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

Earlier this month, the United States House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology published a staff report entitled “Russian Attempts to Influence U.S. Domestic Energy Markets by Exploiting Social Media.” The report is the result of the Committee’s investigation into Russian efforts to influence U.S. energy markets.

See the full report on PipelineLaw.com.

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

There are 7.6 billion people on the planet today. By 2050, there are projected to be 9.7 billion—or put another way, in just thirty years we will add the equivalent population of seven United States. The world’s most credible energy forecasting entities predict a global increase over that time not only in demand for energy, but demand for fossil energy. Even with steady increases in energy efficiency and a massive increase in renewables, consumption of fossil fuels will grow. That means carbon dioxide emissions won’t be reduced significantly without some technology to do so. Continue Reading More Energy From Carbon, Lower Emissions

As part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, Congress significantly increased and extended the Section 45Q tax credit for sequestration of carbon oxides. This has been a top priority of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) supporters for several years.

CCS is considered to be essential to global efforts to reduce CO2 emissions. The world’s most respected analysis organizations all estimate that fossil fuel use will increase in the coming decades, even with energy efficiency improvements and vast increases in renewable energy.  Continue Reading Section 45Q Tax Credit Enhancements Could Boost CCS

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 (NEPA), 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 (FERC) 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.

Continue Reading D.C. Circuit Raises the Stakes: NEPA Defect Sufficient to Halt Pipeline Operations

The regulated community in California may soon have additional reasons to implement supplemental environmental projects (SEPs) when settling an administrative environmental enforcement action. Under a 2009 State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board) policy, settling parties may voluntarily undertake an environmentally beneficial project in return for an offset of a portion of any civil penalty, provided that the project meets certain criteria. The Water Board has now released sweeping proposed amendments to its Policy on Supplemental Environmental Projects (draft SEP Policy) that will incentivize more projects. Most notably, the draft SEP Policy:

Will consider projects that address climate change, such as greenhouse gas emissions reductions or those that build resilience to climate change impacts on ecosystems or infrastructure.

Will allow—subject to approval—greater than 50% of any monetary assessment in administrative enforcement cases to be allocated towards SEPs that are located in or benefit disadvantaged or environmental justice communities, or communities suffering from a financial hardship, or that further the Water Board’s priority of ensuring a human right to water. Under the original policy adopted in 2009, the maximum civil penalty reduction available via performance of a SEP is capped at 50%.

Will allow up to 10% of oversight costs to be included as part of the total SEP amount for the same reasons above. Otherwise, oversight costs are paid in addition to the total SEP amount.

Establishes a new category of SEPs called “Other Projects” to allow educational outreach and other “non-traditional” water quality or drinking water-related projects to be considered for approval.

Expands the applicability of SEPs to enforcement actions prosecuted by the Division of Drinking Water and its Districts and the Division of Water Rights.

Continue Reading California’s State Water Board Unleashes New Supplemental Environmental Project Policy for Public Comment

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?

In recent years, plaintiffs’ attorneys and public-interest groups have brought common law actions seeking injunctive relief or damages for air emissions they claim cause climate change. Because climate change is a global phenomenon, these actions have targeted both in-state and out-of-state sources. Does state common law reach this far?

A state’s common law is founded in its police powers, which are among the powers that the Constitution generally reserved to the states. By contrast, the Constitution specifically delegates to Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce. A state’s police powers therefore do not extend beyond its borders. For this reason, the Supreme Court in the last century discovered a limited “federal” common law to address interstate pollution at a time when there were no federal laws regulating such interstate concerns. Missouri v. Illinois, 180 U.S. 208, 241 (1901). As the Court observed, “[i]f state law can be applied, there is no need for federal common law; if federal common law exists, it is because state law cannot be used.” City of Milwaukee v. Illinois, 451 U.S. 304, 314 n.7 (1981) (Milwaukee II).

Continue Reading State Common Law and the Global Environment