The Virginia Code requires a site suitability determination for all projects seeking air emission permits. Va. Code 10.1-1307.E. While this provision has been in place for decades, it has never received significant attention, and has historically been interpreted to require compliance with local zoning laws. In 2020, however, environmental groups used the law to successfully challenge a minor new source permit for a compressor station associated with an interstate natural gas pipeline. They argued that the site suitability analysis undertaken by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) did not adequately address or consider environmental justice concerns, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Friends of Buckingham v. State Air Pollution Control Bd., 947 F. 3d 68 (4th Cir. 2020).

Continue Reading Virginia Initiates Regulatory Process to Consider Environmental Justice in Air Permitting Actions

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) was adopted in 1996 to give Congress a more powerful check on agency regulation that outpaces congressional intent. But now, for the first time, Congress has used that powerful authority in reverse. By disapproving a de-regulatory action — the rescission of the Subpart OOOOa new source methane standards for the oil and gas sector — Congress has brought a dead rule back to life. The birth, death, and now re-birth of Subpart OOOOa (often pronounced “quad-O-A”) raises several new and important questions.
Continue Reading Subpart OOOOa: What Happens When Congress Revives a Repealed Rule?

Now that we’re past July 4th and on the downhill side of summer, thoughts are turning to what EPA and the courts might do this fall with the many air quality and climate change issues before them. Here is a list of some of the most closely watched rulemakings on EPA’s recently released regulatory agenda and some key issues to watch for under the new Biden EPA. The ID numbers below for each agenda item contain links that will take you directly to the webpage tracking the status of the action.

Continue Reading What’s Next? EPA’s Air Agenda Highlights Priorities

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling June 21 that certain releases of air pollutants “subject to” Clean Air Act (CAA) requirements, even if not in compliance or specifically named in a permit, are exempt from release reporting requirements under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). Clean Air Council v. United States Steel Corporation, No. 20-221 (3rd Cir. filed June 21, 2021). This ruling undercuts a longstanding EPA interpretation of the CERCLA reporting requirement that limited the exemption to only those releases actually in compliance with a federal CAA permit.

Continue Reading Appeals Court Upholds Expansive Interpretation of Clean Air Act Exemption from CERCLA Release Reporting

Although the Biden administration has yet to issue many new substantive air quality regulations, Biden’s EPA recently issued two rules revoking Trump-era procedural regulations that should pave the way for a more aggressive regulatory agenda. On May 13, EPA rescinded the “Increasing Consistency and Transparency in Considering Benefits and Costs in the Clean Air Act Rulemaking Process Rule” (Cost-Benefit Rule), a requirement governing cost-benefit analyses for Clean Air Act (CAA) rulemakings, and on May 18, the agency revoked the “EPA Guidance; Administrative Procedures for Issuance and Public Petitions Rule” (Guidance Document Rule), which required all “significant” EPA guidance to undergo a public notice and comment process prior to issuance, modification, or withdrawal.

Continue Reading Biden EPA Rescinds Trump’s Cost-Benefit and Guidance Document Rules

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