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.

Continue Reading EPA Finalizes Recommended Nutrient Criteria for Lakes and Reservoirs

Section 7(h) of the Natural Gas Act (NGA) and Section 21 Federal Power Act (FPA) respectively vest Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or Commission) natural gas pipeline certificate holders or hydroelectric licensees with the ability to exercise the federal power of eminent domain to condemn property when the project proponent is unable to acquire necessary rights by contract or negotiation with the property owner. On June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court, in PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC v. New Jersey, No. 19-1039, held that the 11th Amendment of the Constitution does not bar a certificate holder under the NGA from exercising eminent domain to condemn state-owned property. Significantly for hydropower projects, the Supreme Court’s holding also potentially provides clarity that the 11th Amendment is not a bar to the analogous Section 21 provision of the FPA if a hydroelectric licensee must exercise eminent domain over project-necessary state-owned lands.

Continue Reading Hydroelectric Impact of PennEast Supreme Court Gas Pipeline Condemnation Ruling

On July 6, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced a funding opportunity for the research and development of wave energy converter (WEC) technologies for advancement toward wave energy commercial viability. As much as $27 million in federal funding is available for WEC technologies still in the early stages of development for testing at PacWave, an open ocean wave energy testing facility consisting of two sites, each located just a few miles from the deep-water port of Newport, OR.

Continue Reading Department of Energy Announces Funding Opportunity for Wave Energy Converter Technology

The Virginia Code requires a site suitability determination for all projects seeking air emission permits. Va. Code 10.1-1307.E. While this provision has been in place for decades, it has never received significant attention, and has historically been interpreted to require compliance with local zoning laws. In 2020, however, environmental groups used the law to successfully challenge a minor new source permit for a compressor station associated with an interstate natural gas pipeline. They argued that the site suitability analysis undertaken by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) did not adequately address or consider environmental justice concerns, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Friends of Buckingham v. State Air Pollution Control Bd., 947 F. 3d 68 (4th Cir. 2020).

Continue Reading Virginia Initiates Regulatory Process to Consider Environmental Justice in Air Permitting Actions

EPA announced yesterday its intent to revise some portions of the 2020 Steam Electric Effluent Limitation Guideline Reconsideration Rule (2020 ELG Rule). EPA’s press release and the pre-publication version of its Federal Register notice sent a clear message that the agency is aiming at membrane technology to control flue gas desulfurization (FGD) wastewater discharges from coal-fired power plants. The notice also states that the agency will reconsider the technology selected for bottom ash transport, and it may revise or eliminate the subcategories created by the 2020 ELG Rule for high-flow facilities, low-utilization facilities, and for facilities that commit to retire or repower coal-fired units by 2028.

Continue Reading EPA Signals More Stringent Regulation for Steam Electric Power Generators

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) was adopted in 1996 to give Congress a more powerful check on agency regulation that outpaces congressional intent. But now, for the first time, Congress has used that powerful authority in reverse. By disapproving a de-regulatory action — the rescission of the Subpart OOOOa new source methane standards for the oil and gas sector — Congress has brought a dead rule back to life. The birth, death, and now re-birth of Subpart OOOOa (often pronounced “quad-O-A”) raises several new and important questions. Continue Reading Subpart OOOOa: What Happens When Congress Revives a Repealed Rule?

Now that we’re past July 4th and on the downhill side of summer, thoughts are turning to what EPA and the courts might do this fall with the many air quality and climate change issues before them. Here is a list of some of the most closely watched rulemakings on EPA’s recently released regulatory agenda and some key issues to watch for under the new Biden EPA. The ID numbers below for each agenda item contain links that will take you directly to the webpage tracking the status of the action.

Continue Reading What’s Next? EPA’s Air Agenda Highlights Priorities

There has been a longstanding debate about how to apply the one-year time limit on Clean Water Act Section 401 certification decisions. The D.C. Circuit court in Hoopa Valley Tribe v. FERC, 913 F.3d 1099 (D.C. Cir. 2019) established a bright-line standard that a 401 certification must be issued or denied within one year of receipt of application, or the certification opportunity is waived. States cannot engage in actions to extend this deadline by requiring an applicant to withdraw and refile their application or by finding an application incomplete. This bright-line test was reinforced by the Second Circuit’s more recent decision in New York State Department of Environmental Conservation v. FERC, 991 F.3d 439 (2d Cir. 2021). This interpretation was also codified in EPA’s 2020 Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Rule. See 85 Fed. Reg. 42210 (July 13, 2020). However, on July 2, the Fourth Circuit offered a different interpretation of Section 401 in its decision in N.C. Department of Environmental Quality v. FERC, No. 20-1655 (McMahan Hydro).

Continue Reading The Fourth Circuit Weighs In on the Interpretation of CWA Section 401

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling June 21 that certain releases of air pollutants “subject to” Clean Air Act (CAA) requirements, even if not in compliance or specifically named in a permit, are exempt from release reporting requirements under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). Clean Air Council v. United States Steel Corporation, No. 20-221 (3rd Cir. filed June 21, 2021). This ruling undercuts a longstanding EPA interpretation of the CERCLA reporting requirement that limited the exemption to only those releases actually in compliance with a federal CAA permit.

Continue Reading Appeals Court Upholds Expansive Interpretation of Clean Air Act Exemption from CERCLA Release Reporting