One of the Supreme Court’s recurring environmental law topics is the scope of Clean Water Act (CWA) jurisdiction. Various aspects of CWA jurisdiction and implementation have been addressed over the years by the Court, including the meaning of “navigable waters” in U.S. v. Riverside Bayview Homes, Inc. (1985); Solid Waste Agency of N. Cook Cnty

Under the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and California’s Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act, industrial facilities in California are required to obtain coverage under the state’s NPDES general permit for discharges associated with industrial storm water activities (General Industrial Permit) or justify why they are exempt. For regulated facilities, including manufacturing facilities, landfills, mining operations, steam electric power generating facilities, hazardous waste facilities, and oil and gas facilities, failure to obtain coverage under the General Industrial Permit is a potential violation of the Clean Water Act (in addition to state law), which could expose the owner or operator of the facility to potential civil penalties of up to $54,833 per day. Enforcement, however, largely is dependent upon agency inspections or enforcement by citizen groups. Based on estimates by the California Coastkeeper Alliance, many facilities in California may have failed to enroll in the industrial storm water permit program.
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The US Environmental Protection Agency has continued to pursue an enforcement agenda against many of the same businesses believed to benefit the most from the Administration’s policies. Notably, this includes midstream oil and gas sources, as recently evidenced by EPA’s September 2019 Enforcement Alert titled, “EPA Observed Air Emissions from Natural Gas Gathering Operations in Violation of the Clean Air Act.”
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In December 2018, an article in this blog flagged a petition for EPA rulemaking under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that, if denied, had the potential to set up precedent-setting litigation on citizens’ ability to use the courts to require EPA action under TSCA. Now, nearly a year later, the scenario that article described is coming true. In a challenge to EPA’s denial of that petition, a federal district court is poised to decide what constitutes a petition for issuance of a new rule as opposed to one for amendment of an existing rule—and in the process, to decide when a court may cast aside deference to EPA and undertake its own evaluation independent of the Agency’s record and conclusions.
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Electric vehicle (EV) production is expected to increase substantially in the near future. So, too, will the need to solve the problem of used EV batteries after they no longer meet EV performance standards. One solution may be to reuse those batteries as a source of energy for the electric grid.
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In October 2018, the Fifth Circuit joined the overwhelming majority of US courts of appeals in ruling the statute of limitations bars civil penalties for alleged NSR violations. But, in a divided opinion, the majority said injunctive relief may still be “available” to the government. After the full court granted the Defendant’s petition for rehearing en banc, the government dropped its entire case rather than losing on injunctive relief also.
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As we have discussed previously, the federal Clean Air Act (CAA) addresses what is often termed “interstate transport.” That is the phenomenon in which emissions from factories, power plants, motor vehicles and many other emission sources are transported by prevailing winds across state lines, sometimes over great distances. The CAA looks to states, first and foremost, to include control measures in implementation plans to reduce emissions that travel into other states. The statutory objective is to prohibit “significant contributions” by upwind states to violations of national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) in downwind states. Although states have primary responsibility, EPA sometimes has invoked its CAA authority to establish federally enforceable requirements to address significant contributions when it concludes upwind states have not taken sufficient steps. In 2016, EPA adopted its most recent set of regulatory interstate transport controls in a rulemaking action called the “Cross-State Air Pollution Rule Update”—or the “CSAPR Update” for short. On September 13, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit issued a decision in closely-watched litigation involving challenges to the CSAPR Update. (The case is Wisconsin v. EPA, No. 16-1406.) While upholding this EPA regulation in most respects, the court ruled in favor of a challenge that concerns the timing of upwind-state emission controls.
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Yesterday, EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers (together, the Agencies) signed and made available a pre-publication version of the highly anticipated repeal of the 2015 WOTUS Rule, which will place the entire country under the pre-2015 Rule regime while the Trump administration works to complete its replacement WOTUS definition.
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