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

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is poised to outline its planned steps to achieve the goals of its climate change-focused policies.  On December 7, 2020, the Massachusetts Executive Office for Energy and  Environmental Affairs (“EOEEA”) hosted a webinar to discuss the development and pending release of the Massachusetts Decarbonization Roadmap to 2050 (the “Roadmap”), which EOEEA indicates it will publish this month. The Roadmap constitutes the plan of the Commonwealth to identify cost-effective and equitable pathways and strategies for Massachusetts to reach Net Zero emissions by 2050, and the priorities to achieve an on-pace interim goal by 2030. In addition to the development of the Roadmap, the Commonwealth is in the process of preparing the 2020 update to the Clean Energy and Climate Plan (“CECP”), which is mandated to receive updates every five years under the Global Warming Solutions Act (“GWSA”).

Continue Reading Pulling on the same oar? Federal, State, and Local Measures Need Alignment to Achieve Climate Goals

On October 30, 2020, EPA published in the Federal Register a proposed rule to revise its 2016 Cross-State Air Pollution Rule Update (the CSAPR Update) to further reduce interstate air pollution from 12 upwind states. EPA is proposing this revision pursuant to its authority under the Clean Air Act’s “Good Neighbor” provision (section 110(a)(2)(D)(i)(l)), which requires upwind states to prevent sources located within their borders from contributing significantly to nonattainment or interfering with maintenance, of the national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) in downwind states.

Continue Reading EPA Issues Proposed Revisions to CSAPR Update

As we reported in an earlier posting, on June 4, 2020, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (“AGO”) filed a petition, which requested the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (“DPU”) to open an investigation into potential changes to local natural gas distribution company (“LDCs”) operations to support the Commonwealth’s legislatively mandated greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emission limit reductions (the “Petition”). Specifically, the AGO’s Petition seeks to evaluate the industry, regulatory and policy adjustments that are requisite to meet the state GHG limits, and to “determine what near and long-term adjustments are necessary to maintain a safe and reliable gas distribution system and protect consumer interests as the Commonwealth transitions” to carbon neutrality by 2050.
Continue Reading Massachusetts DPU Opens Investigation into Natural Gas Distribution Companies

Following a public review process, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (“DOER”) recently found, among other factors, that the costs of a solicitation for independent offshore wind energy transmission outweigh the potential benefits.  Accordingly, the agency decided not to require the Massachusetts Electric Distribution Companies (“EDCs”) to pursue a joint competitive transmission only solicitation.  The DOER’s findings were presented in a letter to the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunication, Utilities and Energy, as a supplement to the DOER’s prior findings in its Offshore Wind Study, which was published just over a year ago.  This action appears to close the latest chapter in a several year effort to advance a coordinated transmission for offshore wind resources.  How this fits into the Commonwealth’s long term energy strategy remains an open question, which may need to be revisited as the Commonwealth aims to keep pace with its Global Warming Solutions Act greenhouse gas emissions limits.

Continue Reading Massachusetts Course Corrects on Offshore Wind Transmission

On June 4, 2020, the Massachusetts Attorney General filed a Petition which requested the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities to open an investigation into the potential changes to support the Commonwealth’s legislatively mandated greenhouse gas (GHG) emission limit reductions (the Petition). The AG’s Petition follows a similar proceeding begun in March by the New York Public Service Commission. Collectively, these state actions highlight the challenges the states will encounter to meet the requirement of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Continue Reading No Clear Path on the Transition to Net-Zero GHG Emissions

The first comprehensive revision of the NEPA implementing regulations in over forty years goes into effect today. Litigants sought a preliminary injunction to block implementation of the rule nationwide, but their motion was denied by a district court late last week. While litigation is ongoing in three district courts, the new rule will apply to all new NEPA reviews started on or after September 14, 2020, and agencies will have discretion to apply the new rule to ongoing NEPA reviews initiated before September 14.
Continue Reading After Surviving Preliminary Injunction Motion, New NEPA Rule Becomes Effective Today

Regardless of whether Kisor changed principles of deference under Auer, lower courts appear less inclined to find ambiguity in agency regulations after the Kisor decision; and when they do, “unfair surprise” continues to be the most common factor weighing against deference to an agency’s interpretation.
Continue Reading Lower Courts Grappling with Deference Principles Following Kisor

The State of New York has recently proposed revisions to its Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative regulations. These revisions, among other changes, would expand the reach of the program to fossil-fuel-fired electricity generation units with a nameplate capacity equal to or greater than 15 megawatts.
Continue Reading New York Proposes Regional Greenhouse Gas Changes