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.
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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.

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For decades, the extent of regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act (CWA) has been the subject of a great deal of litigation. Typically, the litigation involves a challenge to the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) to require a CWA permit, by private parties – chiefly real estate developers and industry groups – seeking to constrain that authority and limit permitting requirements. A November 28, 2017 decision by the Ninth Circuit in the case of United States v. Robertson is the latest – but by no means the last – decision in a long line of cases wrangling over the definition of “waters of the United States” under the CWA.
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Last Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) proposed delaying implementation of the rule defining the term “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) for two years. This is one of many moving pieces involving the WOTUS rule at this time, and another step by the agencies under the Trump administration towards maintaining the status quo and ensuring the 2015 rule is not implemented.
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Consistent with President Trump’s February 28, 2017 Executive Order, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announced a joint proposal representing the first step of a two-part plan to implement a more narrow “waters of the U.S.” or “WOTUS” definition. The first step, published in the Federal Register on July 27, 2017, seeks to repeal the 2015 WOTUS rule, and replace prior rules.
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On April 12, 2017, the EPA announced that it will reconsider and administratively stay future deadlines of the 2015 final rule that set new, technology-based effluent limitations guidelines (ELGs) and standards for steam electric power plants under the Clean Water Act. The final rule places significant burden on affected segments of the steam electric power generating industry. While certain requirements of the new ELGs were generally set to become effective as soon as November 1, 2018 through incorporation into NPDES permits, the compliance timetable and future of the final rule is now unclear.
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A recent federal court ruling in a Sierra Club lawsuit against Dominion Virginia Power alleging violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA) raises key questions about how other courts will interpret “point source” and “navigable waters” relative to ash ponds and groundwater releases, and whether a reasoned cost-benefit analysis can be used to substantially mitigate civil penalties and remedy selection.

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The latest ruling in an Iowa case against Des Moines Water Works represents another win for farmers and the agricultural community.

As we previously posted, in January the Iowa Supreme Court ruled against Des Moines Water Works on certified, state-law questions including whether drainage districts are immune from paying money damages. The case had come to the Iowa Supreme Court after the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Iowa had certified state-law questions. The ruling was a relief for the agricultural community, which had been concerned about the potential for large, economic liability associated with nutrient run-off.


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