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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.
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On August 12, 2019 the U.S. Fish Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) and National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) (collectively, the “Services”) released pre-publication versions of three final rules that are expected to significantly affect the applicability and implementation of the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).  These regulations relate to the process and standards for listing species and designating critical habitat, the scope of protections for threatened species, and the process for consultations with federal agencies under Section 7.

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On May 23, 2019, the Center for Biological Diversity and San Francisco Baykeeper (collectively “Center”) filed a lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service (“Service”) in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California alleging the Service failed to protect eight species under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).  The eight species at issue are the longfin smelt (San Francisco Bay-Delta population), Hermes copper butterfly, Marron bacora (a plant), Sierra Nevada red fox, red tree vole (North Coast population), gopher tortoise (eastern population), Berry Cave Salamander, and Puerto Rico harlequin butterfly.  Each of the eight species is currently a “candidate” for listing.  The Service previously found that each species warranted protection under the ESA, but that listing was warranted but precluded (“WBP”) due to the need to focus on other higher priority species.    
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On May 1, 2019, the Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS” or “Service”) issued a proposed rule “downlisting” Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) protections for the American burying beetle from endangered to threatened. The burying beetle was listed as endangered in 1989 and its listing has been particularly impactful to oil and gas development in Texas and Oklahoma.  Once with a range across thirty-five states, the beetle’s range when listed had been depleted to just two areas—Oklahoma and Rhode Island.  The Service states that, due to the success of mitigation programs, that the beetle now inhabits nine states (Arkansas, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Texas) warranting the downlisting.  The Service states that the downlisting was the result of collaborative work with industry, but opponents argue that that the rollback of protections will negatively affect the species by opening up parts of Oklahoma to drilling and removing obstacles from drillers in Texas.

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At a public hearing on March 6, 2019, the California State Water Resources Control Board announced a “Phased Investigation Plan” for perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).  The Investigation Plan represents a coordinated effort by the Water Board to identify PFAS in discharges and drinking water sources across California.  This new initiative leverages the Board’s enforcement and permitting powers to order testing and will proceed in three phases.  Under each phase, the Water Board will issue orders to the covered facilities requiring at least one round of testing of their discharge to identify whether PFAS are present.

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On February 14, 2019, EPA announced the release of its Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Action Plan (Action Plan) in an unprecedented series of simultaneous press conferences across all 10 of its Regions.  The Action Plan brings together and organizes regulatory, enforcement, and scientific efforts across nearly all of the Agency’s statutory programs, including the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund), and the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA).  Some of the components of the Action Plan are entirely new, while others represent the continuation or revival of prior initiatives.  Below we summarize the highlights of the 60+ page Plan.

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In the last month of 2018, EPA released two proposals that it claims will have no immediate effect—revised CO2 standards for new coal-fired power plants that EPA does not expect anyone to build, and a determination that it is not “appropriate and necessary” to have a mercury rule that it nevertheless plans to keep on the books.  The question many may be asking is why EPA would issue two highly controversial rules if they won’t have any practical effect?  The answer may lie in the precedent they will set.

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On December 28, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) released a pre-publication version of a proposal revisiting the cost analysis underlying the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (“MATS Rule”) for coal- and oil-fired electric generating units (EGUs) and conducting the residual risk and technology review required by the Clean Air Act (“Proposal”).  The Proposal would reverse a previous finding, issued by EPA under the Obama Administration, that regulation of hazardous air pollutant (“HAP”) emissions from EGUs under the MATS Rule was “appropriate and necessary” but would nonetheless leave the rule in effect.  The Proposal also concludes that more stringent HAP emission limits are not warranted by the required risk and technology reviews.

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The U.S. Supreme Court kicked off its new term on Oct. 1 with oral arguments in Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The case centers around whether and when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) can designate land unoccupied by a threatened or endangered species as critical habitat for that species under the Endangered Species Act.

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This morning, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its proposed replacement for the Clean Power Plan (CPP) titled the “Affordable Clean Energy Rule,” which would regulate greenhouse gas emissions at existing coal-fired power plants.   The proposed rule gives discretion to states for determining the greenhouse gas performance standards achievable for existing coal-fired power plants within their state.  Specifically, the proposed rule would require states to evaluate a menu of heat rate improvement options and, taking into account the unit’s remaining useful life and other factors, determine the lb/MWh CO2 emission rate achievable at each affected unit. While the rule proposes to allow for emissions averaging among affected units at an individual source, it does not provide for broader averaging or emissions trading.  To facilitate the heat rate improvement projects, EPA also has proposed an option for states to adopt a new emissions test under the New Source Review program for EGUs that is based on both hourly and annual emissions.

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