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: NPDES
Last week, I reported that Judge Rosemary Marquez had vacated the Trump administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule. I also asked “what’s next”? EPA and the Army Corps have now answered that question, at least for the short run. In a brief announcement on EPA’s web page, EPA stated that:
the agencies have halted implementation of the Navigable Waters Protection Rule and are interpreting “waters of the United States” consistent with the pre-2015 regulatory regime until further notice.… More
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
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
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
Sometimes, history repeats itself. Sometimes, that is not a good thing.
After the Obama WOTUS rule was promulgated in 2015, the challenges came fast and furious, and in multiple forums. The Supreme Court, as I put it, adopted the “give me a break” theory over the “just plain nuts” theory, and ruled that challenges to the rule had to be heard in district courts. … More
SCOTUS Gets One Right: Discharges To Groundwater Require Permits, But Only If They Are the Functional Equivalent of a Direct Discharge to Surface Water
The Supreme Court ruled today that discharges to groundwater are subject to the permitting requirements of the Clean Water Act, but only where the “discharge is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge from the point source into navigable waters.”
I don’t often say this about Supreme Court environmental decisions, but I think that the Court got it exactly right.
The apparent dilemma for the Court was that,… More
The attack on science by this administration is not news at this point. Part of that attack has been to increase the number of industry scientists on EPA’s Science Advisory Board. I have no objection per se to additional industry representation on the SAB; a lot of good science gets done by industry. There are dangers, though. When Tony Cox, who is neither a statistician nor an epidemiologist,… More
At the end of the December, the EPA Science Advisory Board posted the text of a letter that the SAB intends to send to Administrator Wheeler concerning the administration’s proposed revision to the WOTUS rule. The SAB’s conclusions were not ambiguous.
The SAB finds that the proposed revised definition of WOTUS decreases protection for our Nation’s waters and does not support the objective of restoring and maintaining “the chemical,… 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
EPA Weighs In On Whether Discharges to Groundwater Can Be Subject to the CWA — You Won’t Be Surprised at the Answer
On Monday, EPA issued an Interpretive Statement concluding that point source discharges to groundwater are never subject to NPDES permitting requirements. EPA did a good job marshalling its arguments – much better than this EPA has done in a number of similar situations.
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
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
As readers of this space know, I have been mystified by the opposition in Massachusetts to obtaining delegation of the NPDES Program. In my temperate way, I have called it an embarrassment.
I have just learned that Idaho was recently delegated authority to operate the NPDES program. Now, only Massachusetts, New Mexico, and New Hampshire remain undelegated.
The Boston Globe said that the current arrangement has worked. … 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
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
Last week, EPA and the Army Corps issued a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in support of their efforts to get rid of the Obama WOTUS rule. It’s a shrewd but cynical document. It’s shrewd, because it fairly effectively shifts the focus from the scientific question to the legal question. Instead of asking what waters must be regulated to ensure that waters of the United States are protected,… 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
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
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
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
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
On Monday, the 9th Circuit affirmed the conviction of a Joseph Robertson, Montana man who:
discharged dredged and fill material into the surrounding wetlands and an adjacent tributary, which flows to Cataract Creek. Cataract Creek is a tributary of the Boulder River, which in turn is a tributary of the Jefferson River—a traditionally navigable water of the United States.
This somewhat attenuated connection to a “traditionally navigable water” put the case in the crosshairs of those seeking to narrow the definition of “Waters of the United States.” Robertson appealed on two grounds relevant to this larger debate. … More
On Tuesday, the Boston Globe joined most local environmental organizations in opposing delegation of the NPDES program to Massachusetts. How wrong is this? Let me count the ways.
- Donald Trump
- Even recognizing, as the Globe points out, that presidential administrations are only four years, does anyone seriously expect the federal EPA budget to be anything other than massively underfunded for the foreseeable future?…
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
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
On Thursday, EPA extended the compliance deadline for its General Permit for Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems for one year, until July 1, 2018. The move almost certainly prompted a collective sigh of relief among both small municipalities directly subject to the rule and developers who would be indirectly impacted, as MS4s struggle to comply.
EPA gave several reasons for the delay:
- The MS4 permit had been challenged,…
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
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 Tuesday, President Trump issued another executive order on the environment, this time directing EPA to revisit the EPA rule defining Waters of the United States under the Clean Water Act. It’s a curious order, for a number of reasons.
First, Section 1 of the EO states as “Policy” that “minimizing regulatory uncertainty” is in the national interest. Well, the purpose of the WOTUS rule was pretty much to reduce the regulatory uncertainty surrounding the definition of WOTUS. … 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
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
As I noted last spring, the Baker administration had filed legislation to support NPDES delegation to Massachusetts. At the time, I supported the delegation effort and pleaded with my friends in the environmental community to support it. Sadly, my pleading fell on deaf ears and the legislation was not enacted.
In supporting the legislation, I pointed out that it would be foolish to oppose delegation on the ground that a Democratic administration in Washington would do a better job protecting the environment from evil polluters than a Republican administration in Boston. … More
Like most federal environmental programs, NPDES program authority is largely delegated to the states. Only four states aren’t delegated: Idaho, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New Mexico. How is it that progressive Massachusetts, always confident that it can do environmental regulation better than anyone else, never obtained delegated authority?
Like Tevye, I’ll tell you. I don’t know.
As announced in the Federal Register this week, EPA finally released the General Permit for small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems in Massachusetts (say that three times fast!)
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
Yesterday, EPA and the Army Corps finally released their long-awaited rule defining “waters of the United States.” I’m actually with EPA and the Corps on this one. It’s an important rule, and I’m glad that EPA and the Corps did finally give up on the guidance approach and issue a rule, but here’s why I don’t see this as earth-shattering.
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
When a number of citizen groups petitioned EPA to determine that it is necessary under the Clean Water Act to promulgate water quality standards for nutrient pollution in the Mississippi River Basin and the Northern Gulf of Mexico, EPA did not decide to issue the standards. It did not decide not to issue the standards. It decided not to decide. Litigation ensued.
Earlier this week,… 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
EPA has been working to craft a general permit for small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems for quite some time. The most recent draft permit, published last September, has received significant comment, most recently from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. While emphasizing cooperation and appreciate for EPA’s efforts at collaboration, it is difficult to read MassDEP’s comments as anything other than as a sign of significant concern about overreach by EPA.… 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
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
It’s All Connected: EPA Finally Determines that the Science Supports an Expansive Definition of Waters of the United States
On Thursday, EPA issued its final report on Connectivity of Streams & Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review & Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence. The Connectivity report is intended to support EPA’s rule clarifying the definition of waters of the United States. I know that groups on all sides will be providing their two cents, but of this I am sure enough to abandon my usual reluctance to speculate: This report will be more than sufficient to insulate EPA’s final rule from judicial challenge. … 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
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
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
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
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
On Monday, EPA finally announced promulgation of its long-awaited rule governing cooling water intake structures at existing facilities. The rule is certainly important, but it’s not earthshattering and it may be more significant for what it does not do than for what it does.
What does it do?
• Facilities that withdraw at least 2MGD must reduce impingement based on a finding that use of modified traveling screens with fish returns constitutes the best technology available (BTA).… 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
Definitely a Victory For Regulations Over Guidance: EPA Issues Proposed Rule Defining Waters of The United States
Tthe Supreme Court issued its decision in Rapanos almost 8 years ago and EPA has been struggling ever since to figure out what “waters of the United States” are within the meaning of the Clean Water Act. After several failed attempts at guidance, EPA finally acknowledged that this issue is too important and too contentious for guidance – and that it merits formal notice and comment regulation. … 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
Stormwater regulation is a thorny issue. There is widespread agreement that nutrient run-off can be a significant problem, but little agreement on what to do about it, since stormwater infrastructure is normally managed by cash-strapped municipalities, but the most cost-effective approach will often not be to require thousands of individual properties owners to make large separate capital expenditures (though best management practices can certainly often provide significant benefit).
The NRDC,… 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
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
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
Last week, what appears to be a draft (so long that it is in two separate parts) of EPA’s proposed rule defining “waters of the United States” was widely circulated. Part of what I love about this story is that it is uncertain whether this is in fact the draft rule that EPA sent to OMB to review. On one hand, it has many of the hallmarks of an EPA proposed rule. … 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
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 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
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
Coming to a Steam Electric Generating Plant Near You in May 2014 — New Effluent Limitation Guidelines
Last Friday, EPA announced release of its draft proposal to revise the effluent guidelines and standards for the steam electric power generating industry, last revised in 1982. The proposal was in conformance with a litigation settlement with environmental groups, which also calls for a final rule by May 22, 2014.
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
EPA Proposes Revisions to the Construction and Development Effluent Guidelines: Time Again To Ask Whether EPA Will Get Any Credit For Being Flexible
Today, EPA formally proposed revisions to its effluent guidelines for stormwater discharges from construction and development point sources. As we have previously noted, in response to concerns about the basis for EPA’s numeric turbidity standards, EPA had stayed the numeric standards. It is now formally proposing to withdraw them.
EPA also responded to concerns that the rule contains certain exceptions where particular practices are infeasible,… 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
In addition to its MCP package, MassDEP has also released its formal regulatory reform proposals for its water, wastewater, wetlands, and waterways programs. As with the MCP proposal, the water package took longer than it should have, and may not be perfect, but is definitely worth the wait. MassDEP has provided two separate helpful summaries of the changes, one concerning wastewater issues and the other concerning wetlands,… More
A Victory For Regulation Over Guidance? Are EPA and the Corps Giving Up on Post-Rapanos Wetlands Guidance?
As readers of this blog know, EPA’s use of guidance is a pet peeve of mine. The issue has arisen with particular force in connection with EPA’s efforts to define Clean Water Act jurisdiction following the Supreme Court decision in Rapanos. When I last posted on this issue, I noted that any potential theoretical benefits to guidance were being outweighed by the practical reality that issuing guidance on such an important issue ends up taking on many of the trappings of regulation,… 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
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
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
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
More Tea Leaves to Read: EPA Announces an Eleven-Month Delay in Its Cooling Water Intake Structure Rule
Earlier this week, I noted that EPA had announced that it was reconsidering parts of the Utility MACT rule and staying its effectiveness for three months. Yesterday, EPA announced that it was delaying for 11 months final promulgation of its cooling water intake structure rule for existing facilities under the Clean Water Act.
E&E News reported yesterday that the U.S. Conference of Mayors has requested a “moratorium” on Clean Water Act enforcement of stormwater limitations on municipalities. The report makes clear that the Mayors avoided an attack on either the CWA or the current EPA administration. Moreover, they acknowledged that there is still “much to be done to protect our water resources.”
Why the moratorium request, then? Two words – they’re broke. One of the mayors who spoke was Michael Bissonnette of Chicopee,… More
Here’s a Suprise — A Cap-and-Trade System For Nutrients Would Substantially Decrease the Cost of Nutrient Reductions in Chesapeake Bay
Yesterday, the Chesapeake Bay Commission released a study showing that implementation of a nutrient trading system would dramatically reduce the cost to achieve nutrient reductions in Chesapeake Bay.
Pardon me if I seem to be posting a lot of dog bites man stories recently.
Although it should not come as a surprise that a trading system would permit nutrient reductions to be attained most cost-effectively,… 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.
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
EPA Further Delays Issuance of Post-Construction Stormwater Regulation Proposal; Contractors and Developers Are Distraught (Not!)
Those following stormwater issues know that EPA is overdue to promulgate a proposed rule for stormwater controls at post-construction sites. The rule has been extremely controversial, with groups such as the Associated General Contractors arguing that EPA has no authority to promulgate post-construction rules. EPA was originally scheduled to issue the proposed rule by September 30. When EPA couldn’t meet that deadline, it negotiated an extension until December 2 (while stating that the deadline for the final rule,… 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
Yesterday, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, or NERC, released its 2011 Long-Term Reliability Assessment. The NERC report identified environmental regulations as one “of the greatest risks” to reliability. Much of the focus of the concern was on EPA’s MACT rule for hazardous air pollutants and its 316(b) rule for cooling water intake structures. While expressing uncertainty about these not-yet finalized rules, the NERC report took an extremely cautious approach,… 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
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
The fight about guidance and rules is in the news again. Yesterday, EPA finalized its guidance on Clean Water Act permitting with respect to mountaintop mining. As most of our readers know, EPA issued Interim Guidance in April 2010. In January 2011, in National Mining Association v. Jackson, Judge Reggie Walton, while denying plaintiff’s preliminary injunction, signaled that he thought that EPA’s Interim Guidance probably was a legislative rule that should have gone through notice and comment rule-making.… 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
After a relatively quiet period, there were a number of items of interest on the air/climate front this week. First, AEP announced that upcoming pollution controls would result in shutting down 6,000 megawatts of coal-fired capacity, or 25% of its coal fleet. AEP also announced that it would spend $6 billion to $8 billion in bringing the rest of its fleet into compliance.
On the flip side of this issue,… More
I posted recently that EPA actually seems to be listening to comments from the regulated community and has changed course in some cases in response to those comments. The release by EPA and the Army Corps yesterday of their long-awaited revised guidance implementing the Supreme Court’s Rapanos decision confirms that EPA is in listening mode. Although I am not normally a fan, this new version seems an appropriate use of guidance.… More
For those of you who thought that the sky was about to fall in EPA as part of the budget battle, I’m able to report that EPA survived sufficiently intact to continue to issue new rules. Today, EPA proposed a draft revised construction general permit, or CGP, for stormwater discharges from construction sites disturbing at least one acre (or less, if the project is part of a common development plan that is greater than one acre). The revised CGP would replace the current CGP which is set to expire on June 30. EPA has proposed to extend the current CGP through January 31,… 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
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.
Sometimes, Settlements Really Are Win-Win Propositions: An Innovative NDPES Settlement That Works For Everyone
I don’t normally blog about cases in which I’m involved, but since this one made the front page of the Boston Globe, I suppose it’s sufficiently newsworthy. Yesterday, EPA announced that a settlement had been reached among EPA, MassDEP, our client GenOn Kendall, and the Charles River Watershed Association and the Conservation Law Foundation concerning the NPDES permit for Kendall Station. As a result of the settlement,… 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
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
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
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
Late July saw some movement on the cooling water intake structure (CWIS) front.
On Friday, July 23, in ConocoPhillips, et al. v. EPA, the Fifth Circuit granted EPA’s motion for a voluntary remand of the existing-facilities portion of its Phase III regulation. The Phase III rule, promulgated in 2006, addressed CWIS at existing small power plants and other facilities in certain industries, including the pulp and paper,… 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
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
EPA’s Move to Regulate Stormwater Discharges from Development Gathers Steam; EPA Issues Mandatory Questionnaire For Public Comment
EPA is proceeding with its plan to establish a new program to regulate stormwater discharges from new development and redevelopment, with a target date for a final rule by November 2012. The next step: the reissuance of draft mandatory questionnaires that, once finalized, will be sent to various stakeholders, including approximately 738,000 owners and developers of residential, industrial and commercial sites. According to EPA, the “target population for the Owner/Developer Questionnaires is all development establishments in the United States,” as defined by 8 NAICS codes (see Part A.4 of EPA’s Supporting Statement for further information on whether your business would be covered).… More
EPA Region 1 continues to roll out new programs on the stormwater front, and this week’s development is particularly important for private property owners in the Charles River watershed. The agency released proposed amendments to the Residual Designation for the Charles River (“RDA”) and a Draft General Permit for Residually Designated Discharges. While the proposed permit only affects the Massachusetts communities of Milford, Bellingham, and Franklin, EPA has stated that it may expand the General Permit to include other Charles River communities in the future,… More
Yet More Bad News for Coal (Mining): EPA Issues Guidance Imposing Numeric Criteria For Discharges From Mountaintop Mining
Last week, EPA proposed to veto a permit for the No. 1 Spruce Mine in West Virginia. Yesterday, EPA went much farther, announcing new guidance – effective immediately – which will impose numeric water quality based effluent limits, or WQBELs, on effluent from surface mining projects. EPA has at least tentatively concluded that high conductivity resulting from discharges of mountaintop fill has adversely affected streams downstream of surface mining operations.… More
Earlier this week, EPA announced release of a draft North Coastal Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System General Permit. Once finalized, the General Permit will affect 84 communities in eastern Massachusetts. EPA has noted that similar MS4 General Permits will also be rolled out for the rest of the Commonwealth.
The draft General Permit is only the latest salvo in an ongoing debate among EPA,… More
Yesterday, EPA released its effluent guidelines for construction sites. The guidelines establish the first national standard containing numeric limitations on stormwater discharges. The final standard imposed is 280 nephelometric turbidity units. It will apply to all construction sites greater than 20 acres in size as of 18 months following the effective date of the regulations (which will be 60 days after Federal Register promulgation) and sites larger than 10 acres 4 years after the effective date.… More
On Tuesday, EPA announced its intention to issue new effluent guidelines for the Steam Electric Power Generating industry by sometime in 2012. The announcement follows an EPA study in 2008 which indicated that toxic metals, particularly those collected as part of flue gas desulfurization processes, can pose a problem in facility effluent. EPA’s announcement is not particularly surprising, given the ongoing study and given that EPA has not revised the guidelines since 1982. Indeed,… More
As we have reported, EPA and MADEP have both been taking steps over the past year to broaden the scope of their stormwater programs beyond existing regulation under the rules concerning stormwater discharges associated with industrial or construction activity. EPA has proposed using residual designation authority in Maine and Massachusetts and the MADEP proposed sweeping rules governing existing private facilities.
In the regulated community,… 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
Demonstrating that the recent announcement of new stormwater controls for the Charles River in Massachusetts were not an aberration, EPA, joining with the Maine DEP, announced last Friday that it will be imposing new stormwater regulations for discharges into Long Creek, which ultimately flows into Casco Bay.
Responding to petitions from the Conservation Law Foundation, EPA has exercised its Residual Designation Authority under its NPDES permitting regulations.… More
Although some of you may think that the regulatory agencies are now all climate change all the time, Massachusetts DEP has demonstrated that there is still life in some more traditional aspects of environmental regulation. MassDEP has just proposed sweeping new stormwater regulations that would go far beyond the traditional EPA model of regulating construction sites and stormwater discharges from industrial facilities.
DEP’s proposal is far too detailed for a blog post. For those interested in this issue,… More
On September 22, EPA issued a new Stormwater Multi-Sector General Permit (MSGP) to cover 4,100 facilities with discharges associated with an industrial activity. The permit replaces the MSGP that was issued in 2000 and expired in October 2005. The expired permit continued to be valid for facilities that were covered by the permit at the time it expired.
The new permit applies to states not authorized to implement EPA’s NPDES program,… More