In a case involving the question of when unoccupied habitat may be designated “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the U.S. Supreme Court held that critical habitat land must first be habitat before it could be “critical habitat.” Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. FWS, 139 S.Ct. 361 (2018). Given that neither the ESA nor its implementing regulations define habitat, the Court remanded the case for further consideration. In response to this opinion, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (the Services) issued a final rule defining habitat on December 16, 2020. The rule becomes effective on January 15, 2021.
On December 8, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA or the Agency) issued draft guidance to clarify the application of the “functional equivalent” test created by the United States Supreme Court in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Foundation, 140 S. Ct. 1462 (2020). The guidance is intended to help both members of the regulated community and permitting authorities determine when a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit may be required for discharges from point sources that reach navigable waters through groundwater. Comments on the draft guidance are due 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register.
On the evening of November 30, United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a new interim strategy to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the environment through EPA-issued wastewater discharge permits under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). While some states have already begun regulating PFAS in wastewater and stormwater discharges, this policy represents a shift by EPA from focusing solely on PFAS contamination of drinking water and standard setting under the Safe Drinking Water Act, to detailing an interim NPDES permitting strategy under the Clean Water Act to address PFAS. The new interim strategy’s primary recommendation is for permit writers to consider “phased-in monitoring” of PFAS compounds.
On October 29, EPA published a proposed revision to its Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) Update in response to the remand of the rule by the D.C. Circuit. The CSAPR Update was promulgated under the Clean Air Act’s “Good Neighbor” provision, which requires states to ensure that pollution from sources within their borders does not significantly contribute to the ability of downwind states to attain or maintain the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Under the Good Neighbor provision, if a State Implementation Plan (SIP) does not adequately address the interstate transport of pollutants, EPA must step in and issue its own rules through a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP). EPA issued the CSAPR Update in 2016, imposing FIPs on 22 states requiring ozone season NOx reductions from electric generating units (EGUs) to address the 2008 ozone NAAQS. In the 2018 CSAPR Closeout, EPA determined that no further emission reductions were required for all but two of the states covered by the CSAPR Update.
The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) recently finalized long-awaited revisions to its hazardous waste regulations that will allow PV solar panels to be managed as “universal waste” beginning on January 1, 2021. This reclassification will have significant implications on how spent PV solar panels are managed in the state.
On October 14, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued new interim guidance to expedite approvals that would allow companies to make claims regarding the residual effectiveness of long-lasting surface disinfectants and other products against COVID-19. In response to the constant need to disinfect public spaces, companies have been developing innovative products that do not require continuous application. The process recently announced by the Agency is intended to fast-track products to market that are capable of keeping surfaces clean for several hours or even days.
On October 1, 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) issued its final rule allowing for a source classified as a “major source” of hazardous air pollutants (“HAP”) under section 112(a) of the Clean Air Act to reclassify as an “area source.” A “major source” emits or has the “potential to emit” 10 tons per year or more of a single HAP or 25 tons per year or more of a combination of HAP. The EPA had long-followed the “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 Maximum Achievable Control Technology (“MACT”) standard was permanently subject to that standard, even if the source was later able to reduce its emissions below major source applicability thresholds. With the final rule, branded as the “Major MACT to Area” (“MM2A”), EPA codified the withdrawal of the “once-in-always” policy and provided the requirements that apply to major sources choosing to reclassify, including reclassification that occurs after the first substantive compliance date of an applicable MACT standard.
State strategies for regulating air emissions during periods of startup, shutdown, and malfunction (SSM) have been a controversial topic in recent years. Air emissions can be higher during periods of SSM because emitting units are not in steady-state operation and some pollution control devices cannot be operated effectively or safely during such events. Since most air emission limitations are not crafted to cover periods when emission units are not operating normally, many states have adopted regulations in their Clean Air Act-required State Implementation Plans (SIPs) to provide compliance flexibility for sources during periods of SSM. These regulations typically take the form of either automatic or discretionary exemptions for emissions that exceed otherwise applicable limitations, or affirmative defenses to liability or penalties for violations asserted by enforcement authorities or private citizens.
On July 1, 2020, New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy signed the Permit Extension Act of 2020 (“PEA 2020”) into law. The PEA 2020 tolls certain state and local permit approvals, including approvals of soil erosion and sediment control plans granted by a local soil conservation district and waterfront development permits, during the pendency of the public health emergency caused by COVID-19. Additionally, the PEA 2020 extends the deadlines for those approvals that would have otherwise expired during the public health emergency for an additional six months beyond the end of the COVID-19 extension period. Importantly, the PEA 2020 does not impact those approvals that expired prior to March 9, 2020 (the beginning of the public health emergency) or apply to those that will expire after the public health emergency ends.
The EPA has issued a rule requiring all significant agency guidance to undergo a public notice and comment process prior to issuance, modification or withdrawal (Rule). The new Rule was adopted pursuant to Executive Order 13891, which also required the agency to distinguish active guidance from inactive guidance, and to limit documents available through the official EPA guidance portal (Order). As of June 27, 2020 only guidance available through the official agency guidance portals qualifies as active guidance.