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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The Railroad Commission of Texas has authority to issue permits for discharges associated with oil and gas operations in the state, but it does not yet have delegation of the NPDES permitting program. Thus, to the extent that produced water discharges are not currently barred under federal regulations, facilities seeking authorization for these discharges to waters of the US must obtain authorization from both EPA and the RRC. This article highlights Texas efforts underway to obtain NPDES delegation for produced water discharges.
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Over the last year or so, anti-pipeline forces have increasingly used “tree sitting” to obstruct natural gas infrastructure projects. The tactic involves individuals who climb trees slated for removal in a proposed pipeline project and stay there—sometimes for months and often aided by family, friends or others—forcing project developers to take various countermeasures.

Earlier this month a Virginia federal district judge rejected a novel effort by Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC (MVP) to join certain unnamed tree sitters (“Tree Sitter 1” and “Tree Sitter 2”) as defendants in a pending Natural Gas Act (NGA) eminent domain action to condemn easements over land in southwestern Virginia for construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. In addition to interfering with its use of the easements being condemned, MVP alleged that the “tree sitters” or their supporters had assaulted a security officer who was part of a tree clearing crew on the project. Notably, though it declined to join the “tree sitters” as parties, the court observed that MVP still had other available remedies against them.
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Last month, Representative Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) and Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) introduced companion bills in the House and Senate that renewed the call for a national clean energy standard for retail utilities. While Congress has mulled over the idea for over a decade, states have passed their own standards that force power generators to obtain increasing amounts of their electricity from non- or low-emitting sources. More recently, states have aggressively updated these targets in attempts to decarbonize their power sectors.
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On May 15, EPA released its draft Study of Oil and Gas Extraction Wastewater Management under the Clean Water Act. The Draft Study addresses the results of an extensive review initiated last year to evaluate the management of oil and gas wastewaters generated at onshore facilities and to assess the need for additional discharge options for onshore oil and gas wastewater under the Clean Water Act. Although EPA has not yet adopted any recommendations for regulatory action, it is evident that EPA is continuing to take a hard look at the merits of authorizing broader discharges of produced water to surface waters than those currently allowed for onshore discharges under the CWA effluent guidelines (and generally referred to as the zero discharge standard).
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The US Environmental Protection Agency has recently determined that no revisions to existing RCRA Subtitle D regulations for the management of oil and gas wastes are necessary. This conclusion follows EPA’s completion of an extensive review to fulfill the requirements of a Consent Decree entered by the US District Court for the District of Columbia that settled litigation filed by certain environmental organizations over EPA’s alleged failure to update its rules for management of oil and gas wastes. EPA’s findings, released on April 23, 2019, are set forth in a report titled, Management of Oil and Gas Exploration, Development and Production Wastes: Factors Informing a Decision on the Need for Regulatory Action. This means that, at least for now, EPA’s longstanding position on regulation of oil and gas wastes remains unchanged.
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On April 12, 2019, the US District Court for the Northern District of California entered an order vacating the Department of the Interior’s repeal of the 2016 Valuation Rule due to violations of the Administrative Procedures Act. The court’s ruling may impact the Trump administration’s repeal and replace rulemakings that are scheduled to be finalized in the near future.
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