On November 22, 2019, the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) agreed to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for the operation of the federally owned and operated Chief Joseph Dam, the second-largest hydropower producing dam in the United States, as part of a settlement with the Columbia Riverkeeper. The settlement resolves litigation (previously addressed on this blog) brought by the Columbia Riverkeeper, which claimed that the Corps’ dam operations had long been discharging oil, grease, and heated water into the Columbia River without a permit.

Sections 301(a) and 402 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) prohibit anyone, including a federal agency, from discharging “pollutants” through a “point source” into a “water of the United States” except as authorized by a NPDES permit. Section 505 of the CWA provides any citizen, including a citizen group like Columbia Riverkeeper, the ability to bring a civil action against any person, including the United States, that is violating an effluent standard or limitation. As detailed by its complaint, the Columbia Riverkeeper alleged that the Corps has been in violation of CWA standards by allowing oils and grease to accumulate in sumps that drain into the river and utilizing hydro-carbon based lubricants on generation equipment that become discharged with cooling water without a NPDES permit. Continue Reading Army Corps Agrees to Obtain Clean Water Act Permit to Operate Federal Hydroelectric Dam

Under the Obama Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a rule on January 13, 2017 amending parts of the Clean Air Act’s (CAA) Risk Management Plan (RMP) program, which regulates facilities that use hazardous substances.  Among other things, the Obama Administration’s 2017 RMP Rule implemented new requirements related to technology and alternatives analyses, third-party audits, disclosure requirements, and incident investigations.  Similarly to other areas of environmental law, the Trump Administration expressed its intention to repeal these requirements shortly after entering office.  After issuing a May 30, 2018 proposed rule and considering nearly 77,360 submitted comments, the EPA recently made good on its intention by releasing the pre-publication version of final RMP Reconsideration Rule that, among other things, repeals the Obama Administration regulations.

The final rule incorporates most of the substantive provisions in the proposed rule.  In addition to repealing much of the 2017 RMP Rule, the RMP Reconsideration Rule modifies the requirements related to local emergency coordination and compliance dates for some provisions.  The Reconsideration Rule will become immediately effective upon its publication in the Federal Register, which should occur soon.  Parties are also expected to challenge the RMP Reconsideration Rule in court, potentially resulting in the delay of the rule’s effective date or its reversal.  One potential challenger is a contingent of fourteen state attorney generals that submitted negative comments on the proposed rule.  More recently, the states submitted another comment listing chemical incidents that have occurred since the proposed rule, which they argue further evidences the need to keep the 2017 RMP Rule. Continue Reading The Trump Administration Repeals Obama Workplace Chemical Requirements

On November 15, EPA posted its pre-publication version of the Final Rule re-classifying aerosol cans as “universal waste” under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which finalizes EPA’s March 16, 2018 proposal (83 Fed. Reg. 11,654).  As discussed in our prior blog post regarding the proposal, many aerosol cans have historically been classified as hazardous waste because of their ignitability, and thus often are subject to stringent regulations related to handling, transportation, and disposal.

Universal waste is a sub-category of RCRA regulated hazardous waste that allows certain widely generated products, such as batteries, certain pesticides, and lamps, to qualify for less stringent regulation than the traditional hazardous waste regime.  The Final Rule is intended by EPA to ease regulatory burdens on retail stores and others that discard hazardous waste aerosol cans by providing an optional pathway for streamlined waste management treatment; promote the collection and recycling of these cans; and encourage the development of municipal and commercial programs to reduce the quantity of aerosol cans going to municipal solid waste landfills or combustors.  Continue Reading EPA Finalizes Rule Classifying Aerosol Cans as Universal Waste

On November 13, 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officially opened the public comment period for its proposed revisions to its Lead and Copper Rule under the Safe Water Drinking Act. The EPA will receive comments on the proposal until January 13, 2020. A copy of proposal can be found here and an explanation of the major proposed rule changes can found here.

On November, 4, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the latest proposal to amend the Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) rule. Since its original promulgation in April 2015, the CCR rule has been the subject of extensive litigation and numerous rounds of proposed and final revisions. Many of the revisions have sought to address decisions made by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (D.C. Circuit) and concerns raised by both industry and environmental groups. This latest round of proposed changes—entitled “A Holistic Approach to Closure Part A: Deadline to Initiate Closure”—includes the following three categories of proposed amendments to the CCR Rule. Continue Reading EPA Proposes Additional Round of CCR Rule Revisions

EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ new rule repealing the 2015 “Clean Water Rule,” will be published in the Federal Register tomorrow.

The “repeal rule” will take effect December 20, 2019, providing nationwide consistency regarding the jurisdiction of Waters of the U.S. and ending the current state-by-state patchwork of where the 2015 Clean Water Rule is in effect. As of December 20, the regulatory interpretation of Waters of the U.S. in place prior to the Clean Water Rule will be the basis for determining jurisdiction.

This is the final act for the first step in a repeal and replace process, with EPA and the Corps continuing to work on a new Waters of the U.S. rulemaking which they expect to publish early in 2020.

On October 10, 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced long-awaited proposed revisions to its Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The proposed LCR revisions come nearly 30 years after the federal government last updated its lead and copper testing procedures. Originally promulgated in 1991, the LCR has long been criticized for its imprecise language and has come under fire in recent years in the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Continue Reading EPA Proposes Significant Revisions to Lead and Copper Rule

Under the Obama Administration, EPA issued rules for new sources in the oil and gas sector, both to expand the kinds of sources covered and to begin regulating a new pollutant—methane.  Although those rules were not expected to achieve significant new reductions in emissions, they triggered a requirement for EPA to expand its methane regulations further to existing sources.

Continue Reading EPA Seeks to Refocus Air Regs for Oil & Gas to “Obviate” the Need for Methane Rules

EPA’s first major action under its February 2019 comprehensive Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Action Plan (previously discussed in detail here) is out. On September 25, EPA sent a request for public input on whether EPA should add “certain PFAS chemicals” to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). EPA issues advance notices of proposed rulemaking to get a sense of public reaction before it initiates an important regulatory change, typically before it has conducted significant research or expended agency resources. Continue Reading EPA Seeks Public Input on Adding PFAS to the Toxic Release Inventory

On June 7, 2019, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation’s (ACHP) Office of General Counsel issued a memorandum to ACHP staff, clarifying the distinction between direct and indirect effects in meeting obligations under section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).  ACHP’s memorandum is important to utilities, industrial, commercial and other entities because federal licensing and permitting agencies (e.g., U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Department of the Interior) are required under NHPA section 106 to evaluate effects of the license or permit on properties that are listed, or eligible for listing, in the National Register of Historic Places.  ACHP’s memorandum clarified that direct effects may be the result of a physical connection, but may also include visual, auditory, or atmospheric impacts as well. Continue Reading Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Issues Memo on Direct and Indirect Effects under the National Historic Preservation Act