On December 20, 2019, the Supreme Court of The Netherlands ruled in a climate case brought against the state by Urgenda, a non-governmental organization for “a fast transition towards a sustainable society.” The Court of Appeal and the Court of The Hague had previously ruled on Urgenda’s claims. In both instances, the courts granted Urgenda’s claim that the Dutch state should reduce emissions of CO2 from its territory by at least 25% by the end of 2020. The Supreme Court rejected the state’s appeal and confirmed the ruling.
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Texas policymakers continue to focus on produced water beneficial reuse. On January 22, 2020, the Texas Senate Committees on Natural Resources and Economic Development and Water and Rural Affairs held a joint hearing to consider Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s 2019 interim legislative charge related to one of the most pressing matters facing the state—future water supply issues. This interim charge requires that these legislative committees make recommendations to promote the state’s water supply, including the development of new sources.
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Grocery shopping, you stand in the dairy section. The milk in front is dated three days out, but you see the milk toward the back is dated ten days out. You push aside the “three-day” milk and grab a half-gallon of the organic, one-percent “ten-day” milk. You may have just contributed to “food waste.” If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, behind only China and the United States.

While food waste has been an issue for some time (the statistic above has been circulating since at least 2011), the last 18 months have seen the United States government taking a more active role in the subject. In October 2018, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), (collectively, the Agencies) signed a formal agreement increasing their collaboration and coordination regarding the reduction of food waste as part of a newly announced Winning on Reducing Food Waste initiative (Federal Agreement).
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Over the last decade, phase one of the Clean Air Act’s regional haze program cost companies (primarily electric generating companies) hundreds of millions of dollars in compliance costs and caused the early closure of a number of facilities. The program is just now entering the initial stages of its second planning period, with major implementation activities expected over the next few years. Unsuspecting companies are finding themselves the targets of the program’s requirements for the first time. In states that have taken early action—Arizona, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon and Washington—there has been a shift in attention from older power plants to oil and gas operations and manufacturing facilities in the pulp and paper, cement, and minerals sectors, among others. Even companies that have been through this regulatory process before are facing difficult new questions due to major rule changes enacted in 2017, changes to guidance and key technical documents, and a new focus on statutory provisions addressing “reasonable progress” that were not often used in the past. Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP partner Aaron Flynn has assisted numerous clients in dealing with regional haze issues. In this video, partner Allison Wood interviews Aaron regarding the recent developments in the regional haze program and regarding how companies can best position themselves as states and EPA decide on the next round of emission control requirements.

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From California to the South China Sea, uncertainties surrounding offshore oil and gas platform decommissioning regulations and financial obligations pose a significant risk to the environment and to responsible natural resource development. “Rigs to reefs” decommissioning pioneered in the US Gulf Coast provides a model promising reduced costs, a net reduction in environmental impacts and enhanced ecological benefits; welcomed in some jurisdictions and questioned in others, time will tell whether RTR can deliver its promises.
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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.
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On January 9, 2020, WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility filed suit in the DC District Court challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) approval of over 2,000 oil and gas leases. The leases were sold through 23 different lease sales, spanning from December 8, 2016, to March 20, 2019, and they cover over two million acres of public lands across five western states—Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. The conservation groups contend that BLM continually fails to fully account for climate change impacts associated with oil and gas leasing.
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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 v. Army Corps of Eng’rs (2001); and Rapanos v. U.S. (2006), and judicial review of agency actions related to the applicability of the CWA dredge and fill permit program in Sackett v. EPA (2012) and U.S. Army Corps of Eng’rs v. Hawkes Co. (2016). Most recently, the Supreme Court heard oral argument on November 6 in County of Maui v. Hawai’i Wildlife Fund, et al., a case that addresses the applicability of the CWA’s prohibition on “point source” discharges to “navigable waters” to releases from point sources to groundwater. The Court granted certiorari to address whether releases from point sources that are carried to navigable waters by groundwater are regulated under the federal NPDES permit program or under state non-point source management programs.
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