On June 18, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) clarified their guidelines for when offsets are required for wetlands impaired by development on the Last Frontier. The new policy recognizes the uniqueness of Alaska for wetlands permitting, by allowing alternatives and flexibility related to compensatory mitigation as Alaska is home to 174 million acres of wetlands covering 43 percent of the land area.
On June 29, 2018, Department of the Interior (“Interior”) issued a public notice withdrawing an opinion issued January 13, 2017 by Interior’s then-Solicitor, Hilary Tompkins, which concluded that Interior retains the authority to acquire land into trust for Alaska natives.
On June 27, 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) submitted its final Management Standards for Hazardous Waste Pharmaceuticals rule (“Pharm Rule”) to the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”), which is charged with reviewing every final and proposed federal agency rule before its publication in the Federal Register. EPA published its proposed Pharm Rule in the Federal Register on September 25, 2015, nearly three years ago, but the final rule then stalled. According to EPA’s Spring 2018 Unified Agenda, EPA anticipates publishing the final Pharm Rule in October 2018. Sending the rule to OMB yesterday signals that EPA may well issue the final rule in October.
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.
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.
On June 7, 2018, U.S. EPA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (“ANPR”) aimed at developing a consistent and transparent interpretation of cost and benefits consideration in regulatory analyses, including regulations promulgated pursuant to the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act and other statutes. EPA will accept comments on the ANPR for 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register.
Assessing costs and benefits has been a contentious part of EPA rulemakings. For instance, in the Mercury and Air Toxics (MATS) rulemaking, EPA determined that the monetized cost of the rule would be $9.6 billion annually whereas the monetized benefit would be $4-6 million annually. EPA determined that MATS was nevertheless “appropriate” regulation, but the Supreme Court reversed, ruling that the agency had improperly refused to consider costs. While EPA, during the Obama administration, subsequently modified its “appropriate” determination for the MATS rule, it has been speculated that the Trump administration might take some further action in that regard. Continue Reading EPA Considers Changing its Cost-Benefit Review Process
On May 30th, EPA reinstated a Bush Administration RCRA exemption that allows third-party recycling of hazardous secondary materials, known as the “Transfer-Based Exclusion.” The move will make it easier for facilities to use vendors to recycle materials like spent solvents and expired pharmaceuticals without managing them as hazardous waste. As a result, it may be possible for Large Quantity Generators (“LQG”) to reduce their generator status and avoid the compliance obligations that come with being an LQG.
A federal judge last week upheld the constitutionality of the Congressional Review Act (CRA), a law that Congress has used recently to overturn more than a dozen federal regulations from the Obama Administration. Under the CRA, Congress, by a majority vote, can disapprove a federal regulation if it does so within sixty legislative days after the regulation was adopted. Once Congress disapproves a regulation, it cannot be readopted in substantially similar form.
On Friday, May 11, California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) issued a notice that it is considering listing laundry detergent that includes nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE) as a “priority product” under its Safer Consumer Products regulations. If DTSC finalizes a rule listing the product, it will kick off an alternatives assessment process, during which manufacturers, sellers, importers, and distributors of the product will have to evaluate alternatives to the use of NPE, and which may result in DTSC concluding that NPE in laundry detergent should be phased out and replaced with a “safer” alternative. Regardless, the alternatives assessment process is a time-consuming and cost-intensive process, and will be subject to a lot of scrutiny from DTSC and third parties.