Continuing reductions in environmental regulations across the power industry may seem like a good time for the C-suite to direct energy and attention towards other key priorities, but there is another force steadily working to tug reform back over the line — highly organized and increasingly strategic NGOs. Because deregulation is antithetical to their policy preferences, environmental groups routinely argue that federal agencies violate federal statutory laws, and power plant operations and infrastructure get caught in the crossfire.
Administrative deference is a fundamental tenet of environmental law. A recent decision in Los Angeles Waterkeeper v. Pruitt, however, provides an important reminder that agency deference is bound by the four corners of the underlying statute. In this case, a district judge in the Central District of California awarded judgment to two environmental NGOs by compelling the EPA to exercise powers granted under the Clean Water Act’s residual designation authority (RDA), precluding the EPA from considering other factors not prescribed by the statute.
The decision is interesting because the Clean Water Act (CWA) RDA is something of a regulatory backwater, and it highlights an important practice-pointer going forward, which is that addressing explicit factors set forth in a statute matter more than broader agency policy preferences. Continue Reading NGOs Win Recent Challenge on Permits for Industrial Facilities when EPA Overlooks Factors in the CWA Statute
The Trump Administration rolled out its anticipated rules on fuel efficiency and emissions standards for model years 2021-2026 last week. The proposal, at over 900 pages of text, is still being analyzed and reviewed, but early indications are that there will be significant resistance from many affected parties. Here are five key questions rising to the surface in the wake of the proposal. Continue Reading Five Questions on the Litigation Backlash from the Trump Administration’s Fuel Emissions Rollback
Last week, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit unanimously rejected challenges by environmental and industry groups to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Water Act (CWA) cooling water intake structure permit rule (Rule) in Cooling Water Intake Structure Coalition (CWISC), et al., v. EPA, et al. The panel’s ruling upholds the Rule and affirms broad deference to the EPA and wildlife agencies on both their factual findings and legal interpretations. Continue Reading Court Upholds CWA Intake Structure Rule
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.
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.
“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