The Corps Struggles to Balance Competing Constitutional and Statutory Duties

Federal agencies must often balance competing policy concerns and legal requirements. This process may be difficult and fraught with intense public feedback, and frequently results in litigation. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) has found itself in the hot seat over how it manages the nation’s rivers, pitting its obligations under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) against private property rights. Litigation in the federal courts may soon determine whether, and if so how, responsible the federal government is for unintentional or incidental flooding when the government manages rivers for the benefit of listed species. These cases also bring to the fore a burning question: When can government agencies be held responsible for natural events? With the increase in climate change-related litigation nationwide, this issue will likely only rise in prominence. Continue Reading Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

While still early in the new administration, emerging enforcement trends are beginning to indicate that EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) will continue to pursue cases involving fraud in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. We noted last summer that EPA and DOJ have pursued numerous enforcement actions against renewable fuel producers and importers that generated invalid Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs), which are the “currency” of the RFS program. Although it is reasonable to assume the vast majority of program participants comply with EPA’s regulations, the program has suffered from high profile cases of fraud and abuse requiring federal enforcement, including criminal prosecutions. Recent cases and statements by DOJ and EPA officials show that federal prosecution of RFS fraud, particularly that involving multi-state schemes, will continue. And RFS fraud cases may even occupy a larger portion of EPA’s enforcement bandwidth as EPA gives greater deference to states in enforcement of delegated programs like the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Continue Reading Enforcement Trends: Federal Enforcement of Renewable Fuel Standards Marketplace Fraud Continues

Highway Interchange

Several presidential administrations have sought to shorten the lengthy process for obtaining federal authorizations and permits, with particular attention on infrastructure projects that usually require multiple federal permits with accompanying environmental reviews. Despite consistent interest in improving this process, delays persist, in part because of how courts have interpreted the level of analysis required during these environmental reviews. This past Tuesday, President Trump issued a new Executive Order (EO) 13807: “Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects.” As this EO is implemented, the big question is: How much relief can this or any other executive action provide?

Continue Reading Will Executive Direction Accelerate Federal Environmental Review and Permitting?

Increased use of renewable fuels is a core element of our country’s quest for energy independence and has also been used to incentivize private efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Now more than ten years old, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program has helped make ethanol made from sugarcane and compressed natural gas produced from sludge at municipal wastewater treatment facilities common household concepts. While the vast majority of renewable fuel producers are compliant, the program has suffered from high-profile cases of fraud and abuse requiring federal enforcement, including criminal prosecutions. Continue Reading Renewable Fuel Standards: Marketplace Fraud Leads to Federal Enforcement

2017 Chambers USA Awards

Last week at the 2017 Chambers USA Awards, Hunton & Williams’ environmental team was recognized as the team of the year in the environment practice area.  Chambers USA evaluated our practice as “preeminent” in the environmental area and “highly esteemed.”  Chambers USA also noted our “fine track record” for our utility and energy work and our “noteworthy expertise across air, water, waste and climate change matters.”

Continue Reading Hunton & Williams Wins 2017 Chambers USA Award for Excellence for Environment

Corporate_Business Meeting Backli

Recently, the states and federal agencies have clashed in a number of environmental rulemakings and subsequent litigation over those rules. These disagreements have raised a host of important legal and policy questions, including the proper balance of power between the states and the federal government and the communication process and overall relationship between the states and federal agencies. Recently filed litigation challenging the Stream Protection Rule, 81 Fed. Reg. 93,066 (Dec. 20, 2016), would prompt judicial review of many of these issues. But the likelihood of administrative or congressional action on this rule (through the Congressional Review Act) could preclude judicial input on these questions for now. If the rule is ultimately withdrawn or overturned, the manner in which it is may also present important federalism questions. Further complicating this process are two motions to intervene in two of these cases, filed by several environmental groups to defend the final Stream Protection Rule from being vacated or weakened.

Continue Reading Continuing Federalism Issues Emerge in Challenges to Stream Protection Rule