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.
The federal authorizations required to construct major infrastructure and mineral-extraction projects are the product of years of administrative review and collaboration between agencies and the project proponents. Unfortunately, the issuance of those authorizations is followed quickly by legal challenges from environmental NGOs, which almost always include a demand for preliminary injunctive relief during the pendency of the challenge. If granted, these injunctions can delay the effectiveness of the authorization by years.
The effects of the regulatory reform initiatives of the Trump Administration are beginning to be felt at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) with the formal action by OSHA to finalize withdrawal of the “Volks Rule” regulation. On May 3, 2017, in response to a CRA resolution of disapproval, OSHA published a final rule removing amendments to OSHA’s recordkeeping regulations from the Code of Federal Regulations.
This article was originally published in the May 1, 2017, online edition of The Recorder.
“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Movie aficionados will recognize this classic line from the 1976 movie, “Network.” For many Californians, the line captures the feeling in the state just before Proposition 13 (Prop 13) was passed by about 65 percent of voters in 1978 to amend the state constitution. For a state that is used to sizable earthquakes, Prop 13 was a truly seismic event in California, restructuring the state property tax system. It was enacted in response to frustration over California’s decades-old method of paying for government, which allowed property taxes to increase dramatically year to year, often resulting in senior citizens on fixed incomes being unable to afford to stay in their homes. On top of cutting and restricting increases in property taxes, Prop 13 contained language requiring a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses for future increases of any state tax rates or amounts of revenue collected, including income tax rates and sales tax rates.
The latest news is full of stories of federal agencies reviewing and, in some cases, rescinding environmental regulations and cutting agency spending. From these reports, it could seem the federal government might also cut back its enforcement of environmental laws. But in fact, even in this turbulent regulatory and fiscal appropriations landscape, enforcement–particularly criminal enforcement–of core existing environmental laws is one aspect of environmental regulation that is sure to continue.
A common question that we all ask whenever we meet someone new in a social setting is “what do you do?” This seemingly innocuous question always makes me brace myself for the inevitable exchange that will follow. When I say that I am an environmental attorney, the next question is almost always whether I work for the “good” or “bad” guys. The clear assumption in this question is that environmental advocacy groups are “good,” while industry parties are “bad.” But is this issue really that black and white? Based on my experience, no. The issue is far from being that simplistic.
In a series of orders this week, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit granted motions by EPA to pause cases challenging several Obama-era regulatory actions while the new administration reviews those rules. With those cases on hold, the dispute over the fate of those rules will move out of the courts and into the administrative process. Continue Reading
In 1980, a lame duck Congress passed the nation’s first legislation, the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. §9601 et seq. (CERCLA), to address the cleanup of toxic waste disposal sites. Comprehensive amendments were passed six years later. Over the next 30 years, EPA’s enforcement powers were used with increasing regularity and consistency to study, begin, and often complete cleanups at hundreds of the nation’s contaminated waste sites. The program has always had its critics, but not until the current administration has there been a fundamental reassessment of its basic cost-benefit structure, just as is being done with many other federal programs. Continue Reading