Yesterday a group of organizations with ties to the Shenandoah River sued the EPA claiming that EPA violated the Clean Water Act (CWA) by approving Virginia’s 2014 305(b)/303(d) Water Quality Assessment Integrated Report (Integrated Report) which includes a listing of Virginia’s water quality-impaired rivers.  The groups claim that Virginia failed to evaluate data and information showing impairments to the North Fork, South Fork, and main stem of the Shenandoah River and their tributaries (collectively the Shenandoah River) due to algae blooms resulting from nutrient over enrichment, and as a result failed to add the Shenandoah River to the impaired waters list. The groups claim that EPA’s approval of Virginia’s Integrated Report violated the CWA because EPA relied on Virginia’s determination that it is too challenging to apply Virginia’s water quality standards to algal blooms, and therefore EPA failed to require that the Shenandoah River be listed as impaired by excessive algae and that as a result EPA also failed to promulgate a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the pollutants causing the impairment in violation of its obligations under CWA § 303(d)(2).  Continue Reading Suit against EPA Claims CWA Violations for Approving Virginia’s Water Quality Assessment Integrated Report

On April 5, 2017, the EPA responded to a request from industry stakeholders saying it will reconsider the Obama-era Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for the Steam Electric Power Generating Point Source Category rule (“ELG Rule”) that set the first federal limits on how much toxic metal can be discharged with power plants’ wastewater.  80 Fed. Reg. 67838 (Nov. 3, 2015).

Continue Reading EPA Letter Announces Plans to Reconsider Power Plant ELG Rule and Intent to Request to Stay Pending Litigation

On April 10, the D.C. Circuit heard oral argument in an appeal filed by Sierra Club and other environmental groups seeking to force EPA to release utility effluent treatment data that the agency used to inform its Steam Electric Effluent Limitations Guidelines (ELG) rule.  The environmental groups are requesting that the D.C. Circuit overturn the district court’s ruling, which sides with EPA. EPA collected the data from electric utility companies on their wastewater treatment technologies, pollutants, and incremental costs.  The environmental groups plan to use the data to support their appeal of the ELG rule, which is pending in the 5th Circuit.

Continue Reading D.C. Circuit Hears Oral Argument in Utility ELG Data Suit

Among the provisions of President Trump’s March 28, 2017,  Executive Order “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth” (the “Executive Order”) is the repeal of President Obama’s November 3, 2015, Presidential Memorandum entitled “Mitigating Impacts on Natural Resources from Development and Encouraging Related Private Investment” (the “Obama Memorandum”).  The Executive Order also directed all agencies to identify “Agency Actions” (existing regulations, orders, guidance documents, polices, and other similar agency actions) arising from the Obama Memorandum and, as appropriate, and “as soon as practicable, suspend, revise, or rescind, or publish for notice and comment proposed rules [to do so]…”

Continue Reading Trump and Zinke Orders Set Stage for Review of Federal Mitigation Policy

In a brief ceremony yesterday, President Trump signed an Executive Order requiring EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review the final “Clean Water Rule,” also known as the  Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule to ensure it is consistent with a new policy also laid out in the order to keep the Nation’s navigable waters free from pollution “while at the same time promoting economic growth, minimizing regulatory uncertainty, and showing due regard for the roles played by Congress and the States under the Constitution.”  Although implementation of the Rule has been stayed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit pending further court review, the Executive Order also requires EPA and the Corps to review all orders, rules, regulations, guidelines, or policies implementing the Rule and to revise or rescind such rules consistent with the Executive Order.

Continue Reading Trump Issues Executive Order Compelling EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Formally Review WOTUS

In a seventy page opinion, Special Master Ralph Lancaster issued his recommendation to the Supreme Court today concluding that Florida had not met its burden of demonstrating by clear and convincing evidence that Georgia should be burdened with a consumption cap on its water use.  Key to the Special Master’s ruling was a finding that because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would not be controlled by any decree of Court, a consumption cap remedy would be ineffectual.  The Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) river basin is composed of two major forks, the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee fork that is highly regulated by the Corps in terms of streamflows, and the Flint fork for which there is little to no regulation.

Continue Reading Special Master Rejects Florida’s Claim For More Water From Georgia

Applying Chevron deference, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on January 18, 2017, reversed the Southern District of New York by a 2-1 margin and concluded that the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (the “EPA”) Water Transfers Rule that permits transfers between waters of the United States without a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permit was sound.  (Catskill Mountains Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Inc. et al. v. USEPA, et al., U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, Docket Nos. 14-1823, 14-1909, 14-1991, 14-1997, 14-2003, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 914). The controversy stemmed from the transfer of water from the Schoharie Reservoir through the Shandaken Tunnel into the Esopus Creek in New York.  Historically, the EPA has taken a hands-off approach to water transfers, choosing not to subject them to the requirements of the NPDES permitting program established by the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) in 1972.

Continue Reading Second Circuit Gives Thumbs Up To EPA Water Transfers Rule

On January 12, 2017, EPA published a final rule adjusting for inflation the civil monetary penalty amounts for the statutes it administers. This most recent adjustment follows on the heels of a major adjustment finalized in July 2016.  These adjustments are mandated by 2015 revisions to the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act.  The new law required agencies to make initial “catch-up” adjustments by July 2016, followed by annual inflation adjustments beginning January 15, 2017.  In the past, EPA only adjusted penalty levels for inflation once every several years.

Continue Reading EPA Increases Maximum Civil Monetary Penalty Amounts

The Supreme Court granted certiorari today in the long running dispute as to whether the federal district courts or appellate courts have jurisdiction to decide the viability of the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) Rule under the Clean Water Act.  The controversial definitional section proposed for the CWA would expand federal jurisdiction for waterways and wetlands.  Set for review is the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit’s decision to hear legal challenges over the rule in lieu of district courts who are considered to be a potentially more favorable venue.  Multiple state, industry and farm groups have challenged the joint U.S. EPA-Army Corps of Engineers’ rule.  In February, the Sixth Circuit ruled 2-1 that it had jurisdiction to hear the challenges rather than the district courts. A nationwide stay of the rule accompanied the Circuit’s ruling pending the resolution of the litigation. The National Association of Manufacturers, along with 31 states, petitioned the Supreme Court to reconsider the Sixth Circuit’s jurisdictional decision.