On January 11, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a new interpretation of its coal combustion residual (CCR) regulations: CCR landfills or surface impoundments “cannot be closed with coal ash in contact with groundwater.” Although EPA claims it has “consistently held” this interpretation, this is the first time EPA has expressly articulated this view. Perhaps acknowledging the novelty of its position, EPA also announced its intent to “review … state-level CCR program applications to ensure they are as protective as federal regulations” and to proceed toward a federal CCR permitting framework.
Continue Reading EPA Announces Key CCR Policy Amid Alternative Closure Determinations

On October 21, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California vacated and remanded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2020 Clean Water Act Section 401 final rule (Certification Rule).

In response to the court’s ruling, EPA is implementing the previous water quality certification rule nationwide, which had been in effect since 1971, while it develops a new rule.

Pursuant to Section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), no federal license or permit that may result in a discharge to U.S. waters may be issued unless the state or authorized Tribe, where the discharge will originate, issues a water quality certification or waives the certification requirement.
Continue Reading Court Decision to Vacate, Remand State Water Quality 401 Certification Rule

In a landmark ruling signaling a new lens with which to view the treatment of interstate water allocation, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision on November 22 in Mississippi v. Tennessee, et al., 595 U.S. ___ (Case No. 21o143) rejecting Mississippi’s claim to sole ownership of waters of the Middle Claiborne Aquifer within that state’s borders. Instead, the Court held that the traditional remedy of equitable apportionment used to allocate surface waters of streams and rivers should apply. The case represents the first time that the Court has held that equitable apportionment applies to groundwater, which may open the door to new disputes among border states who claim equal rights to underground water resources.
Continue Reading Equitable Apportionment of Interstate Waters Sinks to New Levels

Landowners and permit applicants received an email notification this week that the Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) would not be processing their requests for coverage under a variety of Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 404 Nationwide Permits (NWPs). NWPs are general permits that authorize activities under Clean Water Act Section 404 that “will cause only minimal adverse environmental effects when performed separately, and will have only minimal cumulative adverse effects on the environment.” CWA Section 404 (e)(1).

Continue Reading Army Corps Halts Coverage Under Nationwide Permits

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a new “Strategic Roadmap (Roadmap),” describing a suite of ongoing and future agency actions to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). While many of these actions were previously presented in EPA’s 2019 PFAS Action Plan, or in more recent announcements, the Roadmap provides additional updates and clarity into the expected timing of some regulatory actions. The new projected dates for some key regulatory initiatives include the following:

Continue Reading EPA Announces New “Strategic Roadmap” for PFAS

A recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona vacated and remanded the 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR) issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) (together, “Agencies”) that clarified the scope of federal jurisdictional “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Before the promulgation of the NWPR, there had been several rulemakings and much litigation on this complicated issue, causing nationwide confusion on the application of a uniform standard. In 2015, the Obama administration promulgated a WOTUS rule that had been the subject of significant litigation, which the Trump administration had repealed (the “Repeal Rule”). The NWPR sought to provide certainty as to which waterbodies meet the features of WOTUS by creating clear categories of jurisdictional waterbodies.

Continue Reading District Court Vacates Navigable Waters Protection Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has initiated two rulemaking actions, both expected to be proposed in early 2022, that could change the way the Clean Water Act (CWA) is administered across the country. Together, these actions would elevate tribal rights in water quality regulatory decision-making and could provide EPA with significantly greater authority to regulate discharges on and upstream of tribal lands.

Continue Reading EPA Moves to Elevate Tribal Rights in Water Quality: Changes Could Modify CWA Implementation

This blog post was republished by Law360 on September 14, 2021.

On August 19, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) issued a joint guidance document concerning implementation of EPA’s 2020 Water Quality Certification Rule. The agencies explain that the guidance applies specifically to 41 Clean Water Act Section 404 Nationwide Permits (NWPs) proposed in September 2020 that have already received certification (or for which certification was denied or waived) but have not yet been finalized, and a more detailed enclosure is intended to be applied generally to the Corps’ permit programs. The guidance also cryptically suggests that the agencies may revisit the 16 NWPs that were previously certified and finalized by the Corps in January 2021. In a press release the following day, EPA and the Corps frame the guidance as addressing “implementation challenges” raised by state and tribal certifying authorities.
Continue Reading EPA and Army Corp’s Joint Section 401 Guidance Walks Back Regulatory Certainty

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