On June 11, 2018, the Supreme Court summarily affirmed the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in United States v. Washington through a 4-4 split, with Justice Kennedy taking no part in the decision due to his involvement in similar cases during his time as a circuit judge on the Ninth Circuit. The immediate effect of the high court’s decision will be to require the State of Washington to replace or modify, at the State’s expense, several hundred culverts placed in streams under roads and bridges throughout the State. In the longer run, however, the decision could have much more far-reaching impacts related to federal and state obligations to protect against habitat degradation of salmon and other aquatic species pursuant to their obligations under several Nineteenth Century treaties reached with Native American Tribes in the Pacific Northwest.
On Friday, May 11, California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) issued a notice that it is considering listing laundry detergent that includes nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE) as a “priority product” under its Safer Consumer Products regulations. If DTSC finalizes a rule listing the product, it will kick off an alternatives assessment process, during which manufacturers, sellers, importers, and distributors of the product will have to evaluate alternatives to the use of NPE, and which may result in DTSC concluding that NPE in laundry detergent should be phased out and replaced with a “safer” alternative. Regardless, the alternatives assessment process is a time-consuming and cost-intensive process, and will be subject to a lot of scrutiny from DTSC and third parties.
On April 26, 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) issued a memorandum addressing the need for an incidental take permit (“ITP”) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the modification of listed species’ habitat (“ITP Memo”). As background, under the ESA, the “take” of an endangered species is prohibited. This prohibition has been extended to threatened species through a blanket 4(d) rule. In certain circumstances, take that is not purposeful and occurs incidental to some other action can be authorized through the issuance of an ITP.
On March 31, 2018, the District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to complete a residual risk and technology review (“RTR”) by October 1, 2021 for nine source categories of hazardous air pollutants (“HAPs”). The specific source categories at the center of this challenge were:
• Primary Copper Smelting
• Carbon Black Production
• Cyanide Chemicals Manufacturing
• Spandex Production
• Flexible Polyurethane Foam Fabrication Operations
• Refractory Products Manufacturing
• Semiconductor Manufacturing
• Primary Magnesium Manufacturing
• Mercury Cell Chlor-Alkali Plants
Section 112 of the Clean Air Act establishes a two-stage process for regulating HAPs from stationary sources. In the first stage, EPA is required to develop technology-based standards, known as MACT standards, for specified industrial source categories. In the second stage, EPA must reassess those standards eight years after they are promulgated. This second stage is itself divided into two distinct processes: a one-time residual risk review and a technology review to be conducted every eight years.
The deadlines for these sources were seven to eight years past due. Thus, plaintiff environmental groups claimed that EPA violated the CAA because it failed to timely issue the RTRs, and they proposed an intense schedule for EPA to complete the rulemakings. Plaintiffs proposed that EPA promulgate final rules for five source categories by March 31, 2019, and for the remaining four source categories by March 31, 2020. While EPA did not disagree that the rulemakings were past due, the Agency argued that the proposed timeline was impossible to meet because of the limited resources at the Agency’s disposal and the complexities involved in these types of rulemakings. Because of these restraints, EPA requested seven years to complete the nine rulemakings, proposing nine specific dates with the earliest rule due by July 22, 2022 and the latest due by January 16, 2025.
The court held that EPA failed to demonstrate that it was impossible to issue the rulemakings in a timely manner. However, it found that the plaintiffs’ timeline was “much too draconian.” Therefore, the court set its own timeline, requiring EPA to begin the rulemakings by January 1, 2019 and issue final rules for all nine source categories no later than October 1, 2021, in less than four years. Importantly, the court gave EPA some flexibility by allowing the Agency to “move for an extension of the deadlines” if it needs more time.
On April 2, 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) submitted three proposed rules to the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”), which is charged with reviewing every final and proposed federal agency rule before its publication in the Federal Register. These proposals, if implemented, will significantly change USFWS’ implementation of the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).
On March 16, 2018, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals partially upheld and partially rejected an EPA rule known as the “Boiler MACT.” Officially named the “National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Major Sources: Industrial, Commercial, and Institutional Boilers and Process Heaters,” it regulates the emissions of certain types of air pollutants known as “hazardous air pollutants” from boilers located at “major sources” of those pollutants. EPA issued the rule in several different rulemakings, due to the fact that the agency decided to reconsider a few provisions several times along the way. As a result, the litigation over the rule became very complicated. Sierra Club challenged numerous provisions of the rule, claiming that they failed to comply with the Clean Air Act. Most of those challenges were resolved in a 2016 decision, but the court had reserved two issues that were finally decided this week—namely Sierra Club’s challenges to EPA’s carbon monoxide (CO) limits for certain boilers and the startup and shutdown work practices. Specifically, Sierra Club alleged that (1) EPA failed to adequately justify its decision to make CO limit less stringent (130 ppm), and (2) EPA’s qualitative “work practice” standards during startup and shutdown are unlawful.
Last week, the Center for Biological Diversity, Water Keeper Alliance, and a coalition of other organizations served a Notice of Intent to Sue the U.S. EPA and Army Corps of Engineers (the “Agencies”), alleging the Agencies’ delay in implementing the Obama-era Waters of the U.S. (“WOTUS”) Rule violated the Endangered Species Act.
On Monday February 12, President Trump unveiled his long-awaited infrastructure plan. According to President Trump, our country’s infrastructure “is in an unacceptable state of disrepair, which damages our country’s competitiveness and our citizens’ quality of life.” While some view the plan as a step toward streamlining an environmental review process that could delay a project unnecessarily, others worry the proposal could curtail the authority federal agencies exercise over environmental reviews pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The plan calls for $200 billion to be spent rebuilding roads, bridges, highways, railways, waterways, and other infrastructure over the next ten years. That money will come from cuts to other programs (particularly within the Department of Transportation) and is not intended—at least as proposed—to come from new revenue streams. According to President Trump, the proposed changes will generate approximately $1.5 trillion in new infrastructure investment.
The scope and definition of critical habitat under Section 4 of the Endangered Species Act has been a controversial subject. In 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 6,477 acres of land in Louisiana (including 1,600 privately-owned acres) as critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog, despite the fact that the frogs have not been seen in the state for decades. Timber company Weyerhauser Co. and private landowner Markle Interests LLC filed suit challenging that designation. Subsequent to the critical habitat designation for the dusky gopher frog, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (collectively, “the Services”) promulgated new critical habitat rules that authorized, among other things, the designation of areas where a species was not actually present as critical habitat for that species. Thus, the outcome of this case has significant implications for these 2016 rules.
On January 3, 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published the User Fees for the Electronic Hazardous Waste Manifest System and Amendments to Manifest Regulations Final Rule (“User Fee Rule” or “Rule”) in the Federal Register (83 Federal Register 420). While the User Fee Rule does not set e-Manifest user fees, it gives EPA authority to establish user fees and establishes the methodology for EPA to do so. The Rule becomes effective June 30, 2018.