Congress has been working diligently on comprehensive tax reform proposals to be passed through the budget reconciliation process following passage of the 2018 budget resolution. Lowering the corporate and individual tax rates will require offsets like repealing certain tax credits available to corporations. What is unclear is whether repeal of some tax credits might be retroactive in effect, which would raise arguments of unfairness for companies that have detrimentally relied on current law.
On January 11, 2017, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a proposed rule pursuant to Section 108(b) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA or Superfund), mandating extensive and costly financial assurance requirements applicable to the hardrock mining and mineral processing industry. On the same day, EPA also announced plans to commence rulemaking to consider similar requirements for additional classes of facilities in the petroleum and coal, chemical manufacturing, and electric power generation, transmission and distribution sectors. Both proposals derive from a series of lawsuits culminating in a “sue and settle” order of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals affirming a schedule agreed to between EPA and various environmental groups to issue financial assurance regulations.
During much of the Obama administration, states and EPA were in conflict about how to craft Clean Air Act plans to reduce “regional haze” impairment of visibility in national parks and wilderness areas. The technical and policy issues are daunting. Regional haze forms in the atmosphere from many sources’ air emissions — emissions from cars and trucks, construction equipment, factories and power plants (among others), plus natural sources like wildfires and dust storms. Developing regional haze implementation plans entails complex policy choices and weighing sometimes heavy compliance costs for emission controls — costs that may total in the hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars — against improvements in visibility that can be hard to measure and in some cases are even imperceptible to the human eye.
As previous Nickel Report posts have discussed, congressional efforts to rein in freewheeling agency interpretation and reinterpretation of ambiguous statutes have begun to intensify, and calls to reconsider Chevron deference have increased from both within the judiciary and without. One of the most vocal and eloquent critics of Chevron and its progeny, notably Mead and Brand X, is Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee to fill the current Supreme Court vacancy. In Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch, 834 F.3d 1142 (10th Cir. 2016), Judge Gorsuch penned an exhaustive and erudite analysis of the tension between the separation of powers that the US Constitution demands and the deference that Chevron and Brand X require courts to afford to reasonable agency interpretations of ambiguous statutes, even if those interpretations differ from those previously announced by the courts.
In January, the US Army Corps of Engineers published the final 2017 nationwide permits (NWPs), renewing a critical permitting tool for both the government and the regulated community. To comply with the Clean Water Act (CWA or the Act), projects with minimal adverse environmental effects can obtain authorization for the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States through the Corps’ streamlined NWP process. The Corps reissued all 50 of the 2012 NWPs, issued two new NWPs, one new General Condition and made a number of notable revisions.
This week President Donald Trump issued an executive order (EO) making good on vows to reduce regulations coming out of Washington. The Presidential Executive Order on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs sets two objectives — first, to eliminate two old regulations for every new one promulgated and, second, to impose a cap on the economic costs of regulations each year.
The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, a.k.a Proposition 65, requires warning California consumers prior to exposing them to even minute amounts of any of the 900+ chemicals listed as causing cancer or reproductive harm. The law has been on the books for 30 years. 2016 saw noteworthy amendments to the “safe harbor” warning provisions.
President Trump has already issued several executive memoranda directing federal agencies to expedite environmental reviews and approvals for all infrastructure projects (as noted in our post yesterday), with emphasis on high-priority matters, such as pipeline construction and an aim to boost steel manufacturing in the United States. Specifically, he seeks to renew and expedite the approval of two oil pipeline construction projects, the Keystone XL Pipeline (Keystone) and the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). He has further directed the Commerce Department to prepare a plan under which all new and repaired pipe used in the United States would be manufactured stateside.
Yesterday President Trump signed several Executive Orders (EOs) and Presidential Memoranda designed to speed environmental permitting and reviews. Among them is an EO to “Expedite Reviews and Approvals for High Priority Infrastructure Projects.” While past administrations have recognized the costs and delays of federal environmental permitting and encouraged timely decisions by regulatory agencies (e.g., EOs 13,212, 13,274 and EO 13,604), President Trump’s EO reflects a new sense of determination by the White House to move important infrastructure projects forward. The EO reflects a recognition that major infrastructure projects trigger an array of overlapping environmental and natural resource laws and requirements.
On Friday, January 20, President Trump’s Chief of Staff Reince Priebus issued a memorandum to executive branch department and agency heads placing an immediate hold on federal regulations that are under development.
This regulatory “freeze” has become standard practice in recent Administrations. In 2009, President Obama issued a temporary halt to regulations being developed by the outgoing George W. Bush Administration. In 2001, President Bush issued a temporary stay on regulations under development by the outgoing Clinton Administration. New presidents want to ensure that federal regulations reflect their policies and priorities.