We often think that environmental regulation comes top-down from Congress and Washington bureaucrats. But that isn’t always the case, as the recent California federal district court decision in California Restaurant Association v. City of Berkeley illustrates. The court there rejected a preemption challenge to a California municipal ordinance banning the installation of natural gas piping in new construction. The decision demonstrates the need for the regulated community to engage on all levels — federal, state, and local. Federal law does not control every aspect of many regulatory areas. Rather, states and localities continue to have some ability to regulate areas touched by federal statutes and regulations.
Continue Reading California Court Upholds Local Ordinance Precluding Installation of Natural Gas Piping in New Construction

Of course elections matter, and executive branch changes may bring real and meaningful policy change.  But the federal Administrative Procedure Act (APA) limits the executive branch’s discretion to shape policy by requiring that policy changes be accompanied by a “reasoned explanation” generally set forth in an administrative record. A recent Ninth Circuit decision in Center for Biological Diversity v. Haaland — addressing Trump Administration changes to federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) listings — illustrates the guardrails the APA imposes that apply to all executive decision-making.
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Decision on Pacific Walrus Illustrates Executive Branch Limits

Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took a preliminary step toward requiring limits on some National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) discharges of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) into surface water. On March 17, EPA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking pursuant to the Clean Water Act (CWA), which seeks public comment on data EPA has collected about certain PFAS discharges to surface water and requests additional information about businesses that make or use these substances (the ANPRM). The public has until May 17, 2021, to submit comments.
Continue Reading EPA Considering Revised Effluent Limitations Guideline Relating to PFAS

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently progressed its effort to stymie the aftermarket tuning of vehicles used for racing and competition in a complaint alleging that Gear Box Z violated the Clean Air Act by selling certain types of aftermarket software that modifies the engine control module (ECM), among other practices. EPA’s action is part of its national mobile source enforcement initiative to prevent the manufacturing, sale, and installation of aftermarket tuning and emission control defeat devices, in which EPA has pursued enforcement against both large and small suppliers.
Continue Reading EPA Reinforces Position that Certain Types of ECM Changes in Road-Certified Vehicles Constitute “Tampering” Under the Clean Air Act

On January 19, the D.C. Circuit vacated the Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE), a rule intended to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions emitted from power plants. Am. Lung Ass’n et al. v. EPA, No. 19-1140. The lengthy opinion touches on numerous issues raised over the last 10 years as EPA has bumped toward the goal of regulating greenhouse gases. The opinion appears to be grounded in EPA’s own assertions, made in this and other rulemakings, that climate change is a grave threat to society and power plants are a significant source of GHGs.
Continue Reading Affordable Clean Energy Rule Vacated

Regulated industries pay close attention to how regulators use scientific data, because the stakes are high. While scientific knowledge may evolve rapidly, regulatory processes — and the business decisions that rely on them — tend to proceed more deliberately. As a result, the regulated community has long pushed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to base its decisions only on scientific information that is present in the public domain and thus subject to greater scrutiny.
Continue Reading EPA Releases Late-Term “Secret Science” Rule

Last month, we wrote about “midnight” regulations issued by the Trump Administration and a process available for Congress to respond. Since then, the Trump Administration took an important step towards issuing one such regulation, regarding activities that “incidentally” harm protected migratory birds. If finalized, this rule would be the culmination of a years-long effort to loosen the Migratory Bird Treaty Act’s (MBTA) restrictions, which could aid energy and infrastructure developers and operators.

Continue Reading Lame-Duck Rules Could Loosen Migratory Bird Restrictions

As specific policies, legislative priorities and cabinet nominations are revealed in the coming weeks, manufacturers and energy companies are beginning to consider what a Biden Administration will mean for their business. However, until the Georgia runoff elections are completed on January 5, 2021, the balance of power in the U.S. Senate will remain unclear. As a result, industry must also continue to plan for the possibility that a Democrat-controlled Congress could employ the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to quickly reverse regulations finalized in the waning months of the Trump Administration.
Continue Reading Election 2020: Congressional Review Act Could Allow for Quick Regulatory Reversals

On May 22, 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator signed a proposed rule entitled EPA Guidance; Administrative Procedures for Issuance and Public Petitions” that provides guidance and procedures for regulatory documents issued by the agency. The proposed rule purports to address concerns from the regulatory community that guidance documents were sometimes used to modify legal obligations which should only be imposed by statute or formal regulations.
Continue Reading EPA Issues Proposed Rule Intended to Increase Transparency and Public Participation Related to Agency Guidance Documents

No single answer exists for how the regulated community is expected to meet their environmental obligations or address potential delays in environmental compliance, especially amidst shelter-in-place orders in several states due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, relief from environmental obligations during this pandemic may be available under certain environmental laws and legal obligations. The nature of that relief will largely depend on the specific legal requirement, the impact on the source itself, and the evolving response by federal and state governments to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Continue Reading Environmental Compliance Relief and Requirements During Shelter-in-Place Mandate