The Clean Water Act (CWA) term “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) has become an evolving term with an often squishy definition leading to considerable litigation – with last month’s Seventh Circuit decision providing new insight on both the definition and the concept of administrative deference in Orchard Hill Building Co. v. United States Army Corps of Engineers.
As citizen scientists and environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have stepped up to fill what they have called an enforcement gap since President Trump took office, the NGO playbook has become more complex and creative than perhaps ever before. A recent Fourth Circuit stay is another example of litigation against governments as a routine playbook strategy likely to continue on the horizon, in addition to the primarily used litigation tactics against private parties to further NGO interests in the past.
Since the early days of the Trump Administration, our blog has regularly covered the Administration’s various attempts at regulatory reform. An appellate decision last week on a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rule signaled an end to administrative stays based on mere agency averments that it intends to reconsider a notice-and-comment rulemaking. Instead, the agency must use the notice-and-comment process to revisit the rule. Absent these processes, the regulation goes into effect.
Administrative deference – in essence, that courts resolve close questions in favor of “expert” agencies – is a cornerstone of environmental practice and we’ve blogged frequently on this issue. Courts question agencies, however, when their decisions do not square with cited evidence. For regulatory challenges, courts also confine their review to the administrative record and agencies cannot interject new evidence during a judicial appeal of a regulation. Continue Reading Administrative Deference Doesn’t Mean Anything Goes – Just Ask the D.C. Circuit
Streamlining environmental reviews and permitting for infrastructure projects is a major objective of President Trump. And one of the biggest permitting roadblocks that can come up in renewable energy, transmission line, resource recovery, and any other infrastructure projects is potential impacts to wildlife. Continue Reading Infrastructure Permitting Tug of War Between Trump Administration and Citizen Groups
The Trump Administration continues to prioritize guidance-driven revisions to federal regulatory programs to reduce the impact of administrative review and permitting on development. Last week’s highly-anticipated memorandum of understanding (MOU) released by the White House purporting to streamline the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process for “major infrastructure projects” could be a step toward a more efficient environmental permitting process. However, the impact may be limited.
This week, the Fourth Circuit issued a decision in Upstate Forever v. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, L.P. that addresses three key issues arising in many federal Clean Water Act (CWA) cases:
- How, as a legal matter, courts treat “historic” contamination under the CWA;
- Whether good-faith remedial efforts undertaken under the supervision of relevant agencies by themselves strip federal jurisdiction over citizen suits under similar legal authority; and
- Whether CWA-regulated “pollutants” need to discharge directly into CWA-regulated “navigable waters” to violate the CWA.
On April 3, 2018, the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) approved, with a number of substantial modifications, the Illinois Power Agency’s (IPA) first “long term renewable resources procurement plan” under the Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act (Illinois Public Act 99-0906, known as FEJA) enacted in December 2016. The ICC order resolves a number of issues regarding (i) long-term forward procurements of renewable energy credits (RECs) from new utility-scale renewable generation facilities, and (ii) the new Illinois Adjustable Block Program (ABP), Community Solar Generation (CSG) Program, and Illinois Solar for All Program (ISFA) mandated by FEJA. Continue Reading Illinois Commerce Commission Modifies and Approves the Illinois Power Agency’s First Long-Term Renewable Resources Procurement Plan
“Standing” – a person’s right to sue someone else for injury – is a fundamental issue in every case. In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Spokeo v. Robins, which required that a person’s injury be both “concrete” and “particularized” to confer standing.
Since Spokeo, the environmental bar has been left guessing how Spokeo would play out in environmental cases, as many environmental cases are rooted in federal statutes that give private individuals the right to sue. That question was answered for the first time last week when a federal judge in North Carolina dismissed a lawsuit brought under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) rule, in part because the plaintiff environmental group failed to meet the standing test established under Spokeo. Continue Reading Recent RCRA Ruling Offers Insight on Applying Spokeo to Environmental Citizen Suits
When people think of environmental law, they often think of statutory law and regulations. But parties sometimes seek to use other sources of law — such as the Constitution — to regulate the environment.