On February 6, 2018, David Ross, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water issued a new guidance memorandum updating the Agency’s Water Quality Trading Policy.  The new guidance strongly supports and promotes trading and flexibility and clarifies EPA’s previous guidance, stating, for example, that its 2003 Water Quality Trading Policy “may be too prescriptive to be widely effective and implementable.”  The guidance announces six “Market-Based Principles” designed to encourage and promote the development and implementation of market-based pollutant reduction programs.  The six principles include:

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On January 23, 2019 and February 6, 2019, OSHA and EPA, respectively, published their annual civil monetary penalty adjustments in the Federal Register. The Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 2015 requires federal agencies to make annual inflation adjustments to federal statutory civil penalty amounts. The annual inflation adjustments are based on a cost-of-living multiplier determined by changes to the Consumer Price Index.
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The U.S. Department of the Army’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Works has issued a policy directive memorandum requiring the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to adhere to a “default time period” of 60 days for states to act on a request for water quality certification under Clean Water Act Section 401 with regard to USACE’s issuance of dredge and fill permits under CWA Section 404.  The policy memorandum also requires USACE to “immediately draft guidance” to establish criteria for USACE District Engineers to identify circumstances that may warrant additional time for states to decide on an application for water quality certification.

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On January 25, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, in a unanimous decision, granted a petition for review in Hoopa Valley Tribe v. FERC, No. 14-1271 (D.C. Cir., Jan. 25, 2019). The key holding in the case, which concerns the ongoing Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s relicensing of the Klamath Hydroelectric Project, is that the States of California and Oregon waived their authorities under section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. § 1341, by failing to rule on the applicant’s submitted application for water quality certification within one year from when it was initially filed in 2006. The applicant for many years had followed, at the request of the States, the common industry practice of “withdraw-and-resubmit” of its water quality certification application in an attempt to annually reset the one-year time period for the States to act, as established under CWA section 401. The D.C. Circuit in Hoopa Valley Tribe invalidated this practice as a means of resetting the statutory clock, instead holding that the clear text of CWA establishes that “a full year is the absolute maximum” time for a state to decide on a water quality certification application.
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Troutman Sanders partner Chuck Sensiba and Associate Morgan Gerard authored the main feature article in the January 2019 issue of The Water Report, a monthly publication focused on federal and state water issues. In the article, Sensiba and Gerard discuss how a rule proposed by the Trump Administration would significantly narrow the number of

On December 11, 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and the Department of the Army (“DOA”) (“Agencies”) released their much-anticipated Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“Proposed Rule”), which if adopted would scale back the jurisdictional reach of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) by narrowing the definition of “Waters of the United States” (“WOTUS”) to include only those waters that are oceans, rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and wetlands, and their “naturally occurring surface water channels.”  The practical implications for project proponents of the Proposed Rule are that ephemeral streams and many ponds and ditches used in agricultural, industrial and construction activities would no longer be within the jurisdictional reach of the CWA, alleviating the requirement for and uncertainty surrounding permitting requirements and related mitigation measures.  The next step in the Proposed Rule’s process is publication in the Federal Register, after which the Agencies will accept public comments on the proposal until 60 days after Federal Register publication.

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The Trump administration is expected to announce a new proposed definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) which would reverse the expansions adopted under the Obama administration’s controversial WOTUS rule, significantly narrowing the number of waterways and wetlands that fall within the jurisdictional scope of the Clean Water Act (CWA).

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Last Thursday, in South Carolina Coastal Conservation League v. Pruitt, South Carolina Federal District Court Judge Norton issued an order which made the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule take effect in twenty-six states.  As background, the CWA prohibits discharges to WOTUS without a permit, but does not define the term.  In 2015, the Obama Administration finalized the WOTUS Rule, which applied an expansive meaning to the term to broaden federal jurisdiction.  In October 2015, the Sixth Circuit delayed the effective date of the WOTUS Rule pending judicial review.  In January 2018, the Supreme Court concluded its review and ordered that the Sixth Circuit, among other actions, lift its stay of the Rule.  In order to delay the implementation of the WOTUS Rule, the Trump Administration responded with yet another rulemaking – referred to as the “Suspension Rule” – which delayed the effective date of the WOTUS Rule by two years while the Administration considered a replacement for the Obama-era WOTUS Rule.

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The most recent development in the decades-long water wars between Georgia, Florida, and Alabama occurred today at the Supreme Court.  In a 5-4 decision, Justices Breyer, Roberts, Kennedy, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor overruled the Special Master’s February 14, 2017 decision and remanded the case back to him for further consideration on factual issues.  In his decision, the Special Master dismissed Florida’s claim against Georgia for its consumptive use of water from the ACF River Basin, stating that Florida failed to carry its burden of demonstrating that a limit on Georgia’s water consumption would make any difference to Florida’s economic and ecological harm.

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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.

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