The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released its latest National Compliance Initiatives (NCIs), which aim to focus the Agency’s enforcement arm, the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA), on areas of significant environmental violations and other opportunities for the greatest environmental benefit through increased compliance with environmental laws. In a memorandum issued June 7, 2019, enforcement chief Susan Parker Bodine advised the Agency’s regional offices of the NCIs for upcoming fiscal years 2020 through 2023. Continue Reading EPA Sets New Enforcement Priorities

A new decision curtails agency discretion to approve total maximum daily loads for impaired waterbodies and sets a precedent that may lead to more stringent National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit limits.

Total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) have been described as “pollution budgets” for impaired waterbodies. A permitting authority developing a TMDL typically considers all known sources of the pollutant at issue (including contributions from point and non-point sources) as well as the relevant characteristics of the waterbody (such as flow rates) and determines how much pollutant the waterbody can receive without exceeding applicable water quality standards. Once a TMDL is adopted for a specific pollutant that is adversely affecting a waterbody, the permitting authority (either a delegated state or EPA) will use the TMDL to derive NPDES permit limits for facilities that are sources of the pollutant. Continue Reading Ratcheting Down on Agency Discretion: Total Maximum Daily Loads

Over the last year or so, anti-pipeline forces have increasingly used “tree sitting” to obstruct natural gas infrastructure projects. The tactic involves individuals who climb trees slated for removal in a proposed pipeline project and stay there—sometimes for months and often aided by family, friends or others—forcing project developers to take various countermeasures.

Earlier this month a Virginia federal district judge rejected a novel effort by Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC (MVP) to join certain unnamed tree sitters (“Tree Sitter 1” and “Tree Sitter 2”) as defendants in a pending Natural Gas Act (NGA) eminent domain action to condemn easements over land in southwestern Virginia for construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. In addition to interfering with its use of the easements being condemned, MVP alleged that the “tree sitters” or their supporters had assaulted a security officer who was part of a tree clearing crew on the project. Notably, though it declined to join the “tree sitters” as parties, the court observed that MVP still had other available remedies against them. Continue Reading Pipeline Company Can’t Join “Tree Sitters” in NGA Condemnation Action, But Still Has Other Remedies Against Them, Virginia Federal Court Says

 

The Endangered Species Act increasingly plays a larger role in environmental law and the federal permitting process for infrastructure projects. Hunton Andrews Kurth Partner Kerry McGrath and Associate Brian Levey give an inside look at the complex process of obtaining federal authorization for “take” of endangered species. Continue Reading VIDEO Inside Look: Endangered Species Act (ESA)

On August 12, 2019, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) (together, the Services) signed final rules instituting the first comprehensive revisions to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations in 33 years. The Services made substantial and broad revisions to their regulations concerning the process and standards for listing species and designating critical habitat, the scope of protections for threatened species and the process for consultation with federal agencies. Continue Reading FWS and NMFS Complete Long-Awaited, Comprehensive Revision of ESA Regulations

On June 26, 2019, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Kisor v. Wilkie, 139 S. Ct. 2400 (2019), which presented the question of whether the Court should overrule the Auer doctrine, named after the 1997 Supreme Court case Auer v. Robbins. The Auer doctrine rests on the premise that agencies have more expertise on their own regulations and are therefore in a better position than courts to interpret them. Under the doctrine, courts generally defer to an agency’s reasonable readings of its own “genuinely ambiguous” regulations. In a 5-4 decision, the Court declined to abandon the Auer doctrine on grounds of stare decisis but outlined important limitations on the scope and applicability of that doctrine. Continue Reading Eleventh Circuit Potentially Poised to Address Impact of Kisor

Policy makers in California have pledged to resist Trump administration policy changes on environmental and other issues. Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), proposing the California Environmental, Public Health and Workers Defense Act of 2019, is the California legislature’s current preemptive response to the administration’s attempts to modify certain federal environmental and worker safety laws.

SB 1 has passed the California Senate. It is awaiting a final hearing in the State Assembly’s Appropriations Committee, likely sometime in mid‑to‑late August. After that, it moves to the Assembly floor, where a final vote is required by the end of California’s legislative session on September 13, 2019. Continue Reading SB 1: California’s Attempt to Halt Federal Environmental and Worker Safety Deregulation

The United States’ first major offshore wind energy project is running into delays as federal agencies internally debate whether the project plan adequately protects the fishing industry.

Vineyard Wind—an approximately 800 megawatt, 84-turbine wind energy project to be located roughly 15 miles off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts—is scheduled to begin construction this year and would have the capacity to power over 400,000 homes by 2021. Continue Reading First Major US Offshore Wind Project Delayed by Fishing Industry Concerns

Guarding confidential or sensitive information is a longstanding tradition that transcends daily life. From the pinky-swearing days of childhood (to prevent your parents from finding out you rode your bike beyond their imposed boundary), to the fourth down play when your team is one point down with three seconds left on the clock, to the unique, complex chemical composition of a lifesaving drug, the concept of secrecy has roots in just about everything we do. In the business world, secrets are routinely kept to protect market share, privacy of customers, technology or for any number of other legitimate business-related concerns. Indeed, disclosure of confidential information can pose a real threat to a business’s vitality. Continue Reading Supreme Court Alters Longstanding Test for Confidentiality under FOIA

In the wake of the April 19 ruling by Judge Morris of the US District Court of the District of Montana that required the Department of the Interior (DOI) to conduct an environmental review on its decision to lift the coal leasing moratorium, the parties disagree on the necessary remedy and the next steps. While DOI is requesting additional time to finalize its environmental review for its decision to lift the moratorium, environmental groups and states are requesting the court vacate then-Secretary Zinke’s Secretarial Order that lifted the moratorium altogether. Continue Reading DOI & Opponents Disagree on Remedy in Coal Leasing Moratorium Case