Late last year, New Jersey became the first state to require via legislation that its environmental state agency evaluate the contributions of certain facilities to existing environmental and public health stressors in overburdened communities when reviewing certain permit applications. California, never to be outdone, has begun its own legislative process to further incorporate environmental justice into state decision-making.
Continue Reading California Takes Steps to Incorporate Environmental Justice into Permitting Decisions

The EPA Office of Water has taken a major step towards further regulation of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) under the Clean Water Act.  On March 17, it published an advance notice of a proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) that could lead to development of effluent limitations guidelines (ELGs), pretreatment standards, and new source performance standards for PFAS manufacturers, formulators, and possibly other industries now being studied by EPA.  86 Fed. Reg. at 14,560.  These industries include pulp and paper manufacturers, textile and carpet manufacturers, metal finishing companies, and commercial airports.  The ANPRM is open for public comment through May 17.
Continue Reading EPA Advances Efforts to Address PFAS in Industrial Discharges

In April 2020, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund et al., 140 S. Ct. 1462 (2000), vacating the Ninth Circuit’s decision.  The appeals court had affirmed a district court’s finding of Clean Water Act (“CWA”) liability for the County’s alleged failure to obtain a discharge permit for subsurface releases of pollutants into groundwater that conveys pollutants to navigable waters.  In vacating the judgment below, the Supreme Court rejected the Ninth Circuit’s “fairly traceable” test and set forth a new standard for determining when a source needs an NPDES permit:  “the statute requires a permit when there is a direct discharge from a point source into navigable waters or when there is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge.”  Id. at 1468 (emphasis added).  In other words, “an addition falls within the statutory requirement that it be ‘from any point source’ when a point source directly deposits pollutants into navigable waters, or when the discharge reaches the same result through roughly similar means.”  Id. at 1476 (emphasis added).
Continue Reading Groups Seeking to Expand Reach of Clean Water Act

As we have explained, environmental justice will be a central focus of the Biden-Harris administration. A recent Executive Order declares federal agencies “shall make achieving environmental justice part of their missions by developing programs, policies, and activities to address the disproportionately high and adverse human health, environmental, climate-related and other cumulative impacts on disadvantaged communities, as well as the accompanying economic challenges of such impacts.” Both big and small, changes are coming at the federal level on permitting, rulemaking, enforcement, and other actions that will have a practical impact on corporations and communities.
Continue Reading California Launches Updated Environmental Justice Screening Tool

On January 26, 2021, a coalition of advocacy groups and prominent asbestos plaintiffs’ experts launched two challenges to “Part 1” of the asbestos risk evaluation recently released by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  EPA concluded in Part 1 that 16 of the 32 “conditions of use” analyzed pose an “unreasonable risk” to human health, but advocacy groups have criticized EPA for only addressing risks associated with chrysotile asbestos and excluding review of other fiber types.  Now, those groups have teamed up on a pair of legal challenges that could force EPA to revisit its Part 1 asbestos risk evaluation, which could delay risk management regulations.
Continue Reading Advocacy Groups and Plaintiffs’ Experts Launch Two Challenges to EPA’s Asbestos Risk Evaluation – Are EPA Settlements Possible?

As the Biden Administration settles in and begins to appoint its designees to key executive and administrative agencies, a series of policy objectives are coming into focus.  Chief among them is expanded attention and regulation in the ESG space regarding environmental, social and governance issues at American businesses. In this post, we survey the expected direction of these initiatives at, for example, the SEC, Department of Labor, and EPA.

Continue Reading A Preview of ESG Regulation under the Biden Administration

On January 15, 2021, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (“TCEQ”) received approval to implement the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) program for oil and gas discharges. [1]  Generally, as a result of this approval, applicants for NPDES permits for produced water, hydrostatic test water, and gas plant effluent will only require a single TCEQ authorization rather than authorizations from both the Railroad Commission of Texas (“RRC”) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as previously had been required. [2]
Continue Reading TCEQ Receives NPDES Program Authorization for Oil and Gas Discharges

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