Yesterday, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) (together, the Agencies) published a final rule revising the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) subject to federal regulation and permitting requirements under the Clean Water Act (CWA). This rule is the latest attempt by the Agencies to craft a durable rule defining WOTUS. The new rule, which largely mirrors the 2021 proposal, asserts a broader geographic scope of federal jurisdiction than the 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR). In particular, the Agencies adopt the broadest possible interpretation of the Supreme Court’s decision in Rapanos (through incorporation of both the plurality’s “relatively permanent” test and Justice Kennedy’s “significant nexus” test). The final rule would, for the first time, codify aspects of the Agencies’ 2008 Rapanos Guidance and would rely on the significant nexus test’s case-by-case approach for evaluating jurisdiction for tributaries, wetlands, and other waters. The Agencies released the final rule while the Supreme Court considers the scope of CWA authority over a major category of WOTUS, “adjacent wetlands,” in Sackett v. EPA, and the Supreme Court could hand down a decision in the coming months that could require changes to the rule.
On December 27, 2021, the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) issued a final nationwide permit (NWP) rule 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” (WOTUS) through the Corps’ streamlined NWP process. With this rule, the Corps reissued 40 existing NWPs and one new NWP. These 41 NWPs will combine with 16 NWPs issued on January 13, 2021 to authorize use of the full suite of NWPs through March 14, 2026.
Continue Reading Army Corps Finalizes Nationwide Permit Renewal for Expedited Clean Water Act Permitting
On October 4, 2021, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS or the Service) published a final rule revoking its January 7, 2021, Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA or Act) rule. 86 Fed. Reg. 54,642 (Oct. 4, 2021) (Rule or Revocation Rule). The January 7 rule was issued at the end of the Trump administration and established that the MBTA does not prohibit incidental (unintentional) take of migratory birds. 86 Fed. Reg. 1134 (Jan. 7, 2021). In the preamble to the Rule, which lists an effective date of December 3, 2021, the Service explained that “[t]he immediate effect of this final rule is to return to implementing the MBTA as prohibiting incidental take and applying enforcement discretion, consistent with judicial precedent and longstanding agency practice prior to 2017.” 86 Fed. Reg. at 54,642. On the same day it published the Revocation Rule, FWS also published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR), requesting public input that will be used to develop proposed regulations to authorize the incidental take of migratory birds under prescribed conditions, 86 Fed. Reg. 54,667 (Oct. 4, 2021), and issued a Director’s Order clarifying the Service’s current enforcement position.
Continue Reading FWS Revokes Trump Administration’s Migratory Bird Treaty Act Rule
As we previously reported, for the first time in over 25 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the formal transfer of Clean Water Act (CWA) section 404 permitting authority to a state. On December 22, 2020, the State of Florida – only the third state to receive such approval – “assumed” 404 permitting authority from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) in certain waters of the United States (WOTUS). Since that time, CWA section 404 permit applicants have faced a number of questions about the scope and process of assumed 404 permitting. Five of the top questions are listed below, followed by their answers.
Continue Reading Top 5 Frequently Asked Questions About Florida’s Assumption of Clean Water Act 404 Program
A December 2020 final rule defining “habitat” could have important consequences for future designations of lands and waters as “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Designation of critical habitat by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service (jointly, the “Services”) can affect projects that require federal agency permits or funding, because ESA section 7 requires federal agencies to ensure through consultation with the Services that their actions are not likely to adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat.
On December 16, 2020, the Services adopted, for the first time, a regulatory definition of habitat, as follows:
For the purposes of designating critical habitat only, habitat is the abiotic and biotic setting that currently or periodically contains the resources and conditions necessary to support one or more life processes of a species.
Continue Reading Federal Wildlife Agencies Issue Final Regulatory Definition of “Habitat”
Before yesterday only two states had received approval to administer the Clean Water Act (CWA) section 404 program (Michigan and New Jersey), and no state had received approval since 1994. Now, for the first time in over 25 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the formal transfer of section 404 permitting authority to a third state: Florida. Once EPA’s approval is published in the Federal Register, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) will “assume” 404 permitting authority from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) in certain waters, significantly altering the 404 permitting process in Florida. EPA’s decision has broader implications for the 404 program on a national scale, as other states, including Oregon and Minnesota, consider whether to pursue assumption.
Continue Reading Florida Receives EPA Approval to Assume Clean Water Act Section 404 Program
On August 11, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) released a new report that promotes constructive recommendations to modernize and improve the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) presented at a DOJ-hosted summit in December 2019. …
Continue Reading DOJ Issues “Rich Menu of Options” for Congress to Revise the Administrative Procedure Act
For over 40 years, one of the Clean Water Act’s (CWA’s) key regulatory programs has not functioned as Congress originally intended, producing, over time, significant inefficiencies in the federal permitting process that increase costs and delays for developers and hinder environmental review and protection. Today, renewed efforts at both the state and federal levels seek to achieve the objectives established by Congress in 1977. In particular, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that it intends to revise long-standing regulations that have derailed state implementation of the program. EPA’s approach to this rulemaking, and whether it can adequately address critical barriers to state assumption, has the potential to transform the regulatory landscape and produce substantial benefits for states, the public, the regulated community, and the environment.
Continue Reading When States Assume: Fulfilling Congress’s Objectives Under the Clean Water Act’s Wetlands Program
On June 1, EPA Administrator signed a final rule seeking to increase predictability for applicants by clarifying the Clean Water Act section 401 state water quality certification process.
Continue Reading EPA Finalizes CWA Section 401 Water Quality Certification Regulation
The Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) outbreak is affecting virtually every sector of society and the economy. The healthcare sector and government agencies are on the front lines of the response. Providing support to these critical response activities as well as striving to maintain the strength of the overall economy by continuing regular business operations is vitally important. The private sector has important roles to play. The purpose of this blog post is to briefly outline some practical and legal tools available to help provide both direct support and maintain broader economic activities while ensuring environmental protection and compliance with natural resource laws.
This blog post will be updated as new or relevant information becomes available.…