The unprecedented legal battles over the Clean Power Plan have been on ice for quite some time. However, recent events suggest the rule may start making headline news once again very soon.
On April 26, 2018, a North Carolina jury awarded 10 neighbors $51 million in the first North Carolina hog farming case to be heard before U.S. District Judge W. Earl Britt. Almost a week later on May 9, 2018, Judge Britt reduced the jury’s award of $23 million in punitive damages to nearly $3 million in punitive damages because of a North Carolina state law that limits punitive damages to $250,000-per-plaintiff. This was the first case tried of 26 lawsuits brought by 500 neighbors complaining about hog operations in eastern North Carolina against Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer.
On July 30, the United States Fish and Wild Service (“USFWS”) published notices in the Federal Register withdrawing the USFWS Mitigation Policy and the Endangered Species Act Compensatory Mitigation Policy (“ESA-CMP”). Both of these policies were published in late 2016, at the tail end of the Obama Administration.
On July 20, the U.S. Fish Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) and National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) (collectively, the “Services”) released pre-publication versions of three proposed rules that would significantly affect applicability and implementation of the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). These regulations relate to the process and standards for listing species and designating critical habitat, the scope of protections for threatened species, and the process for consultations with federal agencies under Section 7.
In addition to implementing the Trump Administration’s general deregulatory goals and Executive Order 13777, several of these proposed changes appear directly responsive to negative court precedent from the Ninth Circuit that the Services indicate improperly have extended the ESA beyond its intended scope, while other changes are intended to rollback expansions that were implemented by the Obama Administration. Continue Reading Trump Administration Proposes Broad Changes to Endangered Species Act
On June 18, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) clarified their guidelines for when offsets are required for wetlands impaired by development on the Last Frontier. The new policy recognizes the uniqueness of Alaska for wetlands permitting, by allowing alternatives and flexibility related to compensatory mitigation as Alaska is home to 174 million acres of wetlands covering 43 percent of the land area.
On June 29, 2018, Department of the Interior (“Interior”) issued a public notice withdrawing an opinion issued January 13, 2017 by Interior’s then-Solicitor, Hilary Tompkins, which concluded that Interior retains the authority to acquire land into trust for Alaska natives.
On June 27, 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) submitted its final Management Standards for Hazardous Waste Pharmaceuticals rule (“Pharm Rule”) to the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”), which is charged with reviewing every final and proposed federal agency rule before its publication in the Federal Register. EPA published its proposed Pharm Rule in the Federal Register on September 25, 2015, nearly three years ago, but the final rule then stalled. According to EPA’s Spring 2018 Unified Agenda, EPA anticipates publishing the final Pharm Rule in October 2018. Sending the rule to OMB yesterday signals that EPA may well issue the final rule in October.
The most recent development in the decades-long water wars between Georgia, Florida, and Alabama occurred today at the Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, Justices Breyer, Roberts, Kennedy, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor overruled the Special Master’s February 14, 2017 decision and remanded the case back to him for further consideration on factual issues. In his decision, the Special Master dismissed Florida’s claim against Georgia for its consumptive use of water from the ACF River Basin, stating that Florida failed to carry its burden of demonstrating that a limit on Georgia’s water consumption would make any difference to Florida’s economic and ecological harm.
On June 11, 2018, the Supreme Court summarily affirmed the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in United States v. Washington through a 4-4 split, with Justice Kennedy taking no part in the decision due to his involvement in similar cases during his time as a circuit judge on the Ninth Circuit. The immediate effect of the high court’s decision will be to require the State of Washington to replace or modify, at the State’s expense, several hundred culverts placed in streams under roads and bridges throughout the State. In the longer run, however, the decision could have much more far-reaching impacts related to federal and state obligations to protect against habitat degradation of salmon and other aquatic species pursuant to their obligations under several Nineteenth Century treaties reached with Native American Tribes in the Pacific Northwest.
On June 7, 2018, U.S. EPA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (“ANPR”) aimed at developing a consistent and transparent interpretation of cost and benefits consideration in regulatory analyses, including regulations promulgated pursuant to the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act and other statutes. EPA will accept comments on the ANPR for 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register.
Assessing costs and benefits has been a contentious part of EPA rulemakings. For instance, in the Mercury and Air Toxics (MATS) rulemaking, EPA determined that the monetized cost of the rule would be $9.6 billion annually whereas the monetized benefit would be $4-6 million annually. EPA determined that MATS was nevertheless “appropriate” regulation, but the Supreme Court reversed, ruling that the agency had improperly refused to consider costs. While EPA, during the Obama administration, subsequently modified its “appropriate” determination for the MATS rule, it has been speculated that the Trump administration might take some further action in that regard. Continue Reading EPA Considers Changing its Cost-Benefit Review Process