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.
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
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