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

On January 19, the last full day of the Trump administration, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, the Trump EPA’s replacement rule for the Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan was a cornerstone of the Obama EPA’s efforts to address climate change and would have required electric utilities to shift generation from fossil fuels to renewable resources. That aggressive rule was halted by an unprecedented stay of the rule by the Supreme Court, but a decision on the merits has never been issued because the Trump administration took office and put the litigation on hold. In its January 20 opinion, the D.C. Circuit has now issued the first decision on the merits of the legal issues underlying both ACE and the Clean Power Plan.

Continue Reading Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule Vacated, But Appeal Still Possible

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

On March 31, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA” and, collectively, the “Agencies”) released the pre-publication version of the final part to their joint Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (“SAFE”) Vehicles Rule. The new rule amends EPA’s greenhouse gas emission standards for passenger vehicles, light-duty trucks, and medium-duty passenger vehicles in model years 2021 and onward, and it simultaneously amends or creates NHTSA’s corporate average fuel economy standards for similar vehicles in model years (MY) 2021-2026. Under these harmonized regulations, each new model year will bring a 1.5% increase in stringency through MY 2026. Though a significant lessening of requirements from joint standards last set in 2012, this “steady ramp rate” is a notable change from the proposed version of the SAFE Vehicles Rule, which sought to maintain requirements as they applied in MY 2020. The new rule will take effect sixty days from its publication in the Federal Register.

Continue Reading Agencies Release Final Rule on Passenger Vehicle Fuel Economy

Last week, EPA fulfilled a promise to reverse the expansion of its refrigerant management program during the Obama Administration. That expansion, which was finalized in 2016 and became effective in 2019, EPA extended the regulations for ozone depleting substances (ODS) to non-ODS “substitute” refrigerants, with the intent of reducing emissions of substitutes that consist of greenhouse gases (GHGs), including some with very high global warming potentials. Last week’s final rule returns the refrigerant management program to its original focus, at least with respect to appliance leak repair requirements, although some regulatory requirements for non-ODS substitute refrigerants will remain in place.

Continue Reading EPA Finalizes Rule to Limit Refrigerant Program to Ozone Depleting Substances

On June 21, 2019, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released a new draft guidance redefining the process federal agencies will use to evaluate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In marked contrast to GHG guidance issued by CEQ under the Obama Administration in 2016, the draft guidance encourages federal agencies undertaking NEPA review to follow the “rule of reason” and use their “expertise and experience” to decide whether and to what degree the agency will analyze particular effects of GHG emissions. Therefore, the draft guidance moves to a more deferential approach to agency review under NEPA than the Obama Administration’s prescriptive guidance. The draft guidance will be published in the Federal Register for public review and comment. If finalized, it will replace the Obama Administration’s 2016 guidance, which was withdrawn effective April 5, 2017, after President Trump issued Executive Order (EO) 13783, “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.” 
Continue Reading A Clear Shift in Policy: CEQ Issues Draft Guidance for Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Under NEPA

On June 13, 2019, EPA published a final rule that revises its release notification requirements under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).  Specifically, the revision exempts from EPCRA reporting air emissions from animal waste at farms.  While these air emissions are now exempt from reporting requirements, releases from animal waste to other water and land must still be reported.
Continue Reading EPA Excludes Farm Animal Waste from EPCRA Air Emissions Reporting Obligations