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On January 23, 2019 and February 6, 2019, OSHA and EPA, respectively, published their annual civil monetary penalty adjustments in the Federal Register. The Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 2015 requires federal agencies to make annual inflation adjustments to federal statutory civil penalty amounts. The annual inflation adjustments are based on a cost-of-living multiplier determined by changes to the Consumer Price Index.
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EPA recently released the pre-publication version of its proposed National Compliance Initiatives for FY 2020-2023.  Notably, consistent with Susan Bodine’s August 21, 2018 Memorandum “Transition from National Enforcement Initiatives to National Compliance Initiatives,” EPA has extended the cycle from two years to four years, moved away from sector targeting, and updated its focus for FY 2020-2023 from enforcement to compliance initiatives.  EPA believes this adjusted focus will “better convey the overarching goal of increased compliance and the use of not only enforcement actions, but the full range of compliance assurance tools.”

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Earlier this week, the Supreme Court ruled that federal district courts, rather than appellate courts, are the proper venue to challenge the “Waters of the United States” (“WOTUS”) Rule (discussed in a previous blog post here), an Obama-era regulation that expansively defined waters subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction.  Following the Supreme Court decision, the Eleventh Circuit on Wednesday vacated its 2015 decision which held the opposite.  In doing so, it also remanded a challenge to the WOTUS Rule brought by a coalition of states (led by Georgia) in 2015 in the federal district court in Brunswick, Georgia.

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Today, in a much-anticipated decision, the Supreme Court unanimously held that district courts are the proper courts to hear challenges to the “Waters of the United States” (“WOTUS”) Rule, an Obama-era regulation that expansively defined waters subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction.  The decision overturns a Sixth Circuit ruling that federal appeals courts maintain the proper jurisdiction to hear such challenges.  Writing for the Court, Justice Sotomayor found that “Congress has made clear that rules like the WOTUS Rule must be reviewed first in federal district courts.”

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As previously reported, President Trump has issued an Executive Order calling on EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to formally review the “Clean Water Rule” also known as the Water of the United States (WOTUS) Rulemaking. On April 19, EPA laid outs its plans for revising the Clean Water Rule consistent with the Executive Order in a meeting with state and local officials.
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In a brief ceremony yesterday, President Trump signed an Executive Order requiring EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review the final “Clean Water Rule,” also known as the  Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule to ensure it is consistent with a new policy also laid out in the order to keep the Nation’s navigable waters free from pollution “while at the same time promoting economic growth, minimizing regulatory uncertainty, and showing due regard for the roles played by Congress and the States under the Constitution.”  Although implementation of the Rule has been stayed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit pending further court review, the Executive Order also requires EPA and the Corps to review all orders, rules, regulations, guidelines, or policies implementing the Rule and to revise or rescind such rules consistent with the Executive Order.

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The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently upheld the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia’s decision that a West Virginia coal mine was not shielded from Clean Water Act violations where its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit includes a boiler plate provision requiring compliance with applicable water quality standards.  In Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) v. Fola Coal, the Court held that the mining company did not comply with this term of its permit and therefore was not shielded from enforcement under the Clean Water Act’s section 402(k) “permit shield.”

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Recent comments from Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden, head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division (“ENRD”), regarding DOJ’s increased use of criminal prosecutions to enforce environmental laws suggest the heightened role the ENRD’s Environmental Crimes Section could play in future enforcement actions regarding violations of environmental laws.
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In a significant win affirming the ongoing validity of long-issued permits, United States District Judge Sam A. Lindsay of the Northern District of Texas dismissed all of the claims brought by two groups challenging the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit issued to Georgia-Pacific LLC’s Crossett, Arkansas, paper mill. The Court’s opinion dismissing the case in full was issued January 19, 2016, and is available here.
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