On November 4, 2019, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the Clean Water Act (CWA) section 404 permit issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) for the extension of an existing phosphate mine in central Florida. Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, No. 18-10541 (11th

In response to a court order, the Bureau of Land Management released a draft environmental assessment evaluating the potential environmental impacts of lifting the federal coal leasing moratorium. The publication opens a 15-day comment period that ends on June 6, 2019. The assessment focuses on the environmental impacts resulting from the three non-exempt leases issued as a result of the Zinke Order and the eight pending leases that would be produced about two years later if the moratorium remained in effect.
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Over the past several decades, significant tension has developed between the federal role in overseeing and authorizing certain types of energy infrastructure projects and states’ roles in regulating water quality under the cooperative federalism structure of the Clean Water Act (CWA or the Act). This tension has played itself out in various contexts, but the

The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently issued two decisions concerning the relationship between the Natural Gas Act (NGA) exclusive jurisdiction provision at 15 U.S.C. § 717r(d)(1) and the administrative review process for state-issued environmental permits for interstate natural gas pipeline projects. These decisions are briefly described as follows:

The US District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana ordered the $750 million Bayou Bridge pipeline to halt construction within the Atchafalaya Basin when it concluded that the US Army Corps of Engineers’ environmental analysis likely violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act due to the following deficiencies: the Corps did not provide sufficient explanation for how the proposed off-site mitigation would compensate for the loss of wetlands impacted by construction; and the Corps failed to sufficiently consider and address historical impacts to wetlands from past pipeline projects in the cumulative effects analysis. On appeal, however, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned the lower court.
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On March 12, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission order finding that delays by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation in reviewing Millennium Pipeline Company’s application for water quality certification constituted waiver of NYDEC’s authority under the Clean Water Act.
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This week, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana granted a preliminary injunction halting construction of the $750 million Bayou Bridge Pipeline. Judge Shelly D. Dick concluded that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in authorizing the project, did not provide sufficient explanation for how the proposed off-site mitigation would compensate for the loss of wetlands impacted by construction. In addition, the Court found the Corps’ environmental analysis failed to sufficiently consider and address historical impacts to wetlands from similarly situated pipelines. Thus, the Court held that these deficiencies likely violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and ordered the 162-mile oil pipeline to halt construction within the Atchafalaya Basin, a large wetland habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife species and a critical component of regulating flooding and stream recharge in the region. As we recently saw with the D.C. Circuit’s decision to vacate authorizations for the Sabal Trail Pipeline, this is another example of courts and environmental organizations relying on errors in a federal agency’s NEPA analysis to justify enjoining pipeline construction or operations.
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Federal agencies that authorize or permit large infrastructure projects, like interstate natural gas pipelines, are often subject to the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, and environmental organizations frequently rely on NEPA to challenge a project. The D.C. Circuit recently struck down a decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve the construction and operation of three interstate natural gas pipelines because the Court found defects in FERC’s NEPA analysis. The court’s decision to vacate FERC’s authorization now threatens to shut down the pipelines, including the Sabal Trail pipeline currently supplying natural gas to newly constructed power plants in Florida.
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Once large infrastructure projects, such as oil and natural gas pipelines, receive federal government approval, they are often the target of legal challenges from opposition groups. Opponents repeatedly argue that the environmental review, pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), was insufficient. If a court finds deficiencies in the government’s NEPA analysis, can a court halt construction or cease operations even after years of project design, permit approvals at all levels of government, and tens of millions of dollars in investment? This question was at the heart of the ongoing litigation involving the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), and, on October 11, Judge James Boasberg determined “no,” the court would not shut down the pipeline. This case is important precedent for projects being challenged under NEPA.
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In a closely watched case, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last week dismissed an interstate natural gas pipeline company’s challenge to the State of New York’s delay in issuing a water quality certification under section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) for the Millennium pipeline project. While the company requested a ruling that the state had waived its right to make a decision on water quality certification for the project, the court decided to dismiss the action – holding that even if the state agency’s lengthy delays did constitute a waiver under CWA section 401, there was no cognizable injury to the company that would give it standing to challenge the delays in court. Rather, according to the court, the remedy is for the company to present evidence of waiver directly to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to seek authorization to begin construction of the project. The case is one of several pending across the country that involve a state’s authority to issue, deny, or waive a CWA water quality certification for interstate natural gas pipeline projects.
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