The COVID-19 pandemic has elevated fiscal concerns of water and sewer service providers, with many states imposing a moratorium on the collection of delinquent bills and the termination of service. The affordability of water and sewer service has also been a central topic in environmental justice discussions. In the midst of this heightened interest, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) released its long-awaited proposed updates to its Clean Water Act (“CWA”) affordability guidance. The pre-publication version of its 2020 Financial Capability Assessment for CWA Obligations (“2020 FCA”) was released on September 15, 2020. The proposal builds on EPA’s prior guidance, issued in 1997, as well as its 2014 Financial Capability Assessment Framework.  The purpose of the guidance is to establish criteria for EPA consideration of the impact of water quality, stormwater, and drinking water requirements on affordability. This information can then be used to prioritize different regulatory requirements and establish longer compliance schedules in permits and enforcement actions.

Continue Reading EPA Issues Long-Awaited Update to CWA Financial Capability Assessment

Citing delegated States as the primary enforcers of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the promotion of federalism, Assistant Attorney General for the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Environmental and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) Jeffrey Bossert Clark recently issued a memorandum promoting the use of enforcement discretion for certain civil CWA matters where a state proceeding has been initiated or concluded.
Continue Reading New DOJ CWA Enforcement Guidance

In the past two weeks, two federal district courts reached seemingly opposite conclusions regarding the implementation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (“the Agencies”) Navigable Waters Protection Rule (“the Rule”). The Rule, which took effect on June 22, narrows the term “waters of the United States” and, thereby, the scope of waters subject to federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act (“CWA”). The Rule has been a top priority for the Trump Administration under its two-step process to repeal the Obama Administration’s 2015 rule, which expanded the scope of the CWA, and replace it with a rule that provides more distinct clarity as to which waters are jurisdictional. States, environmental groups, and other interested parties have filed lawsuits across the country challenging the Rule and requested courts issue preliminary injunctions to prevent it from taking effect.
Continue Reading Federal Courts Reach Opposite Conclusions Regarding Implementation of the Navigable Waters Protection Rule

The U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in the consolidated cases U.S. Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Assn. (Case No. 18-1584) and Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC v. Cowpasture River Preservation Assn. (Case No. 18-1587) addressing the U.S. Forest Service’s authority to issue authorization for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross beneath the Appalachian Trail. Reversing the Fourth Circuit’s December 2018 decision, the Court held that the Forest Service has authority under the Mineral Leasing Act to grant a right-of-way on lands within the George Washington National Forest owned by the Forest Service over which the Trail crosses.

Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court Reverses Fourth Circuit, Holds U.S. Forest Service Has Authority to Grant Right-of-Way Beneath Appalachian Trail

Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued its long-awaited opinion in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, addressing whether the Clean Water Act (CWA) requires a permit when pollutants originate from a point source but are conveyed to navigable waters by a nonpoint source, such as groundwater. The issue has historically been controversial and subject to much litigation.

In a 6-3 split, with Justice Breyer delivering the opinion of the Court, the Court rejected the Ninth Circuit’s “fairly traceable” test for determining when discharges from point sources to groundwater that reach surface waters are subject to Clean Water Act (CWA) permitting, instead laying out a narrower test focusing on whether a discharge to groundwater is the “functional equivalent of a direct discharge.”  The CWA defines point sources as any “discrete conveyance . . . from which pollutants are or may be discharged,” including pipes, channels, and wells. The Court found middle ground on the issue, citing to EPA’s long history of permitting pollution discharges from point sources that reached navigable waters only after traveling through groundwater and to several factors that should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Issues New “Functional Equivalent” Test for Clean Water Act Permitting Coverage of Discharges to Groundwater

On April 21, 2020 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) (collectively, the “Agencies”) published the final rule narrowing the meaning of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) term “waters of the United States,” which represents the culmination of one of President Trump’s key environmental agenda items. The Trump Administration’s repeal and replace approach clears up years of uncertainty in the wake of the Obama Administration’s 2015 rule. The final rule, called the “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” will become effective on June 22, 2020.
Continue Reading Trump Administration Publishes Final Navigable Waters Protection Rule

Todd Fracassi, Pepper Hamilton
Mitchell Guc, Pepper Hamilton
Randy Brogdon, Troutman Sanders
Patrick Fanning, Troutman Sanders

In the three weeks since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its much-discussed coronavirus (COVID-19) enforcement discretion policy (Policy), governmental and environmental group opposition to the Policy has continued to intensify. This article outlines both the nature of the opposition as it currently stands, as well as some best practices for those businesses struggling to keep up with the environmental enforcement tug-of-war unfolding before their eyes.


Continue Reading State and Environmental Group Opposition to EPA’s COVID-19 Enforcement Discretion Policy Intensifies

Authors

Todd Fracassi, Pepper Hamilton
Mitchell Guc, Pepper Hamilton
Randy Brogdon, Troutman Sanders
Patrick Fanning, Troutman Sanders

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is quietly taking steps to provide financial relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. In an April 14 model letter, DOJ offered to temporarily suspend its collection of stipulated penalty payments owed under some consent decrees through at least May 31, 2020. Notably, the letter also stated that DOJ will advise as to whether the suspension will be extended beyond May 31, 2020 and that if a party simply does nothing in response to the notice, DOJ will not seek collection of the debt until after May 2020. The letter is signed by Joseph Davis, Chief of the Case Management Unit of DOJ’s Environment & Natural Resources Division (ENRD) Environmental Enforcement Section.


Continue Reading Department of Justice Offers Reprieve from Stipulated Penalty Payments Through at Least May 31, 2020, in Response to COVID-19

In response to guidance issued by EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance regarding enforcement discretion in light of COVID-19, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has issued its own guidance. In its accompanying press release, DEQ takes a stern tone and makes clear that DEQ expects compliance with all environmental compliance obligations and permit limits, that the crisis does not “equal a free pass for the regulated community,” and that regulated entities should make every effort to comply.

Continue Reading Virginia Issues Enforcement and Compliance Guidance in Response to EPA Enforcement Discretion Guidance

Today, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) Susan Bodine issued guidance regarding OECA enforcement discretion in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) COVID-19 pandemic. EPA intends to focus its resources largely on situations that may create an acute risk or imminent threat to public health or the environment. The guidance, which is retroactively effective to March 13, does not have an end date but EPA commits to reviewing the policy regularly and to providing a seven day notice of its termination on OECA’s guidance page.

Continue Reading EPA Issues Enforcement Discretion Guidance to Address Compliance in Wake of COVID-19