Permitting issues—including federal wildlife permits—are common hurdles for the renewable energy sector. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) sought to reduce these burdens by issuing new guidance in late 2017 to try to clarify that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) restricts only activities that intentionally harm protected species. But attempts at MBTA reform were quickly caught up in litigation between states, environmental groups, and the federal government, creating ongoing uncertainty for renewable energy and other infrastructure projects. And with the record-long government shutdown still in play, it may be even longer than previously expected until this regulatory reform is necessarily addressed. Continue Reading Migratory Bird Treaty Act Uncertainty Continues for Energy and Infrastructure Developers
Public discussion of environmental law predictably focuses on the physical environment, including newspaper articles replete with references to climate change, lead in drinking water, recycling, or stories about individual species of endangered animals such as dusky gopher frogs. Legal decisions also discuss these issues. However, more often than not, they also address the questions of what agencies are authorized to do under statutes passed by Congress and which branch of government is best positioned to decide what is appropriate. Continue Reading Supreme Court Reiterates that Executive Actions Can Almost Always Be Challenged in Court
The U.S. Supreme Court signaled that it remains concerned with the issue of administrative deference following its grant of certiorari last week to hear Kisor v. O’Rourke specific to the issue of whether the Court should overrule Auer v. Robbins and Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co. Overruling one or both of these decisions could result in courts giving considerably less deference to agencies’ interpretations of their own regulations. Continue Reading Administrative Agency Deference Theme Reemerges with SCOTUS Considering Overturning <em>Auer</em>
Late last week, the Supreme Court lifted the stay on Juliana v. United States, a closely watched federal case that could create an unprecedented link between the government’s environmental policy and constitutional rights, if it proceeds to trial.
Much has been written about the problem of the stagnating electricity market due to a combination of falling demand, widespread energy efficiency initiatives, lower electricity costs and aging infrastructure.
This issue has created a situation in which both power generators and utilities are unable to effectively plan for the future. Some utilities have even asked the federal government to approve rate payer-funded bailouts for specific power plants.
Last Thursday, the South Carolina District Court reinstated the Obama-era definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) in roughly half the country, furthering the ambiguity in the never-ending saga over how to define WOTUS under the Clean Water Act. South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, et. al. v. Andrew Wheeler, et. al., No. 2:18-cv-00330, at *14 (D.S.C. Aug. 16, 2018). In its decision, the court invalidated the Trump Administration’s Executive Order suspending the Obama Administration’s WOTUS rule (the “Suspension Order”).
The EPA kicked off the week with the proposed Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, which is meant to replace the Clean Power Plan (CPP). As expected and foreshadowed by its proposed changes to the legal rationale underpinning the CPP, the EPA will regulate only source emissions, not sector-wide emission reduction activities. The EPA claims this “best system of emissions reduction” is consistent with the Clean Air Act Section 111(d) authority and is both technically feasible and appropriate for coal-fired power plants.
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