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At the end of January, a federal judge issued a ruling in a high-profile environmental justice case, Louisiana v. EPA, brought by Louisiana against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The ruling temporarily blocks EPA and DOJ attempts to enforce disparate-impact regulations promulgated under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act against Louisiana state agencies. Beyond that, the decision has potentially significant ramifications for the Biden administration’s ongoing environmental justice initiatives.Continue Reading Louisiana v. EPA: A Turning Point for Title VI and Environmental Justice?

Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released two revised compensatory policies. The Mitigation Policy and the ESA Compensatory Mitigation Policy reject the stringent goal of net conservation gain used by the FWS during the Obama administration. Instead, both policies include the goal of no net loss, which means maintaining the current status of affected resources. While the policies are nonbinding, they will guide how the FWS evaluates compensatory mitigation in the context of incidental take permitting, conservation benefit agreements for candidate species, and ESA Section 7 consultation. Both policies do not apply retroactively to completed actions, but the FWS may elect to apply the Mitigation Policy’s principles to actions under review. Both policies continue to favor advance compensatory mitigation over other mitigation options.Continue Reading Fish and Wildlife Service Revises Its Mitigation Policies

*Chelsey Noble is a law clerk in the Richmond office and is not licensed to practice law in any jurisdiction.

In 2020, New Jersey enacted a first-of-its-kind environmental justice statute, the Environmental Justice Law (EJ Law). The EJ Law requires that permit applicants for certain water, waste, and air facilities located, wholly or partially, in overburdened communities prepare an environmental justice impact statement (EJIS) and engage in meaningful public participation. Significantly, the EJ Law included a provision requiring the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP) to deny a permit if a disproportionate impact on overburdened communities cannot be avoided.Continue Reading New Jersey Moves Forward with Implementation of First-of-Its-Kind Environmental Justice Statute

*Chelsey Noble is a law clerk in the Richmond office and is not licensed to practice law in any jurisdiction.

On April 21, President Biden signed Executive Order No. 14096 (EO), titled “Revitalizing Our Nation’s Commitment to Environmental Justice For All.” The EO builds on prior executive orders by President Biden related to environmental justice, racial equity, and climate change, as well as on the original executive order on environmental justice issued in 1994 by President Clinton (Executive Order No. 12898). Overall, the EO establishes a stronger framework with specific milestones for implementing environmental justice across federal agencies. Below is a summary of the EO’s key provisions.Continue Reading President Biden Signs Executive Order on Environmental Justice

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 October 4, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a revision of its interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). With the final rule, FWS has effectively reinstated its position that “incidental take” — the harming or killing that results from, but is not the purpose of, carrying out an otherwise lawful activity — is prohibited by the MBTA, and persons that cause incidental take can be prosecuted criminally. FWS’s final rule represents a reversal of a Trump-era interpretation of the MBTA, which narrowly interpreted liability under the statute to apply only to those actions specifically “directed at” migratory birds that “reduce animals to human control.” See previous post covering the prior rule.
Continue Reading Changes to Migratory Bird Treaty Act Program Announced

On October 7, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) to revise its regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires federal agencies to take a “hard look” at the environmental impacts of certain proposed projects, but does not mandate any particular outcome. The NOPR is focused on revisions the July 2020 rulemaking completed by the Trump administration, which was the first significant overhaul of the NEPA regulations since their initial promulgation in 1978. The Trump rulemaking included provisions to streamline the NEPA review process, as well as substantive changes to the scope of the review. CEQ’s NOPR follows an announcement early in 2021 by the incoming Biden administration that it planned to review the July 2020 rulemaking. In the NOPR, the Biden administration outlines the aspects of the rule it plans to change: the purpose and need of a proposed agency action, agency procedures for implementing CEQ’s regulations, and the definition of “effects” of a proposed action.
Continue Reading Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for NEPA Revisions Announced

In their article “Are We There Yet? The Challenges of Litigating Clean Air Act Rules,” Mack McGuffey and Melissa Horne discuss the difficulties of getting final answers from the courts in the increasingly polarized political environment of Clean Air Act rulemaking.
Continue Reading Troutman Pepper Environmental Attorneys Author Articles in ABA’s Natural Resources & Environment Summer 2021 Edition