Limits on the Timing of Administrative Review/Reconsideration: A Review of Several Recent Cases

As is almost always the case following a change in administration, many EPA policies and interpretations are being reviewed and, depending on your point of view, either appropriately reconsidered or “rolled back.” Front and center in this debate is the practical reality that such reviews take time, including in some cases the time necessary to comply with procedural requirements for notice and comment rulemaking. The extent to which the EPA can take the time it believes is necessary is currently playing out in courts across the country, which are grappling with questions of the degree to which the EPA can postpone regulatory compliance deadlines or delay statutorily required actions while it conducts that review.

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Update: Recent Court Decisions, the Evolving Divide Between FERC and States Jurisdiction, and the Justiciability of Private FPA Preemption Claims

Fifty years ago, the Supreme Court held that in the Federal Power Act (FPA), Congress had drawn a “bright line, easily ascertained, between federal and state jurisdiction…by making [federal] jurisdiction plenary and extending it to all wholesale sales in interstate commerce except those which Congress has made explicitly subject to regulation by the States.” FPC v. Southern California Edison Co. (Colton), 376 U.S. 205, 206-07 (1964). Several recent federal court decisions, including two decisions addressing the implementation of Zero Emissions Credits (ZECs) by New York and Illinois, highlight just how blurred that “bright line” has become in an era where Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regulation relies primarily on markets, rather than cost-of-service ratemaking, to ensure just, reasonable and not unduly discriminatory electricity prices. For good measure, these decisions also break new ground on the justiciability of FPA preemption claims brought by private parties in federal court.

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You Can’t Win if You Don’t Play: How EPA’s Risk Evaluation Exclusions Limit TSCA Preemption

Environmental and public-health groups have taken issue with the EPA’s rule establishing procedures for chemical risk evaluations under the revised Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which allows the EPA to exclude certain conditions of use when assessing whether a chemical presents unreasonable risks. These groups fear the exclusions could provide a “loophole” allowing some chemical risks to go unaddressed. But putting those concerns aside, should companies affected by the rule actually want to take advantage of these exclusions? Are they really beneficial to regulated industries? Or do they risk undermining one of the primary goals that companies sought to gain by supporting TSCA reform—federal preemption of overlapping state restrictions?

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Why Congress Will Pass Permanent Tax Reform in 2017

Now that the “Big Six”[1] have announced that they will release an agreed-upon tax reform plan the week of September 25, the question becomes: Can they actually get it done? Is there enough time, motivation and a clear path forward to get permanent tax reform done in 2017? The answer is yes, it could happen. Politics will be the driving force, and the budget reconciliation process will provide the opportunity.

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One Person Who Could Significantly Delay Your Infrastructure Project

The Keeper.

For some, the name may conjure images of a character from Game of Thrones, protecting the realm from the evil to the north. But, the Keeper is actually a fairly important National Park Service (NPS) official and has a significant role under the National Historic Preservation Act (NPHA)—the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places. Continue Reading

Coal Ash Poses Slew of Coverage Issues

Environmental groups are raising the stakes for power companies facing allegations of coal-ash liability. Power plants that burn coal to produce electricity also create byproducts in the process, known as “coal combustion residuals,” or CCRs. CCRs go by several names, but are commonly known as “coal ash.”

Historically, power companies have stored CCRs in settling ponds, also known as “coal-ash basins.” Coal-ash storage and disposal can lead to allegations of groundwater contamination and environmental contamination claims. Environmental groups have sought to require companies to pay for remediation of disposal sites and alleged groundwater contamination; address alleged natural resource damages; and conduct extensive monitoring and sampling of onsite and offsite sediments, groundwater, fish, and other wildlife.

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From Maine to Florida, Designated Critical Habitat for Atlantic Sturgeon Will Complicate Federal Permitting

From the Penobscot River in Maine to the St. Mary’s River in Florida, the Atlantic sturgeon ranges, swimming periodically up river to spawn and returning to marine waters when it is done. With a lifespan of up to 60 years, the Atlantic sturgeon can grow up to 14 feet long and weigh up to 800 pounds, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Despite this species’ mighty proportions and vast range, five distinct population segments of the species have been listed by the as threatened or endangered.

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California’s State Water Board Unleashes New Supplemental Environmental Project Policy for Public Comment

The regulated community in California may soon have additional reasons to implement supplemental environmental projects (SEPs) when settling an administrative environmental enforcement action. Under a 2009 State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board) policy, settling parties may voluntarily undertake an environmentally beneficial project in return for an offset of a portion of any civil penalty, provided that the project meets certain criteria. The Water Board has now released sweeping proposed amendments to its Policy on Supplemental Environmental Projects (draft SEP Policy) that will incentivize more projects. Most notably, the draft SEP Policy:

Will consider projects that address climate change, such as greenhouse gas emissions reductions or those that build resilience to climate change impacts on ecosystems or infrastructure.

Will allow—subject to approval—greater than 50% of any monetary assessment in administrative enforcement cases to be allocated towards SEPs that are located in or benefit disadvantaged or environmental justice communities, or communities suffering from a financial hardship, or that further the Water Board’s priority of ensuring a human right to water. Under the original policy adopted in 2009, the maximum civil penalty reduction available via performance of a SEP is capped at 50%.

Will allow up to 10% of oversight costs to be included as part of the total SEP amount for the same reasons above. Otherwise, oversight costs are paid in addition to the total SEP amount.

Establishes a new category of SEPs called “Other Projects” to allow educational outreach and other “non-traditional” water quality or drinking water-related projects to be considered for approval.

Expands the applicability of SEPs to enforcement actions prosecuted by the Division of Drinking Water and its Districts and the Division of Water Rights.

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Vapor Intrusion: Acute Exposure Regulatory Developments and Litigation Trends

Over the last decade, regulators have accelerated their focus on vapor intrusion risk at hazardous cleanup sites. This has led to new cleanup standards, policies and guidance to evaluate potential risks, environmental investigation requirements for brownfield redevelopments, and the reopening of previously closed remedial actions. Recently, attention has turned from chronic to acute vapor intrusion risk. Although protection of human health is paramount, this recent focus has been plagued with concerns about the validity of the underlying science and a lack of comprehensive guidance from regulators on how to respond. This article explores the evolution of vapor intrusion regulation, particularly developments addressing acute risk, as well as trends in vapor intrusion- related litigation.

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California’s Appliance Efficiency Standards and Cost of Non-Compliance

It is no secret that California has had appliance efficiency standards in place for some time now. And it is no secret that the California Energy Commission (“CEC”) has been responsible for crafting those standards. According to the CEC and the California State Legislature, however, compliance with those standards has been hit-or-miss. In 2011, the Legislature found that “significant quantities of appliances are sold and offered for sale in California that do not meet the state’s energy efficiency standards,” and the CEC itself has stated that nearly half of all regulated appliances are non-compliant, and that certain product categories are entirely non-compliant. The broad range of products covered by the CEC’s efficiency standards may be partly to blame for the lack of compliance, as manufacturers may not even realize their product must comply. For example, the efficiency standards encompass nearly every device with a rechargeable battery and that rechargeable battery system, meaning everything from cell phones to laptops to tablets to golf carts must be tested, certified and listed in the CEC’s database before being offered for sale in California.

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