In Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards et al. v. Red River Coal Co., Inc., 2021 WL 1182464 (4th Cir. Mar. 30, 2021), a unanimous Fourth Circuit panel recently affirmed a district court holding that an operator cannot be held liable under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (Surface Mining Act) for a discharge that is otherwise shielded from liability by the Clean Water Act (CWA).  The court’s opinion expressly relied on the Sixth Circuit’s decision in Sierra Club v. ICG Hazard, LLC, 781 F.3d 281 (6th Cir. 2015), which reached the same conclusion.

Continue Reading Fourth Circuit Holds that Mine Not Liable Under Surface Mining Act When CWA Permit Shield Applies

Facing criticism that they impede sustainable development, traditional cross-border investor protections are eroding. More balanced stabilization and equitable treatment provisions allow greater discretion to regulate environmental and social impacts. Enhanced due diligence, focused on project impacts, international standards, CSR obligations and regulatory discretion in applicable treaties or investment contracts, can help offset this increased risk.
Continue Reading Eroding Investor Protections: Managing CSR and Political Risk in the Sustainable Brave New World

On January 9, 2020, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released its highly anticipated proposed rule to improve its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations. The proposed changes would be the first comprehensive amendment of the NEPA regulations since their original publication in 1978. CEQ’s proposed changes are designed to streamline and speed the NEPA review process, clarify important NEPA concepts, and codify key guidance and case law. CEQ’s Proposal is informed by comments it received on last year’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

NEPA requires that federal agencies analyze the environmental effects of their proposed federal actions. This means that virtually any project that requires a federal permit or authorization could be required to undergo a NEPA review. Development of broadband infrastructure, roads, bridges, oil and gas pipelines, and renewable energy facilities are just a few examples of the types of activities that could trigger NEPA. A NEPA review can take significant agency and applicant resources, can substantially delay permits and can provide a basis for a federal court challenge to the project.
Continue Reading CEQ Unveils Long-Awaited Proposal to Improve NEPA Regulations

Last month, the Supreme Court held oral argument in a case that addressed cleanup obligations for potentially responsible parties (PRPs) at Superfund sites. In Atlantic Richfield Company v. Christian, a company tasked with remediating one of the nation’s largest Superfund sites is urging the Supreme Court to overturn a Montana Supreme Court decision that permitted residents to sue the company for additional restoration damages, despite its ongoing cleanup efforts under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).
Continue Reading Supreme Court Considers Landowner Rights in Superfund Case

On November 4, 2019, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the Clean Water Act (CWA) section 404 permit issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) for the extension of an existing phosphate mine in central Florida. Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, No. 18-10541 (11th Cir. Nov. 4, 2019). The Corps permit authorizes the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States that comprise a small portion of the mining extension. Opponents challenged the permit in the Middle District of Florida, claiming the issuance of the permit violated the CWA, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by not considering “downstream” effects, and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The district court rejected all of the claims, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.
Continue Reading Eleventh Circuit Confirms Proper Scope of NEPA Review Governing Corps Clean Water Act Section 404 Permit

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.
Continue Reading Federal District Court Poised to Consider Petition for Issuance of a New Rule Versus Petition for Amendment of an Existing Rule

In the wake of the April 19 ruling by Judge Morris of the US District Court of the District of Montana that required the DOI to conduct an environment review on its decision to lift the coal leasing moratorium, the parties disagree on the necessary remedy and the next steps. Instead of immediately reinstating the moratorium, Judge Morris ordered additional briefing on the remedy, setting a July 22 deadline. The parties submitted dueling briefs; while DOI is requesting additional time to finalize its environmental review for its decision to lift the moratorium, environmental groups and states are requesting that the court vacate the Secretarial Order that lifted the moratorium altogether.
Continue Reading DOI & Opponents Disagree on Remedy in Coal Leasing Moratorium Case