On June 11, 2018, the Supreme Court summarily affirmed the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in United States v. Washington through a 4-4 split, with Justice Kennedy taking no part in the decision due to his involvement in similar cases during his time as a circuit judge on the Ninth Circuit.  The immediate effect of the high court’s decision will be to require the State of Washington to replace or modify, at the State’s expense, several hundred culverts placed in streams under roads and bridges throughout the State. In the longer run, however, the decision could have much more far-reaching impacts related to federal and state obligations to protect against habitat degradation of salmon and other aquatic species pursuant to their obligations under several Nineteenth Century treaties reached with Native American Tribes in the Pacific Northwest.

Continue Reading Supreme Court Summarily Affirms Judgment of Ninth Circuit Decision on Pivotal Case Related to Tribal Treaty Fishing Rights

The Supreme Court has declined to review the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s January 2017 decision in Catskill Mountains Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Inc. et al. v. U.S. EPA reinstating the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (the “EPA”) Water Transfers Rule, meaning the Second Circuit’s decision reinstating the Rule will stand.  The Water Transfer Rule, issued by EPA in 2008, formalized EPA’s historic practice of excluding water transfers between water basins from the Clean Water Act’s (“CWA”) National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permitting requirements after years of legal battles over EPA’s informal policies regarding interbasin transfers.

Continue Reading Supreme Court Declines Review of Second Circuit Decision Reinstating EPA Water Transfers Rule

The scope and definition of critical habitat under Section 4 of the Endangered Species Act has been a controversial subject.  In 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 6,477 acres of land in Louisiana (including 1,600 privately-owned acres) as critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog, despite the fact that the frogs have not been seen in the state for decades.  Timber company Weyerhauser Co. and private landowner Markle Interests LLC filed suit challenging that designation.  Subsequent to the critical habitat designation for the dusky gopher frog, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (collectively, “the Services”) promulgated new critical habitat rules that authorized, among other things, the designation of areas where a species was not actually present as critical habitat for that species.  Thus, the outcome of this case has significant implications for these 2016 rules.

Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Challenge to Designation of Unoccupied Habitat as Critical Habitat Under ESA

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court ruled that federal district courts, rather than appellate courts, are the proper venue to challenge the “Waters of the United States” (“WOTUS”) Rule (discussed in a previous blog post here), an Obama-era regulation that expansively defined waters subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction.  Following the Supreme Court decision, the Eleventh Circuit on Wednesday vacated its 2015 decision which held the opposite.  In doing so, it also remanded a challenge to the WOTUS Rule brought by a coalition of states (led by Georgia) in 2015 in the federal district court in Brunswick, Georgia.

Continue Reading Challenge to WOTUS Rule Heads Back to Georgia District Court

Today, in a much-anticipated decision, the Supreme Court unanimously held that district courts are the proper courts to hear challenges to the “Waters of the United States” (“WOTUS”) Rule, an Obama-era regulation that expansively defined waters subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction.  The decision overturns a Sixth Circuit ruling that federal appeals courts maintain the proper jurisdiction to hear such challenges.  Writing for the Court, Justice Sotomayor found that “Congress has made clear that rules like the WOTUS Rule must be reviewed first in federal district courts.”

Continue Reading Supreme Court Decides Jurisdiction for WOTUS Rule Challenges

On January 9, 2018, EPA released the pre-publication copy of its annual civil monetary penalty adjustment.  The final rule is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on January 10, 2018.  The adjustments are mandated by 2015 revisions to the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act, which requires federal agencies to make annual inflation adjustments to federal statutory civil penalty amounts.  In the past, EPA only adjusted penalty levels for inflation once every several years.  Beginning in 2017, however, EPA and other federal agencies must adjust their penalty amounts every year. Continue Reading EPA Publishes Updated Civil Penalty Amounts

On January 8, 2018, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument on the decision issued by Special Master Ralph Lancaster in the long-running dispute between Florida and Georgia over the fate of water use in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) Basin.  The Special Master sided with Georgia, less on the merits than for procedural reasons, finding that Florida had failed to meet its burden of showing how Florida’s proposed remedy of a consumption cap on Georgia would be effective to curb alleged excessive water use by Georgia due to control of impoundments on the Chattahoochee River by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“the Corps”), not a party to the suit.

Continue Reading Florida and Georgia Square Off In High Court; Mixed Signals from Justices

The United States Supreme Court announced today that it will hear oral argument in the Florida v. Georgia lawsuit on January 8, 2018.  In that case, Florida sought to mandate a statewide water usage cap for Georgia but was held to have failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that such a remedy would be effective where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a major manager of impoundments along the Chattahoochee River, was not a party to the lawsuit.  The lawsuit represents the most recent battle in the long-running “water wars” among the Southeastern states over the Apalachicola-Flint-Chattahoochee River Basin.

Continue Reading Supreme Court Takes Up Florida v. Georgia Lawsuit in January

On November 9, 2017, on the heels of New Jersey’s move to set a maximum contaminant level for certain perfluoroalkyl substances, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) added perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) to the list of chemicals known to the state of California to cause reproductive toxicity (also known as the Prop 65 list).

Continue Reading California Adds PFOA and PFOS to Prop 65 Warning Requirements