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

There has been a longstanding debate about how to apply the one-year time limit on Clean Water Act Section 401 certification decisions. The D.C. Circuit court in Hoopa Valley Tribe v. FERC, 913 F.3d 1099 (D.C. Cir. 2019) established a bright-line standard that a 401 certification must be issued or denied within one year of receipt of application, or the certification opportunity is waived. States cannot engage in actions to extend this deadline by requiring an applicant to withdraw and refile their application or by finding an application incomplete. This bright-line test was reinforced by the Second Circuit’s more recent decision in New York State Department of Environmental Conservation v. FERC, 991 F.3d 439 (2d Cir. 2021). This interpretation was also codified in EPA’s 2020 Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Rule. See 85 Fed. Reg. 42210 (July 13, 2020). However, on July 2, the Fourth Circuit offered a different interpretation of Section 401 in its decision in N.C. Department of Environmental Quality v. FERC, No. 20-1655 (McMahan Hydro).

Continue Reading The Fourth Circuit Weighs In on the Interpretation of CWA Section 401

On March 31, U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello found that the Federal Power Act (FPA) is the exclusive authority with regards to controversies related to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) -issued hydroelectric licenses, including challenges that stem from the permitting decisions of other federal agencies acting under their independent statutory authority. In Save the Colorado v. Semonite, Civil Action No. 18-cv-03258 (D. Colo. Mar. 31, 2021), the court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction over an appeal of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 404 permit and the associated U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Endangered Species Act (ESA) biological opinion since these are actions “inhere[d] in the controversy” related to the FERC license.
Continue Reading District Court Lacked Jurisdiction Over Clean Water Act Section 404 Permit Challenge Involving FERC License Amendment

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

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

On March 23, the Second Circuit issued its opinion in N.Y. Dep’t of Enviro. Conservation v. FERC, Case No. 19-1610 (i.e., the “Empire Pipeline” case). The case concerns the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC or Commission) determination that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) waived its water quality certification authority with regard to FERC’s issuance of a gas pipeline certificate when NYSDEC sought to extend its review period beyond the one-year deadline under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA or Act) by agreeing with the applicant to “post-date” the filing date of its water quality certification application by several weeks.

Continue Reading Second Circuit Enforces the Clean Water Act Section 401 One-Year Time Limit

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

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

Climate change and environmental justice are currently dominating the conversation in the environmental legal community, but 2021 promises to be an extremely active year for one of the most challenging environmental issues of this era — the emergence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as a significant public health concern. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) demonstrated its continued commitment to implementing the national PFAS Action Plan by announcing on February 22 two important steps toward establishing federal drinking water standards for PFAS compounds under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

Continue Reading USEPA Advances Toward Regulation of PFAS in Drinking Water

On February 11, three environmental groups — Sierra Club, Alliance for Affordable Energy, and PennEnvironment, Inc. — 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. Part B is the second of two rulemakings comprising EPA’s “Holistic Approach to Closure” amendments to the coal combustion residuals (CCR) rule. Environmental groups filed a similar challenge to the “Part A” rule in the D.C. Circuit in November 2020. That case, Labadie Environmental Organization v. EPA, is currently pending.

Continue Reading Environmental Groups Challenge “Part B” Revisions to CCR Rule