Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States issued its most significant Clean Water Act decision in more than a decade, resolving a split among lower courts over the reach of the Clean Water Act’s “point source” or National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program. Pollutants travel to bodies of water in many ways: by pipe, ditch, or runoff, for example. The Clean Water Act defines some of those ways of moving pollutants as “point sources”—specifically, pipes, ditches, and similar “discernible, confined and discrete conveyance[s]”—and bans the “addition of any pollutant to navigable waters from any point source” without an NPDES permit. But no similar permitting requirement applies to pollution added from nonpoint sources, which is instead controlled by state and other federal environmental laws. 
Continue Reading County of Maui v. Hawai’i Wildlife Fund: Supreme Court Rejects Ninth Circuit’s Expansive Test for NPDES Permitting Under Clean Water Act, Requires Direct Discharges to Navigable Waters or Functional Equivalent of a Direct Discharge

In its ruling today in Atlantic Richfield Company v. Christian, the Supreme Court upheld a decision by the Montana Supreme Court allowing owners of contaminated residential properties at one of the nation’s largest Superfund sites to pursue state law claims for damages in the form of restoration of their properties beyond the cleanup mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, rejecting claims by the defendant in the state court action that these claims were barred by the terms of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The Court also held that the property owners, although never pursued by EPA to contribute to any of the CERCLA response costs at the site, nonetheless were “potentially responsible parties” within the meaning of the statute, and therefore would be required to obtain approval from EPA for any additional cleanup arising under state law.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Green Lights State Law Claims for Broader Cleanup at Superfund Sites, but only with EPA’s OK

Building on a host of renewable and alternative energy portfolio programs that have incrementally worked to decarbonize the electric sector, Massachusetts is poised to launch a Clean Energy Peak Standard (CPS) in the summer of 2020. The pivotal distinction between the CPS and other Massachusetts programs is that programs to date have incentivized renewable and alternative energy sources to simply “show-up,” while the CPS takes aim at incentivizing new and existing generation resources to “show-up at the right time” in order to further reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Continue Reading Massachusetts Races to Decarbonize the Peak

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

Commentary regarding the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) memorandum articulating a temporary policy applying enforcement discretion in light of the COVID-19 pandemic has been significant this week. Proponents and critics alike have misinterpreted the scope of the policy as reaching far beyond what OECA’s memorandum actually stated. As we stated in Deciphering EPA’s Temporary Enforcement Discretion Policy for COVID-19 and as the EPA has now confirmed, the “temporary policy” of exercising enforcement discretion for noncompliance “resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic” is not a free pass to pollute, despite opponent’s musings to the contrary.

Continue Reading Misconceptions About EPA’s Temporary Enforcement Discretion Policy for COVID-19

Regulated industry has been expressing significant concern about disruption as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and seeking assurance from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the extraordinary circumstances across the United States would be taken into account in the event of any unanticipated noncompliance. Yesterday, March 26, 2020, EPA’s (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) Assistant Administrator Susan Parker Bodine responded to these concerns with the issuance of a memorandum addressing the impact of the current global COVID-19 pandemic on EPA’s enforcement program. In it, OECA commits EPA to a “temporary policy” of exercising enforcement discretion for noncompliance “resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” provided that regulated entities follow the steps required in the policy.

Continue Reading Deciphering EPA’s Temporary Enforcement Discretion Policy for COVID-19

As the country responds and adapts to unprecedented change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies are, understandably, attempting to sort out what these shifts mean for operations now and in the near future. One operational aspect that companies must address is management of environmental compliance programs and responsibilities. Although it can be challenging to maintain compliance with environmental requirements during periods of uncertain or disrupted operations, doing so remains necessary as environmental regulatory requirements remain in force, despite disruptions to government functions. The current operational and regulatory climate is fluid and changing daily (at least), making it incumbent upon companies to remain vigilant in monitoring for updates and understanding the status of rules and requirements at any given moment. The keys to successfully navigating compliance challenges during the pandemic are preparedness, situational awareness, and early and frequent communication with regulatory agencies as appropriate, with the assistance of counsel as needed.

Continue Reading Maintaining Environmental Compliance During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Regulatory staff continue to advance the Administration’s regulatory agenda, including issuing proposed and final rules. This blog post highlights the status of key natural resource regulatory actions.
Continue Reading COVID-19 and the CRA Deadline: Status of the Natural Resources Regulatory Agenda

Following Governor Abbott’s recent proclamation of a state of disaster in Texas due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) have issued guidance for regulated entities relating to environmental compliance concerns as well as other useful information relative to agency operations during these uncertain times.

Continue Reading TCEQ and RRC Issue COVID-19 Regulatory Guidance

A previous post, EPA Makes Room for State Flexibility in Addressing “Interstate Transport” Under the Clean Air Act, discussed the evolving policy of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding approval of state plans—required under the “Good Neighbor Provision” of the federal Clean Air Act—addressing “interstate transport” of air pollution. That article reviewed a series of guidance documents EPA issued in 2018 to allow states flexibility in addressing wind-borne emissions that can contribute to ground-level ozone pollution in other states located downwind. At stake are not only downwind states’ air quality objectives but the prospect of expensive additional emission controls on upwind states’ manufacturing facilities and power plants.

One of EPA’s 2018 guidance documents addresses the seemingly technical question of what “contribution threshold” to apply. That term refers to the quantity—measured in parts per billion (ppb) of ozone in the air at ground level—below which an upwind state’s impact on a downwind state’s ozone concentrations is small enough that any contribution would be considered essentially de minimis. Generally, a state will want its emission contributions to be deemed low enough that it would be clear that its emission sources would not need new control requirements.
Continue Reading EPA Acts on Clean Air Act “Interstate Transport” Plans