Following the Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) July 2020 overhaul of regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), environmental plaintiffs filed a series of lawsuits challenging the rule in federal courts in California, Virginia, New York, and the District of Columbia. The plaintiffs argued that CEQ violated NEPA itself in promulgating the final rule by failing to prepare an environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS). They also argued that CEQ ran afoul of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) by failing to follow notice-and-comment requirements, by issuing a final rule that is “arbitrary and capricious,” and by improperly narrowing both the scope of projects under review and the types of impacts agencies should consider.

Continue Reading NEPA Litigation Update

On July 16, 2020, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published its long-awaited final rule to amend its regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), introducing important changes to the 40-year-old review process. The statute requires federal agencies to take a “hard look” at the environmental impacts of certain proposed projects, but does not mandate any particular outcome. The final rule follows CEQ’s June 2018 Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANOPR) and the January 2020 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR), which we previously discussed here. Continue Reading CEQ Final Rule Overhauls NEPA Regulations

On Tuesday, March 10, the comment period closed on the Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) to update its regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

CEQ published its proposed rule on January 10, 2020 (see January 15, 2020 edition of the Environmental Law & Policy Monitor). CEQ’s proposed rule aims to update its regulations—which have not been modified since they were released in 1978—by streamlining the NEPA process and instituting changes to reduce delays and paperwork, and modifying the scope of agencies review of proposed actions.

Continue Reading Comments Filed on CEQ’s Proposed NEPA Rule

On January 10, 2020, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published the long-awaited proposed rule to amend its regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA).  The statute, sometimes pejoratively referred to as a “paper-tiger,” requires a federal agency to take a hard look at the environmental impacts of certain proposed projects, but does not mandate any particular outcome.

Continue Reading Council on Environmental Quality Proposes Long-Awaited NEPA Regulations Overhaul

On June 21, 2019, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released a new draft guidance redefining the process federal agencies will use to evaluate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In marked contrast to GHG guidance issued by CEQ under the Obama Administration in 2016, the draft guidance encourages federal agencies undertaking NEPA review to follow the “rule of reason” and use their “expertise and experience” to decide whether and to what degree the agency will analyze particular effects of GHG emissions. Therefore, the draft guidance moves to a more deferential approach to agency review under NEPA than the Obama Administration’s prescriptive guidance. The draft guidance will be published in the Federal Register for public review and comment. If finalized, it will replace the Obama Administration’s 2016 guidance, which was withdrawn effective April 5, 2017, after President Trump issued Executive Order (EO) 13783, “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.”  Continue Reading A Clear Shift in Policy: CEQ Issues Draft Guidance for Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Under NEPA

On June 1, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a final rule clarifying substantive authorities and procedural requirements for water quality certifications under section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA). EPA’s August 2019 notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) (summarized in our previous post) articulated the Agency’s first-ever statutory interpretation of section 401 since its enactment nearly 50 years ago, and proposed sweeping substantive and procedural changes to its section 401 regulations in conformance with its interpretation. EPA’s final rule largely adopts the regulations in its NOPR, but makes important changes in adopting new regulations that preserve authority of states and Native American tribes exercising “Treatment as a State” (TAS) authorization to ensure that discharges from federally licensed and permitted activities meet state and tribal water quality requirements. Continue Reading Long-Awaited EPA Rule Overhauls Section 401 of Clean Water Act

In a surprisingly broad decision, the District of Montana vacated the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) Nationwide Permit (“NWP”) 12 on April 15, 2020.  NWP 12 authorizes impacts from “utility line activities” to jurisdictional waters that have minimal individual and cumulative adverse environmental effects. “Utility line” is broadly defined to include pipelines and any cable, line, or wire for the purpose of transmitting electricity or communication. The court found that the Corps failed to comply with the Endangered Species Act (“ESA), and thus remanded NWP 12 to the Corps for consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (the “Services”) in accordance with Section 7 of the ESA. The court’s order prohibits the Corps from authorizing “any dredge or fill activities under NWP 12 pending completion of the [ESA Section 7] consultation process.”

Continue Reading Montana District Court Vacates and Remands Clean Water Act Nationwide Permit 12

On February 20, 2020, Earthjustice, on behalf of a variety of nonprofit organizations, including the Sierra Club, brought suit against the United States Department of Defense (“DOD”), alleging that the DOD violated the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) and the National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) in its decision to enter into contracts for the incineration of its unused stockpiles of firefighting foam. Save Our County, et al. v. United States Department of Defense, et al., 3:20-cv-01267 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 20, 2020). According to the complaint, the incineration of firefighting foam poses a threat to communities as the burning of the foam releases per– and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”), a group of chemicals found in firefighting foam that may be linked to certain adverse health effects. In the complaint, the plaintiffs allege that the DOD’s contracts violate NEPA because the DOD did not prepare an environmental impact statement prior to consenting to the incineration of the firefighting foam. Additionally, the plaintiffs allege that the incineration of the firefighting foam does not comply with certain regulations created by the NDAA that govern the incineration of PFAS-containing materials.

Continue Reading PFAS Litigation Continues as EPA Proposes Increased Federal Regulations

On January 30, 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) released its anticipated Migratory Bird Treaty Act (“MBTA”) proposed rule. The purpose of the proposed rule is to codify the December 2017 Department of Interior (“DOI”) Solicitor opinion (“M-Opinion”) limiting liability under the MBTA. The M-Opinion overturned an earlier Obama Administration M-Opinion explicitly finding that MBTA liability applied to incidental take.

Continue Reading Trump Administration Releases Anticipated MBTA Proposed Rule

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