On August 12, 2019 the U.S. Fish Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) and National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) (collectively, the “Services”) released pre-publication versions of three final rules that are expected to significantly affect the applicability and implementation of the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). These regulations relate to the process and standards for listing species and designating critical habitat, the scope of protections for threatened species, and the process for consultations with federal agencies under Section 7.
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. Continue Reading EPA Proposes Second Round of CCR Rule Amendments
Troutman Sanders attorneys Randy Brogdon and Rich Pepper authored an article published in Law360 titled “Workplace Safety’s Little-Known Hammer: The Clean Air Act” which examines the workplace safety requirements of the Clean Air Act and the potential consequences of exclusively relying on similar, but not identical, requirements under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. They write: “Since 2017, the Trump administration’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has cited these provisions in some of its largest enforcement actions, some requiring millions — in one case, hundreds of millions — of dollars in penalties and required plant upgrades.”
To read the entire article, click here.
FERC’s consideration of indirect environmental impacts of the projects it certifies has been heavily debated as the concerns over climate change increase. Both the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Natural Gas Act (NGA) require that FERC consider how an interstate natural gas pipeline directly and indirectly affects the human environment. Although consideration of direct impacts may be a less controversial topic, FERC’s approach with respect to indirect impacts has proven to be more complex. It is particularly relevant in light of the Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ’s) June 2019 proposed guidance, directing how federal agencies should assess project-related greenhouse gas emissions, discussed in detail here and here. The guidance suggest that FERC should employ a “rule of reason” when considering impacts of greenhouse gas emissions and if FERC lacks adequate information about these emissions, it does not need to quantify them. This recommended approach, however, seems to conflict with how the D.C. Circuit interpreted FERC’s duty in analyzing greenhouse gas and other indirect emissions in its earlier June 2019 decision Birckhead v. FERC, USCA Case No. 18-1218 (D.C. Cir. 2019). Continue Reading D.C. Circuit Suggests FERC Should Try to Quantify Indirect Environmental Impacts of Pipeline Projects
Yesterday, Susan Bodine, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA), issued final guidance for EPA regions regarding interactions between the Agency and the states in civil enforcement and compliance assurance matters. Under the new guidance, EPA will generally defer to a state as having primary jurisdiction over inspections and enforcement, but it also sets out a number of important exceptions where EPA may take direct action. The final guidance replaces previous interim guidance issued in January 2018.
The guidance is split into three parts and expands upon the interim guidance by providing additional procedures and outlining various principles and approaches for coordination between EPA regions and states. The changes are the result of input from EPA regional offices, states, and a workgroup on compliance assurance that EPA and the Environmental Council of States convened in September of 2017. Continue Reading EPA Issues Final Guidance on State Partnerships, Lays Out Deference to State Inspections and Enforcement
On June 25, 2019, EPA released a pre-publication draft of a proposed rule allowing sources subject to Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standards under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act to voluntarily limit their emissions and avoid MACT. The proposed rule, which formalizes and expands on a January 2018 guidance document issued by former EPA Assistant Administrator Bill Wehrum, would allow “major sources” of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) otherwise subject to MACT standards to take an enforceable limit on HAPs and thus reclassify as “area sources.” The rulemaking, branded by the Agency as “Major MACT to Area” (MM2A), would eliminate the Agency’s longstanding “once-in-always-in” policy, under which a facility that qualified as a major source of HAPs as of the “first substantive compliance date” of the applicable MACT standard was permanently subject to that standard, even if the source was later able to reduce its emissions below major source applicability thresholds. Continue Reading EPA Proposes Rulemaking Withdrawing “Once-In-Always-In” Policy for MACT
EPA fulfilled one of President Trump’s campaign promises this week with the publication of the final Affordable Clean Energy rule—ACE—to replace the Clean Power Plan. Like the Clean Power Plan, ACE is an “emission guideline” issued under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act to regulate the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the electric utility sector. However, while the Clean Power Plan could only be achieved by shifting electricity generation away from energy resources that emit CO2, ACE only regulates sources of CO2 emissions directly by requiring efficiency improvements at coal-fired power plants.
The notice published on Monday actually contains three separate actions: (1) the repeal of the Clean Power Plan, (2) the adoption of ACE, and (3) revisions to the general regulations governing all “emission guidelines” adopted under Section 111(d). EPA asserts that each of these components constitutes a separate rulemaking action, but at least the first two are grounded in the same fundamental idea—that Section 111(d) only authorizes EPA to select as a “best system of emission reduction” something that can be “applied” to an individual regulated “stationary source” of emissions. Continue Reading Affordable Clean Energy Replaces the Clean Power Plan
In Kisor v. Wilkie, 588 U.S. __ (2019), a five Justice majority substantially narrowed, but did not wholly overturn, the embattled doctrines arising from Auer v. Robbins, 519 U.S. 452 (1997), and Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co., 325 U. S. 410 (1945). Under the Auer deference doctrine, courts must defer to reasonable agency interpretations of their own regulations. Several Justices and prominent scholars had criticized Auer deference on statutory, constitutional, and practical grounds. While Auer deference lives on after Kisor, the continuing practical relevance of the doctrine is doubtful for most cases. Further, Kisor’s limitations on Auer deference may portend a similar fate for Chevron deference, in future cases. Continue Reading Kisor v. Wilkie: The Future of Auer Deference, With Implications For Chevron
On June 21, 2019, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released a new draft guidance redefining the process federal agencies will use to evaluate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In marked contrast to GHG guidance issued by CEQ under the Obama Administration in 2016, the draft guidance encourages federal agencies undertaking NEPA review to follow the “rule of reason” and use their “expertise and experience” to decide whether and to what degree the agency will analyze particular effects of GHG emissions. Therefore, the draft guidance moves to a more deferential approach to agency review under NEPA than the Obama Administration’s prescriptive guidance. The draft guidance will be published in the Federal Register for public review and comment. If finalized, it will replace the Obama Administration’s 2016 guidance, which was withdrawn effective April 5, 2017, after President Trump issued Executive Order (EO) 13783, “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.” Continue Reading A Clear Shift in Policy: CEQ Issues Draft Guidance for Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Under NEPA
On June 28, EPA proposed to partially approve Georgia’s coal combustion residuals (CCR) state permit program. If finalized, Georgia’s program will become the second to receive EPA’s approval and will operate in place of the federal CCR requirements.
In its proposal, EPA determined that—with the exception of four provisions—Georgia’s program meets the standard for EPA approval. EPA proposed to partially approve Georgia’s program since it does not incorporate certain endangered species provisions and because it includes now-vacated provisions that exclude inactive surface impoundments at inactive facilities from regulation, allow unlined surface impoundments to continue receiving CCR unless they leak, and classify clay-lined surface impoundments as lined. Georgia’s CCR rule has not been revised to reflect the vacatur of these provisions because EPA has not yet finalized those changes at the federal level. EPA plans to issue proposals to address these topics in 2019. Once finalized, Georgia EPD can amend its regulations to align with EPA’s changes and then apply for approval of those amendments at a later date. Continue Reading EPA Proposes Approval of Georgia’s CCR Permit Program