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.

Continue Reading EPA and Army Corps Issue New “WOTUS” Rule While Supreme Court Considers Jurisdiction Over Adjacent Wetlands

The Biden-Harris administration is taking new steps to put some teeth into its emphasis on addressing environmental justice. Two recent developments are worth noting given the potential impact on projects and communities. One, EPA announced on September 24, 2022 that it is launching its new Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights (OEJECR or EJ Office). Two, in August 2022, EPA’s Office of General Counsel issued a guidance document entitled Interim Environmental Justice and Civil Rights in Permitting Frequently Asked Questions that outlines EPA’s current views as to how federal, state, and local permitting agencies can meet the requirements of civil rights laws when they are administering environmental permitting requirements.
Continue Reading Environmental Justice in Focus: Why EPA’s New EJ Office and EJ FAQs Guidance Are Important

This week the US District Court for the Northern District of California overturned three Endangered Species Act (ESA) rules issued in 2019 that address: (1) listing species and designating critical habitat, (2) extending take prohibitions to threatened species, and (3) § 7 interagency consultation. Center for Biological Diversity v. Bernhardt, 19-05206 (N.D. Cal. July 5, 2022). The three rules were issued by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (together, the Services) in August 2019 and together represented the first comprehensive revisions to the ESA regulations in 33 years. The order has a number of important regulatory and caselaw implications. 

Continue Reading Court Vacatur of Comprehensive 2019 Endangered Species Act Rules Raises Big Questions

In line with the Biden administration’s focus on expanding offshore wind energy, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is seeking public review and comments on the draft Morro Bay Wind Energy Area (WEA) environmental assessment (EA) by Friday, May 6, 2022. The EA for the Morro Bay WEA “considers potential environmental and socioeconomic effects from issuing offshore wind energy leases and related site characterization and assessment activities.” Written comments may be filed or shared virtually at the April 14 or April 19 meeting.

Continue Reading BOEM Prepares for California Offshore Wind Energy Area with Request for Public Comments on Draft Environmental Assessment

Two recent actions by the Biden Administration will identify areas of focus for environmental justice and therefore influence environmental enforcement priorities, federal permitting and licensing, and federal spending, among other actions. On February 18, the White House Council on Environmental Quality released the beta (or draft) version of its Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST), a key component of President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative. The Justice40 Initiative set the goal of “delivering 40 percent of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments” to disadvantaged communities. The CEJST serves a specific purpose: to help agencies identify disadvantaged communities in order to direct federal benefits and help agencies measure whether 40 percent of benefits are being received by those communities.
Continue Reading Biden Administration Rolls Out New Climate, Economic, and Environmental Justice Tools

On the heels of the November 2021 Tribal Nations Summit, a flurry of memoranda was signed by the White House and many government agencies. These memoranda seek to further the Biden administration’s promises of consulting with indigenous people and acknowledging their communities’ cultures, customs, sacred sites, and historical knowledge in the contexts of environmental planning, sustainability, and justice, and in ongoing and forthcoming federal decision making and regulatory rulemaking. Center stage in the ongoing discussion is Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge (ITEK), and the need for including and consulting with Tribal communities on the front end of planning as part of the environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Stakeholders from developers and investors to Tribes and regulators, among other parties, should expect increased focus and guidance from the Biden administration in 2022 on these issues.
Continue Reading 2022 Promises Greater Focus on Tribal Consultation and Incorporation of Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge in the Permitting Process

On January 11, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced the beginning of a scoping period to prepare a draft environmental assessment (Draft EA) for the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) Call Area to assess potential impacts associated with offshore wind leasing. The area includes approximately 30 million acres of federal lands on the outer continental shelf (OCS) in the GOM, and covers areas in what is commonly known as the Western and Central Planning Areas of the GOM. This is the same area described in the Call for Information and Nominations published in the Federal Register on November 1, 2021. Comments will be received through February 9, 2022. BOEM anticipates completing the Draft EA this summer.

Continue Reading Interior Announces Environmental Review of Offshore Wind Leasing for the Gulf of Mexico

The American Bar Association published an article, Navigating Environmental Justice Issues in Federal Permitting, which discusses Environmental Justice in federal permitting by Hunton Andrews Kurth attorneys Kerry McGrath, Andrew Turner, John Bobka, and Mayer Brown attorney Lauren Bachtel.
Continue Reading Navigating Environmental Justice Issues in Federal Permitting

As a top priority for the Biden Administration and a key component of energy transition plans, offshore wind energy development is front and center and receiving a lot of attention.  The Biden Administration has announced a commitment to create 30 gigawatts of electricity via US offshore wind by 2030. Congress provided a boost to offshore wind development late last year via a 30% investment tax credit to projects that start construction before 2026.  And just last week, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced plans to spur that development by offering a slate of offshore wind lease sales by 2025 in federal waters off the East, Gulf, and West Coasts.

Continue Reading Five Things You Should Know About Offshore Wind Development Right Now

Last month, EPA announced a planned update of the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) reporting program, incorporating several additions.  The updates would expand the TRI program by adding new chemicals, facilities, and tools to increase accessibility of data.  The goal, according to EPA’s statement, is “to advance Environmental Justice, improve transparency, and increase access to environmental information.”

Continue Reading EPA Emphasizes Environmental Justice Considerations in Toxic Reporting Program Updates