Although environmental justice (EJ) is not a new concept in the context of air permitting, the Biden administration’s increased focus on identifying and addressing disproportionate environmental impacts on low-income neighborhoods and communities of color is likely to spur an increase in EJ claims being raised as part of the public review process for both new air permits and permit renewals. Many, if not most, states do not have statutory or regulatory requirements dictating how EJ concerns must be considered in the air permitting context. Similarly, while there is a patchwork of EJ requirements applicable to federal agency actions, most are imposed by executive order and are not prescriptive in nature, meaning that there is no robust legal framework for considering EJ concerns in the air permitting context at the federal level either. Accordingly, while potential permittees and current permit holders seeking to renew or modify their air permits should be aware that there is an increased likelihood that EJ concerns may be raised by third parties or permitting agencies, there is little certainty about how these concerns will be implemented in the course of permit issuance.
Continue Reading Environmental Justice to Play Significant Role in Air Permitting Process Under Biden Administration

On April 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated a Trump-era rule that would have prevented the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from setting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for almost any class of stationary sources, except for fossil fuel-fired electric generating units. The court’s decision, issued at the request of the new Biden EPA, clears the way for new sector-by-sector GHG regulations should the new administration seek to set new GHG standards under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act (CAA).

Continue Reading Rule Limiting EPA Regulation of GHG Emissions Vacated by D.C. Circuit

On the heels of multiple recent indications that it plans to increase its focus on environmental, social, and governance-related (ESG) corporate disclosures, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC or Commission) has solicited help from the public on developing a framework for climate change disclosures. Acting Chair Allison Herren Lee released a statement on March 15, calling for input from investors, registrants, and other market participants “in light of demand for climate change information and questions about whether current disclosures accurately inform investors.”

Continue Reading SEC Seeks Public Comment on Framework for Corporate Climate Change Disclosures

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced the creation of a new task force on March 4 to address violations of environmental, social, and governance-related (ESG) disclosure requirements. The Climate and ESG Task Force will be located in the SEC’s Division of Enforcement and led by Acting Deputy Director of Enforcement Kelly Gibson, who will oversee a 22-member team drawn from across the SEC. The task force will focus initially on material gaps or misstatements in disclosure of climate risk under existing rules. The task force will use “sophisticated data analysis to mine and assess information … to identify potential violations” and will also pursue tips, referrals, and whistleblower complaints on ESG-related issues.

Continue Reading SEC Announces Task Force to Enforce ESG Disclosure Requirements

A California state legislator has introduced a bill that would require large corporations doing business in the state to publicly disclose their greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). The bill, titled the Climate Corporate Responsibility Act, covers publicly traded domestic and foreign corporations with annual revenues in excess of $1 billion. According to state Senator Scott Weiner, who introduced the bill, it could affect up to 5,000 companies. The bill is not limited to any industry sector and would thus impact not only companies typically associated with GHG emissions, like oil and gas producers or power plants, but also would extend to other sectors, including the tech industry, for example.

Continue Reading Mandatory GHG Corporate Disclosure Bill Introduced in California

Just before the inauguration of President Biden, the Trump administration surprised many by failing to revise the stringent CO2 standard for new coal-fired power plants. That standard, adopted by the Obama administration, is based on the use of carbon capture and sequestration — a technology only installed once in the U.S. at a facility that has now been mothballed. When the Trump administration proposed to repeal and replace that standard in 2018, the chance of it surviving in its current form seemed slim. However, as the clock ran out, the Trump EPA failed to finalize its 2018 proposal and instead issued a “significant contribution finding” that attempts to limit regulation of greenhouse gases from new sources to electric utilities alone. While likely to be reversed quickly by the Biden EPA, that determination erects one more barrier to broad regulation of greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act (Act).

Continue Reading Trump EPA’s Last-Minute Surprise on Climate Standards for New Coal-Fired Utilities Intended to Block Similar Standards for Other Sectors

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced its decision to retain the current National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone (O3) under the Clean Air Act. However, the new Biden EPA is all but certain to reevaluate the standards and likely to reach different conclusions.

PM2.5 is a mixture of small liquid or solid particles found in the air that are less than 2.5 micrometers (μm) in aerodynamic diameter. O3 is a reactive gas that is formed through chemical reactions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds in the atmosphere. Under the CAA, EPA must ensure the ambient standards for both pollutants are established at a level “requisite to protect the public health” with “an adequate margin of safety,” and EPA must review the NAAQS every five years to determine whether the standards should be retained or revised.

Continue Reading EPA Declines to Revise Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter and Ozone

On October 29, EPA published a proposed revision to its Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) Update in response to the remand of the rule by the D.C. Circuit. The CSAPR Update was promulgated under the Clean Air Act’s “Good Neighbor” provision, which requires states to ensure that pollution from sources within their borders does not significantly contribute to the ability of downwind states to attain or maintain the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Under the Good Neighbor provision, if a State Implementation Plan (SIP) does not adequately address the interstate transport of pollutants, EPA must step in and issue its own rules through a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP). EPA issued the CSAPR Update in 2016, imposing FIPs on 22 states requiring ozone season NOx reductions from electric generating units (EGUs) to address the 2008 ozone NAAQS. In the 2018 CSAPR Closeout, EPA determined that no further emission reductions were required for all but two of the states covered by the CSAPR Update.

Continue Reading EPA Proposes Revised Cross-State Air Pollution Rule for the 2008 Ozone NAAQS

As of September 4, 2020, Illinois has responsibility for direct administration of the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permitting program under state regulations, including federal Clean Air Act (CAA) requirements under authority delegated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In doing so, Illinois joins 46 other states that have elected to administer the PSD program directly.  State PSD regulations, added as Part 204 of the Illinois air quality pollution rules, 35 Ill. Adm. Code Part 204, were published in the Illinois Register on September 19, 2020.

Continue Reading Illinois Finalizes Regulations for Direct Implementation of Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) Permitting under the Clean Air Act

Illinois is taking the final steps toward adopting an authorized state program for direct administration of the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permitting program under proposed state regulations, taking responsibility for federal Clean Air Act (CAA) requirements previously administered under delegated authority from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Continue Reading Illinois Moves to Undertake Direct Implementation of Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) Permitting under the Clean Air Act