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On November 17, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced that $38 million in grant funding is available in fiscal year 2023 for fish passage projects. The goal is to award this funding to projects that address outdated, unsafe, or obsolete dams, culverts, levees, and other barriers. This funding effort is part of an overall $200 million commitment set out in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and is part of the National Fish Passage Program (NFPP). The NFPP is a voluntary program that provides direct technical and financial assistance for restoration of aquatic organism passage and aquatic connectivity.

Continue Reading Fish and Wildlife Service Announces Funding Grants for Fish Passage

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published its much-anticipated proposal, updating the regulations governing permits for incidental take of bald and golden eagles, as well as take of their nests. This proposal is the culmination of efforts to improve the effectiveness of the eagle take permitting process, particularly for wind energy projects. The rule was last updated in 2016, but it was challenged by the Energy and Wildlife Action Coalition. In 2019, that challenge was settled with a commitment from the FWS to amend the rule. In September 2021, the FWS issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, seeking comments on potential revisions to the eagle take permitting process.

Continue Reading Fish and Wildlife Service Issues Long-Awaited Eagle Rule Proposal

On June 28, a coalition of 11 environmental groups petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Administrative Procedure Act and the Clean Air Act to address the alleged failure of Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to comply with and properly implement public participation and environmental justice requirements in its air permitting program. Specifically, the petition alleges that TCEQ violates the Clean Air Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act by: (1) restricting public participation in air permitting by limiting judicial review of permits; (2) allowing applicants to withhold public information during the permitting process; and (3) allowing facilities to operate under the state’s permits by rule (PBR) program, which provides no meaningful opportunity for public participation.

Continue Reading Environmental Groups Target Texas Air Permitting Program on Environmental Justice Grounds

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations promulgated by the Trump administration (Trump ESA Rules) were challenged by environmental groups. While that challenge was pending, the Biden administration announced that those regulations would be revised. On July 5, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California vacated the Trump ESA regulations, not on the merits of the regulations but because they are in the process of being rewritten. This decision disregards the Biden administration’s request that the regulations remain in effect to preserve consistency and order during the revision process. Instead, the pre-Trump regulations (which were issued in the mid-1980s) have been reinstated and are now in effect until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) (collectively, the Services) finalize new regulations.

Continue Reading Trump ESA Rules Vacated

On March 31, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied an appeal filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and other conservation groups seeking to overturn a National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) decision not to protect two types of river herring, alewife, and blueback herring under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The appeal sought to have NMFS list both species as threatened. A listing of river herring would have a significant impact on hydropower projects, as dams were identified as one of the primary threats to river herring populations.
Continue Reading Conservation Group Efforts Seeking Greater Protection of River Herring Denied

On June 7, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued a proposed rule titled, “Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designation of Experimental Populations.” In issuing the proposed rule, FWS re-affirms its authority to designate and introduce experimental populations of protected species into areas of habitat outside of their historical range when climate change, invasive species, or other threats have affected or will affect that range. Importantly, this proposal only applies to species managed by FWS. Species managed by NMFS are governed by separate regulations, which NMFS updated back in 2016. These changes will make the FWS regulations more similar to those of NMFS. Pursuant to NMFS’ existing regulations, experimental populations of salmon have been re-introduced in certain waterways in the Western United States. FWS’s proposal could result in similar re-introduction of experimental populations of terrestrial and freshwater species.
Continue Reading FWS Proposes to Account for Climate Change When Designating Experimental Populations

On April 20, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued a Final Rule, revising certain sections of its regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Final Rule represents “Phase 1” of the Biden administration’s plan to reverse the Trump-era rulemaking, which significantly revised the NEPA regulations for the first time since 1978.

NEPA, sometimes referred to as a “paper tiger,” requires federal agencies to take a “hard look” at the environmental impacts of certain proposed projects but does not mandate any particular outcome. In July 2020, the Trump administration issued its Final Rule, which represented the first update to the NEPA regulations in over 40 years. The 2020 rule contained numerous revisions, many of which were intended to speed up infrastructure projects by reducing delays and paperwork during NEPA reviews. It also revised the definition of “effects,” which traditionally included “direct, indirect, and cumulative effects,” by reducing it to one short paragraph and eliminating references to these three categories, and instead providing that “effects” should not be analyzed “if they are remote in time, geographically remote, or the product of a lengthy causal change.”
Continue Reading Biden Administration Releases “Phase 1” of NEPA Revisions

This article was republished in Pratt’s Energy Law Report (Vol. 22-10, November-December 2022).

On June 1, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a pre-publication version of its proposal to re-write the Clean Water Act Section 401 rule (Certification Proposal), which, if finalized, is expected to have far-reaching impacts on hydroelectric licensing and relicensing. The Certification Proposal is intended by EPA to replace the version of the rule finalized under the Trump administration in 2020 (2020 Rule). While the Certification Proposal maintains some aspects of the 2020 Rule, it differs in some significant areas and in many ways reverts back to the 1971 regulations.

Continue Reading EPA’s Clean Water Act Certification Proposal to Significantly Impact Hydropower Licensing

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC or Commission) published proposed rules on March 21 that, for the first time, would codify the Commission’s expectations regarding what kinds of climate-related disclosures public companies must make in their required filings to the SEC. Prior to now, companies have had to rely on 2010 guidance from the Commission to determine what information they should disclose to investors regarding their climate-related risks.
Continue Reading SEC Publishes Proposed Rule Requiring Climate Disclosures