Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) released its annual enforcement report detailing the results of the past year’s civil and criminal enforcement and compliance efforts.  The report covers the 2020 fiscal year, which ran from October 1, 2019, through September 30, 2020, and thus provides some key insight into the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on environmental enforcement.
Continue Reading EPA’s FY2020 Annual Enforcement Results Are In

A January 12, 2021 US Department of Justice (DOJ) memorandum extends and provides additional legal analysis to support the government’s increasing drumbeat against settling cases and reducing environmental penalties in recognition of Supplemental Environmental Projects or “SEPs.”  The new memo addresses the limited circumstances under which attorneys in DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), the division of DOJ that represents EPA and other federal agencies in enforcing environmental laws, may include certain mitigation requirements in settlement agreements.  Issued last week by ENRD Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark on the same day that he announced his departure from the Department, the memo bolsters the previously provided rationale for ENRD’s policy prohibiting SEPs in settlement agreements.  It also distinguishes SEPs from “equitable mitigation,” which the memo defines more narrowly and considers to be both permissible and appropriate.  The memo also lists criteria to guide ENRD attorneys evaluating whether equitable mitigation measures are appropriate in a given civil enforcement case.
Continue Reading New Memo Doubles Down and Bolsters Justice Department Positions on Limiting Supplemental Environmental Projects

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

On November 9, 2020, EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) released its long-awaited draft handbook that details the office’s process for developing chemical hazard assessments for its Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program. The ORD Staff Handbook for Developing IRIS Assessments (IRIS Handbook) gives useful insight into ORD’s process to develop its IRIS assessments, which provide important toxicological information that federal and state environmental agencies consider when making regulatory and cleanup decisions under multiple statutory programs. EPA will accept comments on the draft handbook and charge questions until March 1, 2021.

Continue Reading EPA Releases Long-Awaited IRIS Handbook, But has Anything Changed?

On October 30, 2020, EPA published in the Federal Register a proposed rule to revise its 2016 Cross-State Air Pollution Rule Update (the CSAPR Update) to further reduce interstate air pollution from 12 upwind states. EPA is proposing this revision pursuant to its authority under the Clean Air Act’s “Good Neighbor” provision (section 110(a)(2)(D)(i)(l)), which requires upwind states to prevent sources located within their borders from contributing significantly to nonattainment or interfering with maintenance, of the national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) in downwind states.

Continue Reading EPA Issues Proposed Revisions to CSAPR Update

The United States Environmental Protection Agency recently published a final rule on “EPA Guidance; Administrative Procedures for Issuance and Public Petitions.” 85 Fed. Reg. 66,230 (Oct. 19, 2020). The Guidance Rule clarifies the location on the web of certain EPA guidance; provides requirements for guidance development, including for development of particularly significant guidance; and specifies procedures for the public to petition for modification, withdrawal, or reinstatement of guidance. The Guidance Rule is EPA’s response to Executive Order 13891 by President Trump on Promoting the Rule of Law through Improved Agency Guidance Documents and related guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The Executive Order and the OMB Guidance both emphasize the need for accessibility and transparency of the guidance process.  The provisions of the Guidance Rule – and their impact on accessibility and transparency– are discussed below.

Continue Reading EPA’s New Guidance Rule: Are Accessibility and Transparency Improved?

On October 27, 2020, in a succinct order, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (“the Court” or “D.C. Circuit”) denied motions for stay and for summary vacatur filed by several environmental advocacy groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund and Sierra Club, as well as states and local governments, with leadership from the States of New York and California in litigation challenging EPA’s Oil and Natural Gas Sector:  Emission Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources Review, 85 Fed. Reg. 57,018 (Sept. 14, 2020) (“Methane Repeal Rule,” or the “Rule”).  Order at 1, California, et al. v. Andrew Wheeler, et al., No. 20-1357 (D.C. Cir. Oct. 27, 2020).  In addition to an opposition filed by EPA, regulated industry trade groups, including the American Petroleum Institute (“API”), weighed in with the Court on EPA’s behalf to oppose the stay.

Continue Reading U.S. Court of Appeals Refuses to Put EPA’s Rescission of Obama-Era Methane Regulations on Hold and Sets Expedited Briefing Schedule

On October 8, 2020, Wyoming federal district court Judge Skavdahl struck down the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) “Waste Prevention Rule,” otherwise known as the “Venting and Flaring Rule,” which had been promulgated on November 18, 2016, in the closing months of President Obama’s second term (“2016 Rule”).  See Order on Pets. for Review of Final Agency Action, Wyoming v. U.S. Dep’t of Interior, No. 2:16-CV-0285-SWS (D. Wyo. Oct. 8, 2020) (Order vacating 2016 Rule).  The detailed fifty-seven-page decision concludes that in issuing the 2016 Rule, BLM exceeded its statutory authority and acted arbitrarily.  The core of the court’s holding was that the 2016 Rule was grounded in air quality motivations, which was the purview of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and, therefore, beyond BLM’s statutory authority to promulgate.

Continue Reading Stay in your lane! Wyoming Federal Court Finds BLM Venting and Flaring Rule Intrudes on EPA Authority

As I have reported previously, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit issued a significant decision in September 2019 on EPA’s implementation of the so-called “Good Neighbor Provision” of the federal Clean Air Act (CAA). That is the CAA’s principal provision addressing what is often termed “interstate transport,” the physical process in which emissions from cars, trucks, factories, power plants, and myriad other sources—and the resulting air pollution—are carried by prevailing winds across state borders. The main purpose of the Good Neighbor Provision (section 110(a)(2)(D)(i)(I) of the CAA) is to prevent “significant contribution” by “upwind” states’ emissions to violations of national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) in “downwind” states. Although states have the principal responsibility to implement this provision, EPA periodically has invoked its CAA authority to impose requirements to curb interstate transport when it determines upwind states have not adopted adequate controls.

Continue Reading Against a Backdrop of Litigation, EPA Prepares a New Rule to Address Interstate Air Pollution

Regardless of whether Kisor changed principles of deference under Auer, lower courts appear less inclined to find ambiguity in agency regulations after the Kisor decision; and when they do, “unfair surprise” continues to be the most common factor weighing against deference to an agency’s interpretation.
Continue Reading Lower Courts Grappling with Deference Principles Following Kisor