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”).
Last week, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit unanimously rejected challenges by environmental and industry groups to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Water Act (CWA) cooling water intake structure permit rule (Rule) in Cooling Water Intake Structure Coalition (CWISC), et al., v. EPA, et al. The panel’s ruling upholds the Rule and affirms broad deference to the EPA and wildlife agencies on both their factual findings and legal interpretations. Continue Reading Court Upholds CWA Intake Structure Rule
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.
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.
The environmental world has waited with bated breath for jurisdictional certainty in defining regulated waters under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA). While we wait, two interesting CWA procedural decisions may play into how the substantive issue gets to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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.
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. Continue Reading Next Steps in EPA Deferral to States: Waters of the U.S. Rule Repeal and Replacement
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. Continue Reading EPA Announces Stay of Deadlines and Reconsideration of ELGs for Steam Electric Power Plants
In a big win for the agricultural community, the Iowa Supreme Court recently ruled against Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) in its state law claims against upstream drainage districts for nitrate pollution in the Raccoon River. See Bd. of Water Works Trs. of Des Moines v. SAC Cty. Bd. of Supervisors, No. 16-0076, 2017 WL 382402 (Iowa Jan. 27, 2017). The ruling instructs the federal court to dismiss DMWW’s state law claims (leaving only DMWW’s federal claims, which concern whether the districts should be regarded as ‘point sources’ under the Clean Water Act (CWA)). The ruling means that even if DMWW wins on its federal claims, DMWW—and thus the citizens who consume DMWW water—will have to foot the bill for any future nitrate processing. Continue Reading Ag’s Big Win: Iowa Supreme Court Denies Water Utility’s State Law Claims against Drainage Districts