For decades, the precise scope of the Clean Water Act’s point source permitting program has been the subject of much controversy. Over the past several years, the question of whether that program—known as the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”)—regulates discharges to groundwater that is hydrologically connected to surface water has produced a number of conflicting decisions and a torrent of commentary and public debate. The Fourth and Ninth Circuits recently concluded that the NPDES program regulates such discharges under certain circumstances, while the Sixth Circuit reached the opposite conclusion, setting up potential review of the issue in the United States Supreme Court. See Upstate Forever v. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, L.P., 887 F.3d 637 (4th Cir. 2018); Haw. Wildlife Fund v. Cty. of Maui, 886 F.3d 737 (9th Cir. 2018); Ky. Waterways All. v. Ky. Utils. Co., No. 18-5115, 2018 WL 4559315 (6th Cir. Sept. 24, 2018); Tenn. Clean Water Network v. Tenn. Valley Auth., No. 17-6155, 2018 WL 4559103 (6th Cir. Sept. 24, 2018).
In April 2015, the United States Environmental Protection Agency issued a final rule governing the control and management of coal combustion residuals (CCR) in surface impoundments used to treat those residuals. In general, CCR consists of materials that result from the combustion of coal at coal-fired electric utility plants. As part of its rule, EPA required operators to submit initial closure plans for impoundments and post them on a publicly available website in November 2016. Under the rule, these initial closure plans must contain information related to the method of closure, and are subject to change as operators gather additional information. Continue Reading District Court Dismisses First Ever CCR Rule Citizen Suit
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).