Last week, in Residents of Gordon Plaza, Inc. v. Cantrell, the Fifth Circuit denied a petition for rehearing en banc of a recent decision affirming the dismissal of a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) citizen suit. The key issue in the underlying appeal, 25 F.4th 288 (5th Cir. 2022), was whether certain maintenance activities qualify as a “removal” action under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The court affirmed that the maintenance activities do indeed constitute a “removal action.” Therefore, the suit was barred under 42 U.S.C. § 6972(b)(2)(B)(iv), which precludes RCRA citizen suits where a “responsible party is diligently conducting a removal action” pursuant to a CERCLA consent decree with EPA.

Continue Reading Fifth Circuit Endorses Broad Reading of “Removal” Under CERCLA To Bar RCRA Citizen Suit

As we noted in our July 7 post, consistent with President Biden’s Executive Order 13990, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) (collectively, the “Services”) plan an ambitious redo of their Endangered Species Act (ESA) implementing regulations.  Kicking off that process, on October 27, 2021, the Services published two proposals in the Federal Register to rescind critical habitat regulations promulgated by the Trump Administration.  Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Regulations for Listing Endangered and Threatened Species and Designating Critical Habitat, 86 Fed. Reg. 59,346 and 86 Fed. Reg. 59,353 (Oct. 27, 2021).  Each of the proposed rules will be subject to a thirty-day public comment period – through November 26, 2021.  The Services may issue final rules by early 2022.

Continue Reading Services Kick Off Revisions to the Endangered Species Act Regulations

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

Recent federal court decisions continue to show that Article III standing can be a formidable defense to environmental citizen suits, particularly following the Supreme Court’s decision Spokeo v. Robins, 578 U.S. 330 (2016).
Continue Reading Article III Standing Still Proving to be a Formidable Defense to Environmental Citizen Suits

Consistent with President Biden’s Executive Order (EO) 13990, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) (collectively, the “Services”) recently announced that they “will initiate rulemaking in the coming months to revise, rescind, or reinstate five [Endangered Species Act] regulations finalized by the prior administration.” The Biden Administration is the third consecutive administration to undertake revisions to the Services’ Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) regulations. The Administration’s Spring 2021 Unified Agenda provides general timeframes for the proposed actions, each of which will go through a notice and comment rulemaking process.
Continue Reading ESA Rules Redux: Services Plan a Second (and, in Some Cases, Third) Look at the ESA Regulations

The lesser prairie-chicken—a grouse whose range covers the western portions of Kansas and Oklahoma; the Texas Panhandle, including the Llano Estacado; eastern New Mexico; and southeastern Colorado—is subject to yet another proposed listing under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).  On June 1, 2021, the US Fish & Wildlife Service (“FWS” or the “Service”) proposed to re-list two distinct population segments (“DPS”) of the species.  86 Fed. Reg. 29,432 (June 1, 2021).  The proposal is subject to a 60‑day public comment period, through August 2.  FWS is expected to issue a final decision within a year.

Continue Reading Lesser Prairie-Chicken Faces Re-Listing Under the Endangered Species Act

As we previously reported, for the first time in over 25 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the formal transfer of Clean Water Act (CWA) section 404 permitting authority to a state.  On December 22, 2020, the State of Florida – only the third state to receive such approval – “assumed” 404 permitting authority from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) in certain waters of the United States (WOTUS).  Since that time, CWA section 404 permit applicants have faced a number of questions about the scope and process of assumed 404 permitting.  Five of the top questions are listed below, followed by their answers.

Continue Reading Top 5 Frequently Asked Questions About Florida’s Assumption of Clean Water Act 404 Program

A December 2020 final rule defining “habitat” could have important consequences for future designations of lands and waters as “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Designation of critical habitat by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service (jointly, the “Services”) can affect projects that require federal agency permits or funding, because ESA section 7 requires federal agencies to ensure through consultation with the Services that their actions are not likely to adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat.

On December 16, 2020, the Services adopted, for the first time, a regulatory definition of habitat, as follows:

For the purposes of designating critical habitat only, habitat is the abiotic and biotic setting that currently or periodically contains the resources and conditions necessary to support one or more life processes of a species.
Continue Reading Federal Wildlife Agencies Issue Final Regulatory Definition of “Habitat”

Before yesterday only two states had received approval to administer the Clean Water Act (CWA) section 404 program (Michigan and New Jersey), and no state had received approval since 1994.  Now, for the first time in over 25 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the formal transfer of section 404 permitting authority to a third state: Florida.  Once EPA’s approval is published in the Federal Register, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) will “assume” 404 permitting authority from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) in certain waters, significantly altering the 404 permitting process in Florida.  EPA’s decision has broader implications for the 404 program on a national scale, as other states, including Oregon and Minnesota, consider whether to pursue assumption.

Continue Reading Florida Receives EPA Approval to Assume Clean Water Act Section 404 Program

Determining which areas constitute habitat for listed species has important consequences under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA” or “Act”), yet “habitat” is not currently defined by the Act or its implementing regulations.  On August 5, 2020, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (jointly, “the Services”) proposed a rule to define “habitat” for purposes of designating “critical habitat” under section 4 of the Endangered Species Act.  See 85 Fed. Reg. 47,333 (Aug. 5, 2020).  The Services’ proposal responds to the Supreme Court’s November 27, 2018, unanimous holding in Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 139 S. Ct. 361 (2018), that an area is eligible for designation as critical habitat under the ESA only if the area is actually habitat for that species.  Accordingly, a final rule defining “habitat” would determine which areas of land and water are eligible for designation as critical habitat.  Such designations can affect projects that require federal agency permits or funding, because ESA section 7 consultation requires federal agencies to ensure that their actions are not likely to adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat.  The result for federally approved or funded projects can be increased permitting costs and risks, and longer timelines.  The proposal’s comment period ended on September 4.  Over 160,000 comments were submitted.  Stakeholders now await a final rule.

Continue Reading Services Propose Definition of Habitat for ESA Regulations