Our regulatory state is founded on the principle that regulated parties must have notice of their compliance obligations. Laws or regulations that fail to give fair notice violate due process and cannot give rise to liability. See, e.g., Gen. Elec. Co. v. EPA, 53 F.3d 1324 (D.C. Cir. 1995).

A notoriously unclear regulatory program addresses circumstances under which an existing facility triggers the Clean Air Act’s (CAA) “new source review” (NSR) program and its associated control technology and air quality review requirements. Over the past two decades, courts have concluded that the same words in the regulations have diametrically opposed meanings. Compare Nat’l Parks Conservation Ass’n, Inc. v. TVA, No. 3:01-CV-71, 2010 WL 1291335 (E.D. Tenn.Mar. 31, 2010) (boiler tube replacement is “routine” repair and replacement) with United States v. Ohio Edison Co., 276 F. Supp. 2d 829 (S.D. Ohio 2003) (boiler tube replacement is not “routine” repair and replacement). Indeed, after addressing the application of NSR to an industrial facility on two occasions, one three-judge panel in the Sixth Circuit produced five different opinions advancing three different interpretations of key provisions of the rules. See United States v. DTE Energy Co., 711 F.3d 643 (6th Cir. 2013); United States v. DTE Energy Co., 845 F.3d 735 (6th Cir. 2017). Disagreement among judges over the meaning of a regulation is objective evidence of a rule’s failure to provide fair notice of its compliance obligations.
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In April 2015, EPA issued a final rule governing the control and management of coal combustion residuals (CCR) in surface impoundments used to treat those residuals. 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. These initial closure plans must contain information related to the method of closure, and are subject to change as operators gather additional information. In June 2017, the Roanoke River Basin Association filed the first ever citizen suit under the CCR Rule.
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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.
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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. 
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Environmental groups are raising the stakes for power companies facing allegations of coal-ash liability. Power plants that burn coal to produce electricity also create byproducts in the process, known as “coal combustion residuals,” or CCRs. CCRs go by several names, but are commonly known as “coal ash.”

Historically, power companies have stored CCRs in settling ponds, also known as “coal-ash basins.” Coal-ash storage and disposal can lead to allegations of groundwater contamination and environmental contamination claims. Environmental groups have sought to require companies to pay for remediation of disposal sites and alleged groundwater contamination; address alleged natural resource damages; and conduct extensive monitoring and sampling of onsite and offsite sediments, groundwater, fish, and other wildlife.


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On August 23, the Department of Energy (DOE) released a study entitled “Staff Report to the Secretary on Energy Markets and Reliability.” This is the so-called “DOE grid study” that Secretary of Energy Rick Perry ordered his chief of staff Brian McCormack to produce in an April 14 memorandum, noting that “Over the last few years…grid experts have expressed concerns about the erosion of critical baseload resources.”

These concerns have been simmering for several years. As the US Environmental Protection Agency was developing the rule that became the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)—prompted by then-Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Republican Lisa Murkowski—held a multi-day meeting to evaluate potential electric reliability impacts from anticipated closings of coal-fired power plants prompted by the rule.


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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?


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Over the past several years, the EPA and states have wrestled with the controversial question of how to manage ash and other residual materials produced by the combustion of coal in coal-fired power plants. The Water Infrastructure Improvements Act (“WIIN Act”), signed by President Obama on December 16, 2016, should help provide clarity to address this question by creating a state permitting program for managing coal ash based on site-specific conditions and potential risk to human health and the environment.
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The federal authorizations required to construct major infrastructure and mineral-extraction projects are the product of years of administrative review and collaboration between agencies and the project proponents. Unfortunately, the issuance of those authorizations is followed quickly by legal challenges from environmental NGOs, which almost always include a demand for preliminary injunctive relief during the pendency of the challenge. If granted, these injunctions can delay the effectiveness of the authorization by years.
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