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
The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) often seems like the forgotten federal environmental statute in that it gets less attention in the press and judicial decisions than statutes like the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, or the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund). That said, a judge on the Northern District of California issued a high-profile TSCA decision worthy of some discussion. Continue Reading Federal Court Issues Key Decision on NGO Challenge to Use of Fluoride in Water
While the manufacturing industry assesses the benefits of President Trump’s promised relaxation of federal environmental policy, many may find themselves increasingly embroiled with other challenges. Likely at the top of that list are disputes with “citizen scientists” – non-scientists eager to fill in what they see as gaps in Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation and enforcement.
We have discussed deference in past posts and, this past month, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Case No. 17-71. The case may focus the Court’s attention on deference and other issues. Specifically, the case addresses whether the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s (FWS) interpretation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was appropriate. Continue Reading On Dusky Gopher Frogs and Chevron Deference: A Report on a Recent U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Grant
The Ninth Circuit issued its long-anticipated decision in the Hawai’i Wildlife Fund v. County of Maui case yesterday. County of Maui affirmed a decision awarding summary judgment to environmental groups based on what the court viewed to be undisputed proof that four effluent disposal wells at a wastewater disposal facility were known to discharge into the Pacific Ocean and that the County of Maui had failed to secure an National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for them. Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Issues Decision in Novel Clean Water Act Case
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a new guidance memorandum on Thursday, January 25, 2018 that addresses the question of when – and whether – a major source of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs, such as lead, mercury, and benzene) can be reclassified as an “area source” under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act, and thereafter avoid major source permitting requirements. The new guidance allows major sources to become area sources at any time, by agreeing to federally enforceable limits on their potential to emit HAPs. This replaces the EPA’s previous “once in, always in” policy, whereby any major source of HAPs remained a major source regardless of later reductions in its potential to emit HAPs.
The arrival of a new year marks the beginning of the annual proxy season. And this year, shareholders can expect to see a lot more climate change disclosure in 2017 corporate financials.
Companies now have guidelines to help do that. In June 2017, the Financial Stability Board’s (FSB) Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) issued voluntary disclosure recommendations, so companies can provide shareholders with information about the business risks, opportunities, and impacts posed by climate change. The TCFD is an international coalition of business, government, and financial leaders tasked with developing voluntary disclosure recommendations to help companies identify, report, and protect against climate risks. The voluntary recommendations are designed to “foster shareholder engagement and broader use of climate-related financial disclosures, thus promoting a more informed understanding of climate-related risks and opportunities by investors and others.” Id. at iv. The TCFD emphasizes that disclosure should be made according to each jurisdiction’s requirements and that the guidelines do not replace existing law. Continue Reading 2018 Rising Trends in Corporate Climate Disclosures
Last month, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky sided with a utility and dismissed a citizen suit based on the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and Clean Water Act (CWA). The opinion contradicts other recent federal court decisions analyzing the applicability of the CWA to coal ash discharges through groundwater.