Today the Supreme Court issued its order list from its February 15 Conference during which it considered whether to grant certiorari in two pending petitions regarding discharges of pollutants to groundwater that is hydrologically connected to surface water. The Court granted certiorari in County of Maui, HI v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, et al. only as to the question of “whether the CWA requires a permit when pollutants originate from a point source but are conveyed to navigable waters by a nonpoint source, such as groundwater.”

The Court did not take action on the other pending petition regarding this issue in Upstate Forever v. Kinder Morgan. However, the Supreme Court has shown interest in the Upstate Forever case as well, asking the Solicitor General to file a brief expressing the views of the United States. The Solicitor General filed its brief on January 3, 2019 stating that Supreme Court review is warranted in the case but asking the Court to hold the petition in Upstate Forever until the Court’s disposition of the Count of Maui petition, which is the course the Supreme Court has now taken. For now, the Supreme Court will hear at least one case on this issue which is not unexpected given the Circuit split between the Fourth, Sixth, and Ninth Circuits.

EPA recently released its FY 2018 Enforcement Results highlighting the environmental benefits reaped from its enforcement and compliance assurance actions over the past year.  This year’s report shows a marked shift away from previous years’ reports, which focused on the number of cases initiated and resolved and the amount of penalties imposed.  Overall enforcement numbers declined over previous years, with a continuing decline in inspections from 10,612 in FY 2018 compared to 11,941 in FY 2017, fewer cases initiated and concluded, and few penalties imposed from $69.4 million in FY 2018 compared to $1.67 billion in FY 2017.  To contextualize the penalty reduction, EPA notes that annual penalty totals are often skewed by one or two large cases in a particular year, such as the Volkswagen mobile source defeat device enforcement with $1.45 billion in penalties in FY 2017 and the $5.7 billion in penalties assessed in FY 2016 for the BP oil spill.  Despite other reductions, the report shows an increase in enforcement of environmental crimes for FY 2018.

Continue Reading EPA Releases 2018 Enforcement Results Showing Declining Enforcement, Shifting Priorities

On February 14, 2019, EPA announced the release of its Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Action Plan (Action Plan) in an unprecedented series of simultaneous press conferences across all 10 of its Regions.  The Action Plan brings together and organizes regulatory, enforcement, and scientific efforts across nearly all of the Agency’s statutory programs, including the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund), and the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA).  Some of the components of the Action Plan are entirely new, while others represent the continuation or revival of prior initiatives.  Below we summarize the highlights of the 60+ page Plan.

Continue Reading EPA Releases Multi-Pronged Action Plan for PFAS

The Trump Administration’s proposed rule regarding the definition of Waters of the United States under the Clean Water Act (“WOTUS Rule”) was published yesterday in the Federal Register.  The EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will receive comments on the proposal until April 15, 2019.  As covered in a previous blog post, a pre-publication version of the proposed rule was initially released in December 2018, which is substantively the same as the version published yesterday.

On February 6, 2018, David Ross, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water issued a new guidance memorandum updating the Agency’s Water Quality Trading Policy.  The new guidance strongly supports and promotes trading and flexibility and clarifies EPA’s previous guidance, stating, for example, that its 2003 Water Quality Trading Policy “may be too prescriptive to be widely effective and implementable.”  The guidance announces six “Market-Based Principles” designed to encourage and promote the development and implementation of market-based pollutant reduction programs.  The six principles include:

Continue Reading EPA Issues Guidance Updating Water Quality Trading Policy

On January 23, 2019 and February 6, 2019, OSHA and EPA, respectively, published their annual civil monetary penalty adjustments in the Federal Register. The Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 2015 requires federal agencies to make annual inflation adjustments to federal statutory civil penalty amounts. The annual inflation adjustments are based on a cost-of-living multiplier determined by changes to the Consumer Price Index. Continue Reading EPA and OSHA Publish Annual Inflation Adjustments to Civil Penalty Amounts

The U.S. Department of the Army’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Works has issued a policy directive memorandum requiring the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to adhere to a “default time period” of 60 days for states to act on a request for water quality certification under Clean Water Act Section 401 with regard to USACE’s issuance of dredge and fill permits under CWA Section 404.  The policy memorandum also requires USACE to “immediately draft guidance” to establish criteria for USACE District Engineers to identify circumstances that may warrant additional time for states to decide on an application for water quality certification.

Continue Reading U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Tighten Clean Water Act 401 Certification Timeframes

EPA recently released the pre-publication version of its proposed National Compliance Initiatives for FY 2020-2023.  Notably, consistent with Susan Bodine’s August 21, 2018 Memorandum “Transition from National Enforcement Initiatives to National Compliance Initiatives,” EPA has extended the cycle from two years to four years, moved away from sector targeting, and updated its focus for FY 2020-2023 from enforcement to compliance initiatives.  EPA believes this adjusted focus will “better convey the overarching goal of increased compliance and the use of not only enforcement actions, but the full range of compliance assurance tools.”

Continue Reading EPA Proposing FY 2020-2023 National Compliance Initiatives

On January 25, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, in a unanimous decision, granted a petition for review in Hoopa Valley Tribe v. FERC, No. 14-1271 (D.C. Cir., Jan. 25, 2019). The key holding in the case, which concerns the ongoing Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s relicensing of the Klamath Hydroelectric Project, is that the States of California and Oregon waived their authorities under section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. § 1341, by failing to rule on the applicant’s submitted application for water quality certification within one year from when it was initially filed in 2006. The applicant for many years had followed, at the request of the States, the common industry practice of “withdraw-and-resubmit” of its water quality certification application in an attempt to annually reset the one-year time period for the States to act, as established under CWA section 401. The D.C. Circuit in Hoopa Valley Tribe invalidated this practice as a means of resetting the statutory clock, instead holding that the clear text of CWA establishes that “a full year is the absolute maximum” time for a state to decide on a water quality certification application. Continue Reading D.C. Circuit Strikes Down “Withdraw-and-Resubmit” Practice for State Water Quality Certifications

EPA has reset the public hearing date on its proposed revisions to the New Source Performance Standards governing CO2 emissions from new, modified and reconstructed Electric Generating Units (EGUs).  The hearing, originally scheduled for January 8th and then postponed until January 30th, is now scheduled for February 14th in Washington, D.C.  Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to keep the record open for 30 days after the public hearing. Therefore, EPA is also extending the deadline for written comments from February 19th to March 18th.   The announcement has been posted on EPA’s website and will also be published in the Federal Register.