EPA Region 6 has proposed to withdraw a 2015 finding that Texas’s State Implementation Plan (SIP) is substantially inadequate to comply with the Clean Air Act (CAA) because of state rules that provide an affirmative defense for excess air emissions that occur during upsets and unplanned maintenance, startup, and shutdown activities. 82 Fed. Reg. 17,986 (Apr. 29. 2019). Region 6 is now proposing to find that Texas’s affirmative defense provisions for so-called “startup, shutdown, and malfunction” or “SSM” events are “narrowly tailored and limited to ensure protection of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS),” as required by EPA guidance. Accordingly, Region 6 is proposing to withdraw EPA’s 2015 “SSM” SIP call issued to Texas based on the finding of substantial inadequacy.
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In an order on rehearing issued April 18, 2019, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Commission or FERC)—applying the newly minted Section 36 of the Federal Power Act (FPA), 16 U.S.C. § 823g—decided to extend the new license term for Pacific Gas and Electric’s (PG&E) Poe Hydroelectric Project by 10 years.  Pacific Gas and Electric, 167 FERC ¶ 61,047 (2019).  FERC’s initial relicensing order granted a new 40-year license term for the project, but on rehearing, the Commission decided that the new requirements of FPA Section 36 warranted the statutory maximum license term of 50 years.  FERC’s April 18 order on rehearing provides insight into how FERC interprets Section 36, which greatly expands the type of investments made by licensees that FERC must consider when determining the length of a new license term for a hydroelectric project.

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The U.S. Department of the Army’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Works has issued a policy directive memorandum requiring the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to adhere to a “default time period” of 60 days for states to act on a request for water quality certification under Clean Water Act Section 401 with regard to USACE’s issuance of dredge and fill permits under CWA Section 404.  The policy memorandum also requires USACE to “immediately draft guidance” to establish criteria for USACE District Engineers to identify circumstances that may warrant additional time for states to decide on an application for water quality certification.

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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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On March 1, 2018, EPA released a final rule defining nonattainment area classifications under the 2015 ozone standard, along with attainment deadlines for each classification.  The rule finalizes the classifications and deadlines that were originally proposed by the Obama administration in a proposed rule issued on November 17, 2016. (81 Fed. Reg. 81,276).  According to

On December 20, 2017, EPA took the next step in completing the area designation process under the 2015 ozone standard.   Specifically, the Agency issued “120-day letters” to the states proposing designations for all areas of the U.S. that were not designated as part of the Agency’s November 6, 2017 rulemaking designating 2,646 areas as either attainment or unclassifiable under the 2015 ozone standard.  Under the Clean Air Act, states recommend area designations and if EPA intends to modify a state’s recommended designation, it must notify the state no later than 120 days prior to making the final designation and give the state an opportunity to respond.

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In an October 16, 2017 order signed by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, EPA reversed a position it has held for many years — that the Agency has authority, in the context of Title V permitting, to review previous state-level decisions on the applicability of new source permitting requirements.  The new policy outlined in the October 16 order removes the Title V petition to object as an avenue for citizens to seek EPA review of state preconstruction permitting decisions.

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EPA issued what the Agency is calling “Round 1” of final area designations under the 2015 ozone standard on November 6, 2017. The designations, which will be published in the Federal Register tomorrow, November 16, and become effective 60 days later, include only those counties, tribal areas, and territories that EPA has designated “attainment/unclassifiable” — totaling 2,646 counties. EPA also designated 3 counties in the state of Washington as “unclassifiable.” EPA did not designate any nonattainment areas as part of the final rule, but simply noted that it is “not yet prepared to issue designations” for the remaining areas of the U.S.

EPA is currently facing litigation over its June 2017 announcement extending the deadline for designating areas under the 2015 ozone NAAQS by one year, to October 2018, even though the Agency later reversed that decision. On July 12, 2017, a dozen environmental and public health groups sued EPA in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, claiming the Agency did not have authority to extend the deadline for designating areas under the Clean Air Act. Fifteen states followed in their footsteps, filing their own lawsuit challenging the delay on August 1. EPA responded the following day by publicly announcing its intent to withdraw the deadline extension and published official notification of the withdrawal in the Federal Register on August 10. (82 Fed. Reg. 37,218.)
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