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

On December 9, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to revisit the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. Circuit’s decision in Hoopa Valley Tribe v. FERC, 913 F.3d 1099 (2019), allowing the lower court’s ruling to stand.

The key holding of the D.C. Circuit’s opinion, which concerned the ongoing Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) relicensing of the Klamath Hydroelectric Project, is that the States of California and Oregon waived their authorities under section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. § 1341, by failing to rule on the applicant’s submitted request for water quality certification within one year.  The D.C. Circuit held that the plain language of CWA section 401 establishes a maximum period of one year for states to act on a request for water quality certification.  Accordingly, the court further held that FERC erred in concluding that the “withdrawal-and-resubmittal” of the water quality certification application on an annual basis resets the one-year statutory time period for state action under section 401.
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On November 22, 2019, the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) agreed to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for the operation of the federally owned and operated Chief Joseph Dam, the second-largest hydropower producing dam in the United States, as part of a settlement with the Columbia Riverkeeper. The settlement resolves litigation (previously addressed on this blog) brought by the Columbia Riverkeeper, which claimed that the Corps’ dam operations had long been discharging oil, grease, and heated water into the Columbia River without a permit.

Sections 301(a) and 402 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) prohibit anyone, including a federal agency, from discharging “pollutants” through a “point source” into a “water of the United States” except as authorized by a NPDES permit. Section 505 of the CWA provides any citizen, including a citizen group like Columbia Riverkeeper, the ability to bring a civil action against any person, including the United States, that is violating an effluent standard or limitation. As detailed by its complaint, the Columbia Riverkeeper alleged that the Corps has been in violation of CWA standards by allowing oils and grease to accumulate in sumps that drain into the river and utilizing hydro-carbon based lubricants on generation equipment that become discharged with cooling water without a NPDES permit.
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On November 15, EPA posted its pre-publication version of the Final Rule re-classifying aerosol cans as “universal waste” under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which finalizes EPA’s March 16, 2018 proposal (83 Fed. Reg. 11,654).  As discussed in our prior blog post regarding the proposal, many aerosol cans have historically been classified as hazardous waste because of their ignitability, and thus often are subject to stringent regulations related to handling, transportation, and disposal.

Universal waste is a sub-category of RCRA regulated hazardous waste that allows certain widely generated products, such as batteries, certain pesticides, and lamps, to qualify for less stringent regulation than the traditional hazardous waste regime.  The Final Rule is intended by EPA to ease regulatory burdens on retail stores and others that discard hazardous waste aerosol cans by providing an optional pathway for streamlined waste management treatment; promote the collection and recycling of these cans; and encourage the development of municipal and commercial programs to reduce the quantity of aerosol cans going to municipal solid waste landfills or combustors. 
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On Friday, August 9, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) unveiled a pre-publication version of a notice of proposed rulemaking (“NOPR”) to clarify state water quality certification (“certification”) procedures under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) to allow for increased regulatory certainty in federal licensing and permitting activities, and particularly authorization of infrastructure projects.  EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced on Friday that the “proposal is intended to help ensure that states adhere to the statutory language and intent of Clean Water Act.”  The NOPR proposes substantive changes to the scope of state water quality certification authority under the CWA and the procedures governing these certifications, focusing on the plain language of the statute and at times departing from prior case law precedent.

Significant components of the NOPR are summarized below.  EPA has established a 60-day period for public comment on the proposed rule, from the date of publication in the Federal Register.  In light of the substantial modifications to the scope, substance and procedures related to state water quality certification, the NOPR presents a unique opportunity for utilities, manufacturers, developers, and other regulated business entities to help shape a significant regulatory program. 
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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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On January 25, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, in a unanimous decision, granted a petition for review in Hoopa Valley Tribe v. FERC, No. 14-1271 (D.C. Cir., Jan. 25, 2019). The key holding in the case, which concerns the ongoing Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s relicensing of the Klamath Hydroelectric Project, is that the States of California and Oregon waived their authorities under section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. § 1341, by failing to rule on the applicant’s submitted application for water quality certification within one year from when it was initially filed in 2006. The applicant for many years had followed, at the request of the States, the common industry practice of “withdraw-and-resubmit” of its water quality certification application in an attempt to annually reset the one-year time period for the States to act, as established under CWA section 401. The D.C. Circuit in Hoopa Valley Tribe invalidated this practice as a means of resetting the statutory clock, instead holding that the clear text of CWA establishes that “a full year is the absolute maximum” time for a state to decide on a water quality certification application.
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Troutman Sanders partner Chuck Sensiba and Associate Morgan Gerard authored the main feature article in the January 2019 issue of The Water Report, a monthly publication focused on federal and state water issues. In the article, Sensiba and Gerard discuss how a rule proposed by the Trump Administration would significantly narrow the number of