On August 13, EPA finalized Clean Water Act (Act) Section 304(a) recommended criteria for phosphorus and nitrogen in lakes and reservoirs. The new recommendations incorporate scientific models that states and tribes with treatment as state status can use to establish numeric water quality criteria for phosphorus and nitrogen, and they mark an important milestone in EPA’s long-running war on excess nutrients in the nation’s surface waters. In the new recommended lakes criteria, EPA is embracing a stressor-response approach to managing nutrients, instead of the least-disturbed reference method. This is a significant move for the agency and has the potential to set a positive precedent going forward for EPA and state and tribal regulators to re-evaluate the utility of the reference method approach in other contexts.

Continue Reading EPA Finalizes Recommended Nutrient Criteria for Lakes and Reservoirs

EPA announced yesterday its intent to revise some portions of the 2020 Steam Electric Effluent Limitation Guideline Reconsideration Rule (2020 ELG Rule). EPA’s press release and the pre-publication version of its Federal Register notice sent a clear message that the agency is aiming at membrane technology to control flue gas desulfurization (FGD) wastewater discharges from coal-fired power plants. The notice also states that the agency will reconsider the technology selected for bottom ash transport, and it may revise or eliminate the subcategories created by the 2020 ELG Rule for high-flow facilities, low-utilization facilities, and for facilities that commit to retire or repower coal-fired units by 2028.

Continue Reading EPA Signals More Stringent Regulation for Steam Electric Power Generators

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Continue Reading Subpart OOOOa: What Happens When Congress Revives a Repealed Rule?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

On May 27, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its intent to reconsider the Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 401 final rule issued by the Trump administration in June 2020 (Final Rule).

Continue Reading EPA Announces Reconsideration and Potential Revision of the Clean Water Act Section 401 Final Rule

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 March 17, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) that puts forth 28 questions directed at manufacturers and formulators of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The agency intends to use the ANPRM and comments it receives to initiate formal rulemaking to establish effluent limitations guidelines (ELGs) for facilities that manufacture or blend PFAS with other chemicals or products, likely at least initially as an amendment to the existing guidelines governing the “Organic Chemicals, Plastics and Synthetic Fibers” (OCPSF) industrial sector.
Continue Reading EPA Publishes Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in Preparation for Crafting PFAS Effluent Limitations Guidelines

Today, in U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service et al. v. Sierra Club Inc., Case No. 19-547, the United States Supreme Court struck down a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling that the federal government was required to turn over documents with regard to a proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation for power plant cooling. The Sierra Club brought a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit for access to documents related to the proposed rule, including biological opinions. The EPA’s rule regulates cooling water intake structures, which draw water from lakes, rivers, and other sources to moderate the temperature of water produced during operations of power plants and other industrial facilities.

Continue Reading Supreme Court Sides with Agency on Deliberative Process Privilege

As previously reported, a coalition of environmental groups recently filed a petition for review in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (D.C. Circuit) challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent final rule titled, “Hazardous and Solid Waste Management System: Disposal of CCR; A Holistic Approach to Closure Part B: Alternate Demonstration for Unlined Surface Impoundments,” 85 Fed. Reg. 72,506 (Nov. 12, 2020). Commonly called “Part B,” the rule allows owners and operators to submit demonstrations showing their clay-lined impoundments are adequately protective of human health and the environment.

Continue Reading Environmental Groups Voluntarily Dismiss Their Untimely Challenge to “Part B” CCR Rule Revisions