Reversing a Texas Court of Appeals decision that allowed Anadarko’s Lloyd’s of London excess insurers to escape coverage for more than $100 million in defense costs incurred in connection with claims from the Deepwater Horizon well blowout, the Supreme Court of Texas held that the insurers’ obligations to pay defense costs under an “energy package” liability policy are not capped by a joint venture coverage limit for “liability” insured.  Anadarko Petroleum Corp. et al. v. Houston Casualty Co. et al., No. 16-1013 (Tex. Jan. 25, 2019).
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With the federal government shutdown finally over after five weeks, the long-term effects are likely to have a lingering impact on regulatory and permitting programs for months to come. Even those federal agencies that were fully funded during the shutdown, such as the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), were stymied in their ability to undertake routine day-to-day operations during the lapse in appropriations. This post highlights two examples of the shutdown’s implications for regulatory reform and permitting in the natural resources arena.
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According to the dictionary, a phrase is “ambiguous” if it has more than one meaning.
Chevron[1] is frequently cited for the proposition that the presence of “ambiguity” gives an agency the authority to interpret the statute to eliminate the ambiguity. A better view of Chevron is that only the Courts may resolve statutory ambiguity through interpretation. When faced with statutory terms that may be given more than one meaning, courts must determine, applying canons of statutory construction, what Congress has resolved, what Congress has given the Agency discretion to resolve, and what ascertainable standards have been established by Congress to govern the exercise of discretion by the Agency. In other words, Chevron contemplates that the Court declare what the law requires, including the scope of discretion afforded an agency to make policy choices that give content to broad statutory terms.
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The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly referred to as the Superfund law, directed the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create a list of the country’s most hazardous waste sites. Sites are proposed to be placed on this “National Priorities List” (or NPL as it is known to environmental law professionals) if they exceed a certain risk score, or Hazard Ranking, and added to the List if the ranking is confirmed after a formal notice-and-comment process. A detailed set of regulations called the National Contingency Plan (NCP) governs how sites placed on the NPL will be investigated, alternative remedies evaluated, and a final remedy selected and then implemented. The NPL, the NCP, and various EPA guidance memoranda have established what practitioners acknowledge is an imperfect but generally workable process in which EPA and states work with potentially liable parties to manage cleanups at NPL sites.
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Last week, EPA and the Corps issued a long-awaited proposal to redefine the “waters of the US” (WOTUS) subject to federal regulation and permitting requirements under the Clean Water Act. The reach of the CWA is notoriously unclear, but knowing which areas on your property are jurisdictional and will require permits is critical to project planning and timelines. If finalized, the proposed rule would replace the Obama administration’s contentious 2015 WOTUS Rule and eliminate the regulatory patchwork that currently exists as the 2015 WOTUS Rule is being implemented in only certain parts of the country.
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Responding to an EPA collection request can be costly, time consuming and stressful for the target of the request—especially because failure to submit a timely and accurate response can result in significant civil or criminal penalties. On November 21, EPA’s Office of Water (OW) and Office of Civil Enforcement (OCE) issued new policies that, if followed, promise to make the process more reasoned and less burdensome.
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Because of their widespread environmental presence, persistence and bioaccumulation, the group of substances known as PFAS have been described as a “Perfect Storm” of liability. The number of plaintiff’s suits concerning PFAS have spiked in the last few years. Also, EPA faces increasing bipartisan calls from Congress to adopt new drinking water standards and cleanup levels. In the interim, states are filling the void. In October 2017, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection  announced a maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 14 parts per trillion for PFOA. Some NGO’s have called for levels as low as 1 part per trillion.
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