Although environmental justice (EJ) is not a new concept in the context of air permitting, the Biden administration’s increased focus on identifying and addressing disproportionate environmental impacts on low-income neighborhoods and communities of color is likely to spur an increase in EJ claims being raised as part of the public review process for both new air permits and permit renewals. Many, if not most, states do not have statutory or regulatory requirements dictating how EJ concerns must be considered in the air permitting context. Similarly, while there is a patchwork of EJ requirements applicable to federal agency actions, most are imposed by executive order and are not prescriptive in nature, meaning that there is no robust legal framework for considering EJ concerns in the air permitting context at the federal level either. Accordingly, while potential permittees and current permit holders seeking to renew or modify their air permits should be aware that there is an increased likelihood that EJ concerns may be raised by third parties or permitting agencies, there is little certainty about how these concerns will be implemented in the course of permit issuance.
On April 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated a Trump-era rule that would have prevented the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from setting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for almost any class of stationary sources, except for fossil fuel-fired electric generating units. The court’s decision, issued at the request of the new Biden EPA, clears the way for new sector-by-sector GHG regulations should the new administration seek to set new GHG standards under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act (CAA).
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.
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.
On March 26, the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) gave notice of its selection of several per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) for review and possible listing under California’s Proposition 65 (Prop 65). OEHHA published two separate notices for public comment: one notice for perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and its salts and transformation and degradation precursors, and another notice for perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA), perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), and perfluoroundecanoic acid (PFUnDA), as well as each of their salts. The public comment period for both notices closes on May 10, 2021.
The Biden administration has highlighted Tribal sovereignty and the federal trust responsibility to Tribal Nations as the cornerstones of its federal Indian policy. The involvement of Native American tribes is also a component of the Biden administration’s environmental justice initiatives. Accordingly, on January 26, the Biden administration issued a “Memorandum on Tribal Consultation and Strengthening Nation-to-Nation Relationships” (Presidential Memorandum), which seeks to prioritize regular, meaningful, and robust federal consultation with Tribal Nations. According to the Presidential Memorandum, “History demonstrated that we best serve Native American people when Tribal governments are empowered to lead their communities, and when federal officials speak with and listen to Tribal leaders in formulating federal policy that affects Tribal Nations.”
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
On the heels of multiple recent indications that it plans to increase its focus on environmental, social, and governance-related (ESG) corporate disclosures, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC or Commission) has solicited help from the public on developing a framework for climate change disclosures. Acting Chair Allison Herren Lee released a statement on March 15, calling for input from investors, registrants, and other market participants “in light of demand for climate change information and questions about whether current disclosures accurately inform investors.”
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced the creation of a new task force on March 4 to address violations of environmental, social, and governance-related (ESG) disclosure requirements. The Climate and ESG Task Force will be located in the SEC’s Division of Enforcement and led by Acting Deputy Director of Enforcement Kelly Gibson, who will oversee a 22-member team drawn from across the SEC. The task force will focus initially on material gaps or misstatements in disclosure of climate risk under existing rules. The task force will use “sophisticated data analysis to mine and assess information … to identify potential violations” and will also pursue tips, referrals, and whistleblower complaints on ESG-related issues.
The topic of environmental justice garnered more attention as the Biden-Harris administration took office. On February 11, HB 432 was introduced by six Democrats in Georgia’s House of Representatives. The proposed bill is titled “Georgia Environmental Justice Act of 2021” and is the first proposed legislation in Georgia that directly addresses environmental justice. Below are the highlights of the contents of the proposed bill.