On March 18, 2021, the Massachusetts House joined the Senate in passing a revised, historic climate legislation that appears to finally have enough support from the Governor’s office to be signed into law.  As we have highlighted in this blog previously, complete agreement between the Commonwealth’s executive and legislative branches on the Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy S.9 (the “Bill”) has proven elusive.  When we last left this topic, the Governor of Massachusetts was faced with a decision to: (1) sign the Bill; (2) veto it for a second time; or (3) return the Bill to the Legislature with recommended amendments.  On February 7, 2021, the Governor did the latter, returning the Bill to the Legislature with approximately 50 recommended changes to various sections within the Bill.  On March 15, the Senate adopted certain further amendments to the original Bill, which the House then likewise adopted on March 18th, and again laid the Bill before the Governor. This leaves the Governor another ten days to either sign the Bill or veto it for the third time and face the possibility of a Legislative override.
Continue Reading Third Time’s the Charm? Massachusetts Climate Legislation Finally Set to Become Law

In April 2020, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund et al., 140 S. Ct. 1462 (2000), vacating the Ninth Circuit’s decision.  The appeals court had affirmed a district court’s finding of Clean Water Act (“CWA”) liability for the County’s alleged failure to obtain a discharge permit for subsurface releases of pollutants into groundwater that conveys pollutants to navigable waters.  In vacating the judgment below, the Supreme Court rejected the Ninth Circuit’s “fairly traceable” test and set forth a new standard for determining when a source needs an NPDES permit:  “the statute requires a permit when there is a direct discharge from a point source into navigable waters or when there is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge.”  Id. at 1468 (emphasis added).  In other words, “an addition falls within the statutory requirement that it be ‘from any point source’ when a point source directly deposits pollutants into navigable waters, or when the discharge reaches the same result through roughly similar means.”  Id. at 1476 (emphasis added).
Continue Reading Groups Seeking to Expand Reach of Clean Water Act

On January 28, 2021, and for the second time in a month, the Massachusetts Legislature passed historic legislation designed to holistically address issues associated with the effects from climate change.  Governor Baker has 10 days to sign it, veto it, or return it to the General Court with recommended amendments.
Continue Reading Massachusetts Legislature Passes Landmark Climate Legislation…Again

Among the flurry of executive actions signed by President Biden last week on inauguration day was a presidential memorandum aiming to revise the regulatory review process.  Titled “Modernizing Regulatory Review,” the memo is directed at the heads of executive departments and agencies and has dual focuses that show the Biden Administration’s commitment to strengthening key tenets of regulatory review while enhancing the focus on equitable and other considerations in the process.  Though it garnered less attention than other actions issued simultaneously, this memo signals President Biden’s ambitious regulatory agenda and may have far-reaching effects that pervade the regulatory process.
Continue Reading Presidential Memorandum Directs Evolution in Regulatory Review

On January 15, 2021, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (“TCEQ”) received approval to implement the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) program for oil and gas discharges. [1]  Generally, as a result of this approval, applicants for NPDES permits for produced water, hydrostatic test water, and gas plant effluent will only require a single TCEQ authorization rather than authorizations from both the Railroad Commission of Texas (“RRC”) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as previously had been required. [2]
Continue Reading TCEQ Receives NPDES Program Authorization for Oil and Gas Discharges

Recently certain policy advocates have suggested that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) should attempt to revitalize the Federal Power Act Section 216 “backstop siting” authority as a means of addressing climate change. Their objective is to facilitate the construction of more long-haul transmission lines from areas with excess renewable generation, so zero-emitting generation can reach more markets.
This post does not comment on that objective. It comments on the backstop siting authority.
Continue Reading Resurrecting Federal “Backstop Siting” Authority for Interstate Transmission

A January 12, 2021 US Department of Justice (DOJ) memorandum extends and provides additional legal analysis to support the government’s increasing drumbeat against settling cases and reducing environmental penalties in recognition of Supplemental Environmental Projects or “SEPs.”  The new memo addresses the limited circumstances under which attorneys in DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), the division of DOJ that represents EPA and other federal agencies in enforcing environmental laws, may include certain mitigation requirements in settlement agreements.  Issued last week by ENRD Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark on the same day that he announced his departure from the Department, the memo bolsters the previously provided rationale for ENRD’s policy prohibiting SEPs in settlement agreements.  It also distinguishes SEPs from “equitable mitigation,” which the memo defines more narrowly and considers to be both permissible and appropriate.  The memo also lists criteria to guide ENRD attorneys evaluating whether equitable mitigation measures are appropriate in a given civil enforcement case.
Continue Reading New Memo Doubles Down and Bolsters Justice Department Positions on Limiting Supplemental Environmental Projects

A flurry of asbestos-related activity in the last weeks of 2020 will require the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to devote significant regulatory attention to asbestos in 2021.  The incoming Biden Administration will need to address these Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) developments, and the scope of that response will determine whether regulatory implications extend beyond asbestos to other chemical substances.

Continue Reading Asbestos Reporting and Regulation to be a TSCA Focal Point for EPA in 2021

On January 7, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS or Service) published a final rule providing that the scope of the prohibition of take under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA or Act) applies “only to actions directed at migratory birds, their nests, or their eggs,” and does not prohibit incidental take (i.e., take that is not the purpose of an activity).  86 Fed. Reg. 1134 (January 7, 2021).  The rule, which lists an effective date of February 8, 2021, represents the latest in a series of efforts by recent presidential administrations to implement competing interpretations of the MBTA.  If it stands under the incoming administration, this rule will have important implications for the wind energy industry, among other sectors.
Continue Reading USFWS Issues Rule Excluding Incidental Take from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act: Implications for the Wind Energy Industry

A December 2020 final rule defining “habitat” could have important consequences for future designations of lands and waters as “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Designation of critical habitat by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service (jointly, the “Services”) can affect projects that require federal agency permits or funding, because ESA section 7 requires federal agencies to ensure through consultation with the Services that their actions are not likely to adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat.

On December 16, 2020, the Services adopted, for the first time, a regulatory definition of habitat, as follows:

For the purposes of designating critical habitat only, habitat is the abiotic and biotic setting that currently or periodically contains the resources and conditions necessary to support one or more life processes of a species.
Continue Reading Federal Wildlife Agencies Issue Final Regulatory Definition of “Habitat”