Despite oil already flowing through the pipeline, federal litigation involving the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) took another turn last week when partial summary judgment was granted to tribes challenging the adequacy of the US Army Corps of Engineers’ review of DAPL under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other statutes. Two tribes, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, filed suit in July 2016 attempting to block construction of the last remaining segment and operation of DAPL. As sometimes is the case, agency approvals came faster than the court’s opinion, and without a stay of proceedings DAPL began operating in early June 2017. Having granted partial summary judgment, the court did not require pipeline operations to cease, instead delaying the question of an appropriate remedy until after further briefing by the parties.
The Administration’s proposed 30 percent reduction to EPA’s operating budget has raised many questions. Will it happen? How would it impact operations? Are all EPA programs equally affected? The final answers will come at the end of a lengthy congressional process, but last week’s hearing provided clues that any final cuts could be significantly less than the Administration’s request. But first, it’s worth a quick review of the federal budget process.
About to turn 100, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (MBTA) is among the oldest wildlife (or any environmental) laws. Yet major questions persist whether the Act applies to the unintended “take” of birds, and how to avoid criminal liability under the Act for many common and beneficial commercial activities.
A new policy directive issued earlier this week by the Department of Justice (Justice) has raised concern among regulated industry that the availability of Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) in civil settlements could be severely reduced, or even largely eliminated. If the directive is applied to restrict the availability of SEPs, it would remove a useful, and at times powerful, tool routinely used by the regulated community to negotiate acceptable settlement agreements in civil enforcement actions. It could also eliminate tens of millions of dollars of annual funding of such projects—which typically benefit local communities or address niche environmental issues—currently provided through the use of SEPs in consent decrees. Because applicable policies preclude Justice from requiring parties to include SEPs in settlements, it is difficult to identify any upside in any potential narrowing or elimination of SEPs as an optional tool to assist in the resolution of civil environmental enforcement actions.
Since President Trump’s election, his Administration has emphasized cooperative federalism and has opened the door for more state responsibility. California is walking through that door, and has positioned itself, according to its elected officials, at the vanguard of the so-called “resistance” to the Administration and its policies, real and perceived. This is particularly clear on environmental, energy, and natural resource matters. Last week illustrates the growing divide between California and the federal government in these areas.
Last week at the 2017 Chambers USA Awards, Hunton & Williams’ environmental team was recognized as the team of the year in the environment practice area. Chambers USA evaluated our practice as “preeminent” in the environmental area and “highly esteemed.” Chambers USA also noted our “fine track record” for our utility and energy work and our “noteworthy expertise across air, water, waste and climate change matters.”
Just before President Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, California is moving ahead with new greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations, making good on its commitment to continue its path regardless of what goes on in Washington, DC. This week, the Board of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) held a special meeting to consider a controversial new regulation targeting oil refineries. If adopted, as planned at the June 21, 2017, Board public hearing, Regulation 12, Rule 16: Petroleum Refining Facility-Wide Emissions Limits (Rule 12-16) would establish first-of-its-kind, refinery-specific, facility-wide caps on emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). The proposed caps limit refinery emissions to seven percent above recent operating levels.
The White House Office of Management and Budget released on Tuesday the Trump administration’s first full budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year (starting in October 2017). The comprehensive proposal provides detail about the administration’s policy priorities. If the budget is adopted by Congress as written, the Environmental Protection Agency would face its greatest budget cuts ever. These cuts would broadly impact federal environmental efforts, including the enforcement of federal environmental laws.
Over the past several years, the EPA and states have wrestled with the highly controversial question of how to manage ash and other residual materials produced by the combustion of coal in coal-fired power plants. These so-called “coal combustion residuals” (“CCR”) have been traditionally managed in large man-made ponds at many power plant sites. While discharges from these impoundments directly to surface waters are regulated by permits issued under the Clean Water Act, the impoundments themselves have been regulated under state waste management programs. In 2015, EPA fundamentally changed the regulatory landscape for these facilities when it promulgated a federal rule setting national standards for design, operation and closure of CCR impoundments. EPA, Hazardous and Solid Waste Management System; Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities, 80 Fed. Reg. 21,302 (Apr. 17, 2015).
President Trump recently nominated Susan Parker Bodine to lead the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (“OECA”). OECA is responsible for coordinating the enforcement of federal environmental laws under EPA’s authority. OECA acts through a combination of compliance assistance, administrative enforcement and, in partnership with the US Department of Justice, civil and criminal enforcement.