At the end of September, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued yet another memorandum regarding emissions resulting from startup, shutdown, and malfunctions (SSM) at stationary sources of air pollutants, such as refineries, manufacturing facilities, and power plants. This newest memo announces a return to the policy EPA announced in 2015, when it asked 45 states and local jurisdictions to change their locally written and previously EPA-approved rules. EPA’s goal in 2015 was to eliminate state rules that allow relief from penalties for “SSM” emissions. In 2020, the Trump EPA issued a memo allowing such rules under certain circumstances, but the newest EPA memo puts those rules back on the chopping block. This post provides a brief recap of the long-running debate over SSM emissions and a look forward into what is to come under EPA’s latest policy shift.
In an August 3 opinion in the case of Vecinos para el Bienestar de la Comunidad Costera et al. v. FERC, Case No. 20-1093, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit determined that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or Commission) failed to adequately review the impacts of two proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities on greenhouse gas emissions and environmental justice communities. The court remanded the proceedings to FERC for further consideration and explanation of these issues. Though the decision focused on FERC’s authorization of natural gas facilities, it signaled that the court will carefully scrutinize an agency’s obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a statute that has far-reaching applicability in the hydropower context.
A recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona vacated and remanded the 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR) issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) (together, “Agencies”) that clarified the scope of federal jurisdictional “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Before the promulgation of the NWPR, there had been several rulemakings and much litigation on this complicated issue, causing nationwide confusion on the application of a uniform standard. In 2015, the Obama administration promulgated a WOTUS rule that had been the subject of significant litigation, which the Trump administration had repealed (the “Repeal Rule”). The NWPR sought to provide certainty as to which waterbodies meet the features of WOTUS by creating clear categories of jurisdictional waterbodies.
On August 13, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reissued the Columbia and Lower Snake Rivers Temperature Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which reflects revisions to EPA’s May 18, 2020 Draft TMDL, following a public comment period.
On October 4, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a revision of its interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). With the final rule, FWS has effectively reinstated its position that “incidental take” — the harming or killing that results from, but is not the purpose of, carrying out an otherwise lawful activity — is prohibited by the MBTA, and persons that cause incidental take can be prosecuted criminally. FWS’s final rule represents a reversal of a Trump-era interpretation of the MBTA, which narrowly interpreted liability under the statute to apply only to those actions specifically “directed at” migratory birds that “reduce animals to human control.” See previous post covering the prior rule.
On October 7, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) to revise its regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires federal agencies to take a “hard look” at the environmental impacts of certain proposed projects, but does not mandate any particular outcome. The NOPR is focused on revisions the July 2020 rulemaking completed by the Trump administration, which was the first significant overhaul of the NEPA regulations since their initial promulgation in 1978. The Trump rulemaking included provisions to streamline the NEPA review process, as well as substantive changes to the scope of the review. CEQ’s NOPR follows an announcement early in 2021 by the incoming Biden administration that it planned to review the July 2020 rulemaking. In the NOPR, the Biden administration outlines the aspects of the rule it plans to change: the purpose and need of a proposed agency action, agency procedures for implementing CEQ’s regulations, and the definition of “effects” of a proposed action.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has initiated two rulemaking actions, both expected to be proposed in early 2022, that could change the way the Clean Water Act (CWA) is administered across the country. Together, these actions would elevate tribal rights in water quality regulatory decision-making and could provide EPA with significantly greater authority to regulate discharges on and upstream of tribal lands.
In their article “Are We There Yet? The Challenges of Litigating Clean Air Act Rules,” Mack McGuffey and Melissa Horne discuss the difficulties of getting final answers from the courts in the increasingly polarized political environment of Clean Air Act rulemaking.
This blog post was republished by Law360 on September 14, 2021.
On August 19, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) issued a joint guidance document concerning implementation of EPA’s 2020 Water Quality Certification Rule. The agencies explain that the guidance applies specifically to 41 Clean Water Act Section 404 Nationwide Permits (NWPs) proposed in September 2020 that have already received certification (or for which certification was denied or waived) but have not yet been finalized, and a more detailed enclosure is intended to be applied generally to the Corps’ permit programs. The guidance also cryptically suggests that the agencies may revisit the 16 NWPs that were previously certified and finalized by the Corps in January 2021. In a press release the following day, EPA and the Corps frame the guidance as addressing “implementation challenges” raised by state and tribal certifying authorities. Continue Reading EPA and Army Corp’s Joint Section 401 Guidance Walks Back Regulatory Certainty
On August 13, EPA finalized Clean Water Act (Act) Section 304(a) recommended criteria for phosphorus and nitrogen in lakes and reservoirs. The new recommendations incorporate scientific models that states and tribes with treatment as state status can use to establish numeric water quality criteria for phosphorus and nitrogen, and they mark an important milestone in EPA’s long-running war on excess nutrients in the nation’s surface waters. In the new recommended lakes criteria, EPA is embracing a stressor-response approach to managing nutrients, instead of the least-disturbed reference method. This is a significant move for the agency and has the potential to set a positive precedent going forward for EPA and state and tribal regulators to re-evaluate the utility of the reference method approach in other contexts.