Our regulatory state is founded on the principle that regulated parties must have notice of their compliance obligations. Laws or regulations that fail to give fair notice violate due process and cannot give rise to liability. See, e.g., Gen. Elec. Co. v. EPA, 53 F.3d 1324 (D.C. Cir. 1995).

A notoriously unclear regulatory program addresses circumstances under which an existing facility triggers the Clean Air Act’s (CAA) “new source review” (NSR) program and its associated control technology and air quality review requirements. Over the past two decades, courts have concluded that the same words in the regulations have diametrically opposed meanings. Compare Nat’l Parks Conservation Ass’n, Inc. v. TVA, No. 3:01-CV-71, 2010 WL 1291335 (E.D. Tenn.Mar. 31, 2010) (boiler tube replacement is “routine” repair and replacement) with United States v. Ohio Edison Co., 276 F. Supp. 2d 829 (S.D. Ohio 2003) (boiler tube replacement is not “routine” repair and replacement). Indeed, after addressing the application of NSR to an industrial facility on two occasions, one three-judge panel in the Sixth Circuit produced five different opinions advancing three different interpretations of key provisions of the rules. See United States v. DTE Energy Co., 711 F.3d 643 (6th Cir. 2013); United States v. DTE Energy Co., 845 F.3d 735 (6th Cir. 2017). Disagreement among judges over the meaning of a regulation is objective evidence of a rule’s failure to provide fair notice of its compliance obligations. Continue Reading NSR Reform — EPA’s ACE Proposal

On July 9, President Trump announced Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit as his nominee to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh has developed an extensive history of jurisprudence during his twelve-year tenure on the DC Circuit. And, given the DC Circuit’s heavy administrative law caseload, Kavanaugh has authored numerous opinions involving environmental law. The upcoming confirmation process is sure to include a focus on Kavanaugh’s robust environmental and administrative law record and what it might portend for the future. Continue Reading From Judge to Justice: What Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court Nomination Could Mean for Environmental Jurisprudence

In recent years, plaintiffs’ attorneys and public-interest groups have brought common law actions seeking injunctive relief or damages for air emissions they claim cause climate change. Because climate change is a global phenomenon, these actions have targeted both in-state and out-of-state sources. Does state common law reach this far?

A state’s common law is founded in its police powers, which are among the powers that the Constitution generally reserved to the states. By contrast, the Constitution specifically delegates to Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce. A state’s police powers therefore do not extend beyond its borders. For this reason, the Supreme Court in the last century discovered a limited “federal” common law to address interstate pollution at a time when there were no federal laws regulating such interstate concerns. Missouri v. Illinois, 180 U.S. 208, 241 (1901). As the Court observed, “[i]f state law can be applied, there is no need for federal common law; if federal common law exists, it is because state law cannot be used.” City of Milwaukee v. Illinois, 451 U.S. 304, 314 n.7 (1981) (Milwaukee II).

Continue Reading State Common Law and the Global Environment

Executive Branch agencies write vague rules.  Then they give them meaning through interpretation.  That meaning may change over time through re-interpretation.  Indeed, it is not hard to find examples of rules that meant one thing one day and the opposite the next.  See, e.g.Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association, 135 S. Ct. 1199 (2015).  This is a problem for regulated entities that face penalties for failure to comply.  Reflecting such concerns, the deference doctrine has eroded slowly over the past two decades, with pronounced critical commentary from conservative Justices.  In October 2016, the Supreme Court granted review  in a case from the Fourth Circuit — GG v. Gloucester County School Board (cert. granted Oct. 28, 2016)—where the court gave “controlling weight” to a staff interpretation of a Department of Labor (“DOL”) regulation.  In Gloucester County, the Court will have an opportunity to rein in a particularly aggressive use of agency deference.  Does this case presage more comprehensive review of the Court’s deference jurisprudence?  And what does it portend for the Trump Administration’s efforts to reverse Obama Administration regulatory priorities?

Continue Reading The Supreme Court Takes on Agency Deference—Trump Beware!