Environmental Litigation

To help reboot after the holiday break, here is a list of air topics we expect to make news in 2022 with a short discussion of why each one may be important to you.

Continue Reading Welcome Back! These Are the Air Topics That Will Make News in 2022

The U.S. Supreme Court has elected to hear a legal dispute over the scope of the authority granted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing power plants. In orders issued October 29, the Court granted certiorari to four petitioners — West Virginia, North Dakota, the North American Coal Corporation, and Westmoreland Mining Holdings LLC — seeking reversal of a September 2020 D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision striking down the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule.

Continue Reading Supreme Court Will Hear Controversy Over EPA Regulation of Greenhouse Gases from Existing Power Plants

The financial world appears to be reeling from the recent board of director election held by Exxon Mobil Corp. (Exxon) in which activist Hedge Fund Engine 1 (Engine 1) garnered enough votes to seat two directors (Kaisa Hietala and Gregory Goff), and potentially more, as the vote count continues. In the grand scheme of things, eight of Exxon’s nominees, including CEO Darren Woods, were re-elected to the 12-member board, and yet still, Engine 1 placing directors while sporting $50 million in holdings among over a $250 billion market cap for Exxon is worthy of note. The efforts of Engine 1 were aided by other large shareholders, such as BlackRock, Inc., Exxon’s second largest shareholder. The debate around the dissident directors centered on climate change issues.

Continue Reading Exxon Mobil Corp. Board Turnover: A Cautionary ESG Tale or Recipe for Success

In an April 1, 2021 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Florida’s exceptions to the decision of Special Master Judge Paul Kelly in its long-running dispute with Georgia over the use of water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) river basin. The oral argument in the case, held February 22, 2021, seemed to point to several open questions where the justices could have made new law or clarified the tests associated with an equitable apportionment action. However, in the end, it came down to just the content of the evidentiary record, which was not in Florida’s favor, especially with the application of heightened standards of review.

Continue Reading Georgia Prevails Before Supreme Court In Long Running Water Wars Dispute

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

The EPA has issued a rule requiring all significant agency guidance to undergo a public notice and comment process prior to issuance, modification or withdrawal (Rule). The new Rule was adopted pursuant to Executive Order 13891, which also required the agency to distinguish active guidance from inactive guidance, and to limit documents available through the official EPA guidance portal (Order). As of June 27, 2020 only guidance available through the official agency guidance portals qualifies as active guidance.

Continue Reading EPA Adopts Measures to Improve the Transparency of Significant Agency Guidance

On February 20, 2020, Earthjustice, on behalf of a variety of nonprofit organizations, including the Sierra Club, brought suit against the United States Department of Defense (“DOD”), alleging that the DOD violated the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) and the National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) in its decision to enter into contracts for the incineration of its unused stockpiles of firefighting foam. Save Our County, et al. v. United States Department of Defense, et al., 3:20-cv-01267 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 20, 2020). According to the complaint, the incineration of firefighting foam poses a threat to communities as the burning of the foam releases per– and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”), a group of chemicals found in firefighting foam that may be linked to certain adverse health effects. In the complaint, the plaintiffs allege that the DOD’s contracts violate NEPA because the DOD did not prepare an environmental impact statement prior to consenting to the incineration of the firefighting foam. Additionally, the plaintiffs allege that the incineration of the firefighting foam does not comply with certain regulations created by the NDAA that govern the incineration of PFAS-containing materials.

Continue Reading PFAS Litigation Continues as EPA Proposes Increased Federal Regulations

On Monday, January 27, the United States Supreme Court issued a notice granting both Florida and Georgia 45 days to respond to a special master recommendation recently issued by New Mexico-based federal Tenth Circuit Judge Paul Kelly, as well as time to address each other’s arguments in subsequent legal briefs.

The notice sets the stage for the justices to potentially hear the case later this spring or more likely, according to Court observers, in their next term that begins in October, 2020. The Court could also decide the 7-year-old case, Florida v. Georgia, without further oral arguments depending on the parties’ submissions. Florida sought to limit Georgia’s water usage in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin, where the Chattahoochee River transects Alabama and Georgia, the Flint River flows through rich South Georgia farmland, and the combined flows into the Apalachicola River ultimately reaches Apalachicola Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The headwaters of the basin within Lake Lanier serve as the main source of drinking water for a majority of metro Atlanta and irrigates farms in southwest Georgia, providing an economic impact to Georgia estimated to be $13.8 billion.

Continue Reading Supreme Court Sets Stage for Next Water Wars Showdown

On Friday, August 9, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) unveiled a pre-publication version of a notice of proposed rulemaking (“NOPR”) to clarify state water quality certification (“certification”) procedures under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) to allow for increased regulatory certainty in federal licensing and permitting activities, and particularly authorization of infrastructure projects.  EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced on Friday that the “proposal is intended to help ensure that states adhere to the statutory language and intent of Clean Water Act.”  The NOPR proposes substantive changes to the scope of state water quality certification authority under the CWA and the procedures governing these certifications, focusing on the plain language of the statute and at times departing from prior case law precedent.

Significant components of the NOPR are summarized below.  EPA has established a 60-day period for public comment on the proposed rule, from the date of publication in the Federal Register.  In light of the substantial modifications to the scope, substance and procedures related to state water quality certification, the NOPR presents a unique opportunity for utilities, manufacturers, developers, and other regulated business entities to help shape a significant regulatory program. 
Continue Reading EPA Proposes Sweeping Changes to Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Regulations

In Kisor v. Wilkie, 588 U.S. __ (2019), a five Justice majority substantially narrowed, but did not wholly overturn, the embattled doctrines arising from Auer v. Robbins, 519 U.S. 452 (1997), and Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co., 325 U. S. 410 (1945).  Under the Auer deference doctrine, courts must defer to reasonable agency interpretations of their own regulations.  Several Justices and prominent scholars had criticized Auer deference on statutory, constitutional, and practical grounds.  While Auer deference lives on after Kisor, the continuing practical relevance of the doctrine is doubtful for most cases.  Further, Kisor’s limitations on Auer deference may portend a similar fate for Chevron deference, in future cases.
Continue Reading Kisor v. Wilkie: The Future of Auer Deference, With Implications For Chevron