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. 
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On July 29, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed a long-anticipated proposal to amend EPA’s 2015 Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) rule.

EPA’s proposal includes a number of changes, including the establishment of an alternate risk-based groundwater protection standard for boron, revisions to the annual groundwater monitoring and corrective action report requirements, and revisions to the CCR website requirements. The proposal also includes changes in response to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s August 21, 2018 remand of certain CCR rule provisions. These amendments address the “beneficial use” definition and CCR pile requirements.
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On June 26, 2019, EPA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking requesting comment on a proposed Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for perchlorate under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Perchlorate is both a man-made and naturally-occurring chemical, most commonly found in industrial operations associated with the use or manufacture of rocket fuel, missiles and fireworks. Perchlorate inhibits the uptake of iodide to the thyroid and has been detected in certain public water supply systems, primarily in the western United States. In its Notice, EPA proposes an MCL of 56 µg/L, but at the same time requests public comment on whether the MCL should be set at a higher or lower standard, or whether the agency should re-evaluate its decision to regulate perchlorate based on updated data. This rule, if finalized, could affect thousands of public water systems that would be required to comply with the new standard, as well as state and tribal agencies responsible for drinking water regulatory development and enforcement.
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On April 15, 2019, the environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper (Riverkeeper) filed suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, alleging that the Corps’ operation of the Chief Joseph Dam is in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA). Riverkeeper’s complaint raises important questions as to whether certain discharges from hydropower facilities trigger the need for an authorization under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) pursuant to section 402 of the CWA, 33 U.S.C. § 1342.
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On April 24, Troutman Sanders partner Sean Sullivan presented during the PFAS and Other Emerging Contaminants Conference hosted by the American Council of Engineering Companies of North Carolina.

Sean’s presentation, “Turning Science into Law: The Process for Setting Health-Based Exposure Limits” explored the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA’s PFAS Action Plan and North Carolina’s

On April 12, 2019, the Fifth Circuit issued its opinion in Southwestern Elec. Power Co. v. EPA, ordering EPA to reconsider parts of its 2015 Effluents Limitations Guidelines and Standards for the Steam Electric Power Generating Point Source Category (“2015 ELG Rule”). The opinion resolves a challenge brought by environmental groups regarding the rule’s effluent limitation guidelines for “legacy” wastewater and for combustion residual leachate from landfills or settling ponds.

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On April 15, 2019, EPA issued its long-awaited Interpretative Statement addressing the Clean Water Act’s applicability to releases of pollutants from point sources into groundwater that subsequently migrate to jurisdictional surface waters. The question this interpretation addresses stems from the 2018 federal circuit split previously discussed here. On February 19, 2019, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in one of the cases that contributed to the split, County of Maui v. Hawai’i Wildlife Fund. The United States filed its amicus brief in that case, urging the highest court to review County of Maui, but not a similar ruling from the Fourth Circuit. As the question was being reviewed by the federal courts, EPA requested public comment on this issue and received over 50,000 comments. EPA is addressing some of these comments in the Interpretative Statement.
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On March 8, 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Army, and Army Corps of Engineers petitioned the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 4th and 9th Circuits to voluntarily dismiss their appeals of the Suspension rule. This is yet another development in the litigation surrounding the 2015 Waters of the United States Rule (WOTUS). Our previous blog posts on this topic can be accessed here.
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At a public hearing on March 6, 2019, the California State Water Resources Control Board announced a “Phased Investigation Plan” for perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).  The Investigation Plan represents a coordinated effort by the Water Board to identify PFAS in discharges and drinking water sources across California.  This new initiative leverages the Board’s enforcement and permitting powers to order testing and will proceed in three phases.  Under each phase, the Water Board will issue orders to the covered facilities requiring at least one round of testing of their discharge to identify whether PFAS are present.

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