DOT in United States v. Washington State DOT, a case that continues to make me want to take EPA, DOJ, and United States District Judge Robert Bryan by the neck and ask them what the heck are they thinking.
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 class of persons who may challenge the approval or denial of permits….… More
High Stakes and Embryonic Law: FIELD Paper Analyzes Prospects for International Climate Change Litigation
With Kyoto Protocol commitments expiring in 2012, will international climate change litigation be used to push governments towards a binding international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions? Does a country like Bangladesh, threatened with almost total submersion due to the impacts of sea level rise, have a case under public international law against major emitters such as the United States or China? These are some of the questions addressed in a working paper entitled International Climate Change Litigation and the Negotiation Process,… More
In a crisply written opinion by Judge Posner, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals just reversed a district court judgment against Cinergy in the NSR case involving Cinergy’s power plant in Wabash, Indiana, and directed that judgment enter for Cinergy. It is not obvious that the case will have wide applicability, but it is certainly worth noting.
The first key issue in Cinergy was whether proposed new projects would be subject to NSR review if they were expected to result in an increase in annual emissions or only if they would result in an increase in the hourly emissions rate. … More
If environmental lawyers have been wondering when they’re going to get their share of economic stimulus, it’s time to stop wondering. Last week, Cynthia Giles, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, announced that her office would be focusing on higher impact cases. Giles also noted that, by the end of this month, EPA would have more than 200 criminal investigators.
If it weren’t for one statement by Giles,… More
My partner Robby Sanoff blogged last week about the “Illusion of Finality in CERCLA.” His post addressed City of Emeryville v. Sherwin-Williams, in which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a person who was not a party to a prior settlement could bring a contribution claim against such a settling party, at least where the new claim involved contamination at a downgradient property,… More
In City of Emeryville v. The Sherwin-Williams Company, the Ninth Circuit recently underscored that CERCLA settlements can be a risky business that don’t always produce finality, particularly when neither the United States nor a state is a party.
The Ninth Circuit decision grew out of a federal court action by the City of Emeryville involving contamination at a manufacturing facility that had been operated by Sherwin-Williams. Sherwin-Williams settled that suit and obtained what it thought was broad protection against contribution claims based on contamination “at,… 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.
On a day when ClimateWire reported that thousands of walruses are stuck on land because their usual summer home – sea ice – has disappeared, I’m beginning to wonder whether EPA’s stationary source GHG rules are similarly at risk. It may not be difficult for EPA to brush off a fairly over the top letter from Texas which basically asked EPA “What part of ‘hell no” don’t you understand?”
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 –… More
The Cape Wind project cleared another important hurdle yesterday with a 4-2 ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, holding that the state Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) can authorize local construction permits for the project’s transmission lines. The decision in Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound Inc. v. Energy Facilities Siting Board is particularly significant because it means that the renewable energy project has all of the state and local permits it needs to move forward.… More
There Is a Statute of Limitations For Challenging Permits In Massachusetts (Or, We’re Crazy Here, But Not That Crazy)
Those who operate industrial facilities or do development in Massachusetts often know far more than they would like about Chapter 214, § 7A, the environmental citizens’ suit provision of the Massachusetts General Laws. Chapter 214, § 7A, eliminates plaintiffs’ usual obligation to demonstrate standing and simply gives 10 citizens the right to sue to prevent or eliminate “damage to the environment.” The damage does have to constitute a violation of a statute, regulation,… More
On August 12, in Sierra Club v. Otter Tail Power Co., the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the Sierra Club’s suit related to the Big Stone Generating Station, a coal fired power plant in South Dakota. In doing so, it disagreed with EPA and sided with what appears to be the majority on a question that has produced differing responses amongst the courts – whether the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (“PSD”) program prohibits only the construction or modification of a facility without a PSD permit,… More
EPA shows no signs of slowing down in its efforts to use the Clean Air Act’s PSD/NSR provisions as an enforcement club. The latest target in EPA’s crosshairs is the Detroit Edison Monroe Power Plant. Late last month, DOJ filed a complaint alleging violations of PSD/NSR requirements in connection with a project to replace the high temperature reheater and the economizer at Monroe Unit 2. … 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 good news is that EPA is relying on good science. The bad news is that the science says things will keep getting worse.
After several months of review, on July 29, EPA denied 10 petitions to reconsider its 2009 Endangerment Finding for Greenhouse Gases under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act. The petitions, which were filed by, among others, the attorneys general of Texas and Virginia and the US Chamber of Commerce,… More
My apologies if this post is a mash note to Judge Wilkinson. Sometimes a decision is written with such clarity and simplicity that you have to sit up and take notice. Such is the case with yesterday’s decision in North Carolina v. TVA, reversing the District Court decision imposing an injunction against four TVA plants that would have required installation of additional controls for NOx and SO2 ,… 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,… More
There are only two permissible answers to this question:
- I don’t know.
I was reminded of this reality in reading the decision issued earlier this month in Solutia v. McWane, in which Chief Magistrate Judge Greene of the Northern District of Alabama held that a party which incurs response costs pursuant to a consent decree or administrative order may not bring an action for cost recovery under § 107 of CERCLA and is instead limited to a contribution action under § 113 of CERCLA.… More
On July 6, 2010, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) released a proposed rule, dubbed the “Transport Rule”, which would replace the Clean Air Interstate Rule (“CAIR”). As you likely recall, in 2008 the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, in North Carolina v. EPA, found that CAIR had a number of fatal flaws and remanded it to the Agency. (Due to its environmental benefits,… More
It has long been understood that Massachusetts that the Commonwealth cannot meet its renewable energy goals with solar power alone. Solar is great, but really ratcheting up the percentage of energy supplied by renewable sources is going to take a big commitment to wind. In fact, Governor Patrick announced a goal of 2,000 MW of wind on- and off-shore in Massachusetts by 2020. There are currently 17 MW of wind power in Massachusetts.… 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,… More
Last year, I analogized PRP efforts to have CERCLA’s unilateral administrative order provisions declared unconstitutional to Chevy Chase’s repeated announcements during the first year of Saturday Night Live that Francisco Franco was still dead. Eventually, that joke wore out. With yesterday’s decision by the D. C. Circuit Court of Appeals, in General Electric v. Jackson, upholding EPA’s UAO authority, these legal challenges may be similarly about to wear out.… More
Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, the big NEPA case before the Court this term. The District Court had struck down the decision by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to completely deregulate roundup ready alfalfa (RRA). That decision was not actually under appeal. The appeal concerned only the scope of the injunction issued by the District Court,… 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.… More
Last Friday, the Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit issued an order – boggling the minds of lawyers and non-lawyers alike – dismissing the plaintiffs’ appeal in Comer v. Murphy Oil, one of the climate change nuisance cases. As the order and dissents make clear, it’s quite a set of circumstances. The District Court dismissed the case. A panel of the 5th Circuit reversed.… More
In 1972, Christopher Stone published his seminal book “Should Trees Have Standing?” That same year, Justice Douglas posed essentially the same question in his dissent in Sierra Club v. Morton, in which he argued that inanimate objects should have standing “to sue for their own preservation.”
When the Burlington Northern decision was first announced, I concluded that “never has the Supreme Court done so much by doing so little.” On May 5, Judge John Mendez, of he Eastern District of California, proved me at least half right. In United States v. Iron Mountain Mines, joint and several liability was imposed on the defendants in 2002. The 2002 decision stated that “given the nature of pollution at the site,… More
First Kerry-Lieberman, then the Tailoring Rule – a busy week for climate change. Senator Kerry certainly did not miss the coincidence. He called the release of the Tailoring Rule the “last call” for federal legislation. I’ve noted before the leverage that EPA regulation would provide, but this is the most explicit I’ve seen one of the sponsors on the issue.
As to the substance, there are not really any surprises at this point. EPA is certainly working to soften the blow of GHG regulation under the PSD program. Here are the basics (summarized here):
January 2,… More
The Western Climate Initiative is scheduled to begin its cap-and-trade program in 2012. But as ClimateWire highlighted today, the number of states who will be ready and willing to participate in the program is quickly dwindling. Utah is the latest member of the seven-state, four-Canadian-province agreement to announce that it will not have the state authority needed to actually implement a cap-and-trade program in 2012. … More
One of the outstanding questions following the Supreme Court decisions in Aviall and Atlantic Research was whether a party which had entered into a consent decree with the United States and incurred direct response costs as a result could bring an action for cost recovery under § 107 of CERCLA or whether such a settling party would instead have a contribution action under § 113. The problem facing practitioners and the courts following Atlantic Research was that the Supreme Court seemed to have backed itself into a corner. By focusing its analysis of § 113 so narrowly on the traditional common law understanding of contribution,… More
Last week, Judge Thomas Varlan handed the power plant sector a major win in the NSR enforcement arena, ruling that economizer and superheater replacement projects in 1988 at the TVA Bull Run plant were routine maintenance not subject to NSR/PSD regulations. Judge Varlan ruled for the TVA notwithstanding that:
The projects cost millions of dollars (but less than $10M each)
They extended the life of the plant by 20 years
The costs were identified as capital,… More
Last week, Judge John Darrah handed the government a defeat in a PSD/NSR enforcement action, when he ruled that the requirement to obtain permits under the PSD program prior to making major modifications was solely a pre-construction obligation and did not constitute a continuing violation.
United States v. Midwest Generation was one of the recent wave of government PSD/NSR actions, filed last summer. The problem with the government’s case was that Midwest Generation had purchased the six facilities at issue in the case from Commonwealth Edison in 1999 and all of the alleged changes but one were made prior to the purchase.… More
I’ve been waiting to write this headline ever since the SJC took this case. Today, the SJC issued its long-awaited decision in Moot v. Department of Environmental Protection. For those of you who pay attention to where the waters ebbeth and floweth – or at least where they ebbed and flowed in 1641 – you know that this is the second time that Moot has been before the SJC.… More
It’s difficult to keep up with the various moves in Congress, attempting either to advance climate change legislation or to preclude EPA climate change regulation. On the advance side, E&E Daily had a very helpful summary earlier this week on the various issues affecting those senators that will need to be brought on board to reach 60 yes votes in the Senate. The identified issues include, not surprisingly: (1) coal, (2) nuclear power,… More
Massachusetts has an “anti-SLAPP” statute (as do 26 other states at this point, apparently). The law protects “petitioning”, by precluding litigation targeting petitioning, providing an early motion to dismiss, and awarding attorneys’ fees to defendants where a court finds that the defendants were indeed engaged in petitioning activity.
To date, the only circuit courts that have reviewed public nuisance claims related to climate change, the Second Circuit, in American Electric Power, and the Fifth Circuit, in Comer v. Murphy Oil, have ruled that such suits can proceed. However, last week the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decided to hear Comer v. Murphy Oil en banc,… More
Yesterday, EPA Administrator Jackson issued a letter to Senator Jay Rockefeller responding to certain questions regarding EPA regulation of GHGs under existing Clean Air Act authority, including promulgation of the so-called “Tailoring Rule”, describing how stationary source regulation under the existing PSD program would be phased-in once GHGs are subject to regulation. Here are the highlights:
EPA still expects to promulgate the Tailoring Rule by April 2010.… More
The grand total is 16 separate challenges to EPA’s endangerment finding, according to Greenwire. I’m not one of those lawyers who regularly bash the legal profession. I still recall my law school professor, Henry Hansmann, stating that the role of lawyers is in fact to be transaction-cost minimizers, and I think that that is largely true. That being said, I am certainly wondering what all of this litigation is about.… More
Earlier this week, the Southeastern Legal Foundation filed a petition for review of the EPA Endangerment Finding with the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. It’s not really surprising that someone filed suit, but the list of plaintiffs is interesting – though more for who is not on it than who is. There is not a single Fortune 500 company on the list of plaintiffs. Whether that speaks to the larger corporations doubting the merits of the challenge or simply making a strategic decision that it is not worth it to be associated with the litigation,… More
I have never been a fan of specialized courts, but I have to admit that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s MEPA jurisprudence is strong evidence for the other side. It’s almost hard to describe how badly the SJC has mangled MEPA. The most recent example is yesterday’s decision in Town of Canton v. Commissioner of the Massachusetts Highway Department. (Requisite disclaimer – this firm represented the Town of Canton in the case.)
In Canton,… 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,… More
Last week, I reported on a decision by EPA Administrator Jackson, in an appeal from a permit issued by the Kentucky Division of Air Quality, to the effect that the developer of an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plant, which converts coal to gas for combustion, had to consider use of natural gas as BACT, because the plant already had plans to use natural gas as a startup and backup fuel.… More
EPA announced yesterday that it had reached a settlement with Duke Energy to address allegations of New Source Review violations at Duke’s Gallagher coal-fired generating plant in New Albany, Indiana. A jury had already found Duke liable for certain NSR violations at the plant. The settlement obviates the need for a remedy trial, which had been scheduled for early 2010.
Last week, Judge William Griesbach, of the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, issued an important Superfund contribution decision, which shows just how much equitable discretion judges have in resolving contribution claims. In Appleton Papers v. George Whiting Paper, Judge Griesbach ruled, on summary judgment, that one equitable factor, knowledge of the potential environmental harm caused by PCBs, trumped all others,… More
On Tuesday, District Judge Roger Titus issued an injunction against the construction of the Beech Ridge Energy wind project – 122 wind turbines along 23 miles of Appalachian ridgelines – unless the project can obtain an incidental take permit, or ITP, under the Endangered Species Act. Judge Titus concluded, after a four-day trial, that operation of the turbines would cause a “take” of the endangered Indiana Bat.… 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.… More
Two more decisions were released last week concerning whether nuisance claims could be brought with respect to harm alleged to have resulted from private conduct contributing to climate change. First, in Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corporation, the District Court dismissed nuisance claims. Second, in Comer v. Murphy Oil, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a District Court dismissal of nuisance claims related to damage resulting from Hurricane Katrina.… More
In an interesting decision issued a few weeks ago, a District Court in Georgia held that a property manager at a strip mall could not be held liable as an owner of a facility under CERCLA. However, the court held that the property manager could be liable as an operator of the facility. I don’t think that the decision is correct, but if it is the law, then property managers would be wise to consider carefully what responsibilities they are willing to assume and what sort of indemnification agreements may be required with the actual property owners.… More
Late last week, Elliott Gilberg, Acting Director of EPA’s Office of Site Remediation Enforcement (OSRE) issued an Interim Policy on Managing the Duration of Remedial Design/Remedial Action Negotiations. Members of the regulated community may not be surprised by the contents of the memo, but they certainly will not be pleased. In brief, the memorandum fundamentally makes two points:
EPA wants to shorten the duration of RD/RA negotiation
EPA is going to use the heavy hammer of unilateral administrative orders,… More
Another Nuisance For the Generating Industry: The 2nd Circuit Reinstates the GHG Public Nuisance Suit
On Monday, the Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit finally issued a decision in Connecticut v. American Electric Power Company, reversing the District Court decision which had dismissed this public nuisance law suit against six large generating companies. The decision is notable in a number of different respects and may have far-reaching implications
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,… More
In another sign that the NSR program is alive and well under the Obama administration, the United States (together with the State of Illinois, filed suit Thursday against Midwest Generation, alleging violations of NSR requirements at six coal-fired power plants. Although the action is not too surprising, given that the Bush EPA had issued a notice of violation to Midwest Generation in 2007, it remains noteworthy. Each new prosecution serves to remind generators that failure to comply with NSR rules can lead to significant costs.… More
Justice Potter Stewart famously said, with respect to obscenity, that “I know it when I see it.” I fear that the test for what constitutes an imminent and substantial endangerment under RCRA is no clearer than Justice Stewart’s subjective test regarding obscenity.
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’… More
In an important decision yesterday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the operator facility participating in the renewable portfolio standard program did not have standing to challenge a state decision authorizing other facilities to participate in the RPS program. The decision may have broad implications regarding when businesses may challenge the issuance of permits or other approvals to competitors in Massachusetts.
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,… More
Last Friday, in NRDC v. EPA, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down parts of EPA’s Phase 2 rule for achieving compliance with the ozone NAAQS. The most important part of the ruling was the Court’s conclusion that EPA could not rely on compliance with the NOx SIP Call to satisfy the requirement that sources in an ozone nonattainment area demonstrate achievement of reasonably available control technology,… More
Earlier this week, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed a decision of the Superior Court in Georgia that would have required Longleaf Energy Associates, developer of a coal-fired power plant, to perform a BACT analysis of CO2 emissions control technologies in order to obtain an air quality permit for construction of the plant. The case is a reprise of the Deseret Power case regarding a coal-fired plant in Utah.… More
While some of my colleagues are laboring in the climate change vineyards (and we should have posts soon summarizing the House bill), I thought I would note another interesting enforcement decision issued this week. United States v. Oliver is, in some respects, a run of the mill decision. A mom-and-pop medical waste incinerator (the adjective is the court’s not mine; it does give one pause) failed for several years to comply with EPA regulations governing such facilities.… More
In an interesting case, the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit this week vacated most of a preliminary injunction issued by a federal judge in Puerto Rico, because, the Court concluded, the lower court had wrongly, and without doing so explicitly, converted a PI hearing into a hearing on the merits.
For those of you who cannot get enough of Superfund, I spoke at a Boston Bar Association panel on this subject yesterday about the implications of the Supreme Court’s Burlington Northern decision. Thanks to EPA Region I and Joanna Jerison, head of the Region I Superfund Legal Office, for being willing to speak on so obviously sore a subject. And thanks to Craig Campbell for participating on the panel as well.… More
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.… More
In Congressional testimony last month, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson apparently told Congress that amendments to the CAA may be necessary in order to ensure that any revised CAIR rule issued by EPA would be safe from legal challenge. The testimony is not really a surprise. Anyone reading the decision striking down the original CAIR rule would understand that the Court had concluded that the cap-and-trade program promulgated under CAIR was not authorized by the CAA.… More
Last week, Judge Larry McKinney issued an order requiring to shut down three coal-fired generating units at its Wabash Station facility by no later than September 30, 2009. The decision actually struck me as a thoughtful analysis of injunctive relief issues in a situation where a violation of NSR regulations had already been proven. Although the decision has gotten most press for the order shutting down the units, it covers a number of issues important to injunctive relief situations,… More
Earlier this week, the jury reached a verdict in the Cinergy – now Duke Energy – NSR retrial. The short version is simple:
Condensor retubine – no need to go through NSR
Pulverizor replacement – requires NSR
I don’t know all of the details of the case. For example, I don’t know if the pulverizer capacity was expanded when they were replaced. If any readers know the details and want to share them,… More
One more note on the Burlington Northern decision. A client of mine has already noted that one impact of the decision will be to result in more litigation over divisibility, which will be good for private lawyers (ouch!). She’s right, as my clients always are, but she shouldn’t be.
Litigation should only increase if EPA does not adjust its settlement demands. If EPA responds appropriately, and makes demands which reflect a fair resolution of a divisible liability,… More
Those of us who have practiced in the Superfund arena for some time know that the government, in those rare cases where it has been forced to litigate, has used the same oral argument in every case: “Good morning, your honor. My name is ______. I represent the government in this action and we win.” Today, the Supreme Court made clear that that the government now needs a new oral argument template.
This morning, EPA issued a proposed finding that greenhouse gasses contribute to air pollution and may endanger public health or welfare. The proposed finding comes almost exactly two years after the Supreme Court, in Massachusetts v. EPA, ordered the agency to examine whether emissions linked to climate change should be curbed under the Clean Air Act, and marks a major shift in the federal government’s approach to global warming.… More
As some of my clients know all too well, I’ve been spending a lot of time on some Superfund matters recently. Although I can’t remember a period when I didn’t have at least one moderately active Superfund case, significant immersion in complex remedial decision-making and negotiations provides an unwelcome reminder just how flawed CERCLA is. Almost 20 years after the acid rain provisions of the Clean Air Act ushered in wide-spread acceptance of the use of market mechanisms to achieve environmental protection goals and the state of Massachusetts successfully privatized its state Superfund program,… 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,… More
The Empire Strikes Back? Revenge on the NIMBYs? Whatever you want to call it, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce now has a great new web site, called Project No Project, which lists energy projects which have been stalled by local opposition. The site lists project by state and by type, and explains the status of the project, who the opponents are, and what its prospects seem to be.
It is good to see the Chamber join the digital age and adopt some of the methods of those on the other side of these battles.… More
In December, I posted about the decision in Canton v. Paiewonsky, in which Judge Fabricant held that a party seeking to challenge the certificate of the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs approving an Environmental Impact Report must do so within 30 days of issuance of the first permit for a project – even if the plaintiff’s concerns about the project are totally unrelated to that permit and the plaintiff would not be harmed by issuance of the permit. As before,… More
The batting average of the Bush administration EPA in appeals of its regulatory proposals may now have dropped below the proverbial Mendoza line. This week, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia remanded a substantial part of EPA’s particulate rule. That the Bush administration could achieve results where the Mendoza line is even a close metaphor is a testament to just how low its stock has fallen in the courts.… More
The next Bush-era rule to be tossed overboard may be a big one, namely EPA’s hands-off stance on regulation of CO2 for PSD purposes. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said today in a letter to the Sierra Club that the agency would grant the group’s petition seeking reconsideration of former Administrator Johnson’s December 18th memo which described why EPA should not regulate CO2 emissions from new coal-fired plants. Although EPA did not stay the effectiveness of the Johnson memo,… More
We posted recently about the revival of EPA’s NSR enforcement program. Now, yet another shoe has dropped. The Center for Biological Diversity has announced the creation of the Climate Law Institute, the purpose of which is to use citizen law suits under existing laws to advance regulations intended to address climate change. The press release states that the Institute has $17 million in funding with which to pursue its mission.… More
In addition to our post yesterday and the items highlighted in the New York Times Green.Inc blog on the difficulties facing new and existing coal-fired power plants this week, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice have launched what they call a new national crackdown targeting coal-fired plants that violate the Clean Air Act.
The EPA and DOJ announced yesterday that Kentucky Utilities (KU), a coal-fired electric utility, has agreed to spend approximately $135 million on pollution controls to resolve violations of the Clean Air Act New Source Review program. KU will also pay a $1.4 million civil penalty plus $3 million in implementing supplemental environmental projects, or SEPs. Finally, KU will also surrender over 50,000 SO2 allowances shortly after entry of the consent decree, and annually surrender any excess NOx allowances resulting from the installation of pollution control equipment. … More
In Key Tronic Corp. v. United States, the Supreme Court held that costs which are “closely tied to the actual cleanup may constitute a necessary cost of response in and of itself….” Such costs include “work performed in identifying other PRPs.” According to the Supreme Court, “tracking down other responsible solvent polluters increases the probability that a cleanup will be effective and get paid.”
On the other hand,… More
Attorneys who have litigated citizen suits under RCRA have often wondered if there is any possible risk that would not qualify as an “imminent and substantial endangerment,” thus subjecting the person who “contributed” to such endangerment to liability under RCRA.
In Scotchtown Holdings v. Town of Goshen, the District Court for the Southern District of New York earlier this month established at least some outer parameters for this seemingly boundless phrase. In Scotchtown Holdings,… More
Readers of a certain age will recall Chevy Chase’s Weekend Update segment during the first year of Saturday Night Live, when, for a number of shows, he would report that Francisco Franco was still dead. (And isn’t it great that there is actually a Wikipedia article on the subject of Franco still being dead!).
This segment was brought to mind by the report of this week’s decision out of the District Court for the District of Columbia,… More
In a decision that could have significant impact on states’ efforts to limit cross-border pollution, Judge Lacy Thornburg of the District Court for the Western District of North Carolina issued an affirmative injunction against the TVA this week, requiring it to install pollution control equipment at its facilities located nearest to North Carolina and imposing specific emissions limits from those facilities. The basis for the injunction was a finding,… More
“Expert Testimony” Evidence Proof
Last week, I posted about the Pollard decision, which made clear that local boards to not have unlimited discretion to ignore evidence provided by project proponents. This week, the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak. In Macero v. MacDonald, the Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed a decision in favor of a project opponent, on essentially the same analysis as that in Pollard.… More
Following briefing from the parties, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals today withdrew its vacatur of EPA’s Clean Air Interstate Rule. While the decision striking down the rule stands, the Court determined that keeping CAIR in effect while EPA prepares a replacement rule “would at least temporarily preserve the environmental values covered by CAIR.”
EPA rejected a request by the industry plaintiffs to impose a deadline on EPA for issuing the replacement rule,… More
A recent Superior Court decision may significantly affect how appeals are conducted in MEPA cases. In Canton v. Paiewonsky, Judge Fabricant ruled that Canton’s challenge to the MEPA certificate for the Westwood Station project was filed too late, because it was not filed within 30 days of the issuance of the first permit issued to the project, even though the first permit had nothing to do with the basis for Canton’s challenge to the MEPA certificate.… More
Developers and others who appear before local boards know what an uphill battle it is to challenge decisions of those boards. After all, there’s a reason for the existence of the phrase “You can’t fight City Hall.” Of course, it’s never a good idea to fight City Hall unless you absolutely have to do so, but a recent decision from the Massachusetts Appeals Court gives some hope to those forced into that position by a board taking an extreme position.… More
Private Contribution and Cost Recovery Claims Under CERCLA: The State of the Law after Atlantic Research
For those of you who haven’t been keeping up with the law on private cost recovery and contribution claims under CERCLA, following the decision in Atlantic Research, I recently participated in a panel discussion on the issue. A copy of my presentation can be found here.
The most contentious issue during the discussion was whether private parties who have settled with the government and performed direct cleanups –… More
On the better late than never front, I finally got around to reviewing the still relatively recent decision in United States v. Cinergy Corp. regarding the scope of injunctive relief available with respect to violations of the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review, or NSR, provisions. Although the decision was issued in mid-October, its significance is great enough to mention here.
As most readers here will know,… More
Foley Hoag is excited to launch the Law and the Environment Blog. In today’s fast changing world, almost all of us get our news—including our news about developments in environmental law and policy—electronically. This blog is not intended to be a substitute for the BNA™, or Greenwire™, or Google™, although we do hope that we will be able on occasion to let you know about issues that haven’t yet come to your attention.… More
In Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court concluded that greenhouse gases, including CO2, are “air pollutants,” the it left (barely) open the question whether CO2 is “subject to regulation” under the Clean Air Act (“CAA”).
Following Massachusetts v. EPA, there have been a number of cases in which advocates of climate change regulation have sought to require EPA to regulate CO2 as a pollutant. One of those cases,… More
Can a party found liable of violating the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review provisions be required to reduce future pollution more to mitigate emissions caused by past violations? According to a recent U.S. District Court decision, maybe.
In U.S. v. Cinergy Corp., S.D. Ind., No. 99-1693, decided October 14, 2008, the first court to rule on whether retroactive, as opposed to prospective relief, is available under Section 113 of the Clean Air Act found that the court does have the authority to grant such relief. Although the court stopped short of ordering this relief (procedurally,… More
In a recent decision, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed that neither CERCLA nor RCRA provide convenient ways for the buyer of a building containing asbestos to finance the abatement of that asbestos. In Sycamore Industrial Park Associates v. Ericsson, the seller of the building replaced the old heating equipment shortly prior to sale, but left the old system, including piping, in place. The buyer sought to make the seller pay for the asbestos abatement on the ground that the seller has disposed of the old equipment by abandoning it in place when it installed the new system.… More