The lesser prairie-chicken—a grouse whose range covers the western portions of Kansas and Oklahoma; the Texas Panhandle, including the Llano Estacado; eastern New Mexico; and southeastern Colorado—is subject to yet another proposed listing under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).  On June 1, 2021, the US Fish & Wildlife Service (“FWS” or the “Service”) proposed to re-list two distinct population segments (“DPS”) of the species.  86 Fed. Reg. 29,432 (June 1, 2021).  The proposal is subject to a 60‑day public comment period, through August 2.  FWS is expected to issue a final decision within a year.

Continue Reading Lesser Prairie-Chicken Faces Re-Listing Under the Endangered Species Act

The topic of infrastructure has been front and center in recent weeks, following the Biden Administration’s unveiling of the American Jobs Plan, a massive investment plan to “Build Back Better” the country’s infrastructure.  A critical infrastructure component is water systems—drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater—many of which have deteriorated with age and lack of funding.  The renewed focus on infrastructure proposes to funnel massive investment into upgrading the nation’s water systems, under the American Jobs Plan and a slate of bills now before Congress.  We take a look at what the new infrastructure developments could mean for water systems.

Continue Reading Water, Water Everywhere: Infrastructure Push Includes Significant Investment for Water Systems

As we previously reported, for the first time in over 25 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the formal transfer of Clean Water Act (CWA) section 404 permitting authority to a state.  On December 22, 2020, the State of Florida – only the third state to receive such approval – “assumed” 404 permitting authority from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) in certain waters of the United States (WOTUS).  Since that time, CWA section 404 permit applicants have faced a number of questions about the scope and process of assumed 404 permitting.  Five of the top questions are listed below, followed by their answers.

Continue Reading Top 5 Frequently Asked Questions About Florida’s Assumption of Clean Water Act 404 Program

In Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards et al. v. Red River Coal Co., Inc., 2021 WL 1182464 (4th Cir. Mar. 30, 2021), a unanimous Fourth Circuit panel recently affirmed a district court holding that an operator cannot be held liable under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (Surface Mining Act) for a discharge that is otherwise shielded from liability by the Clean Water Act (CWA).  The court’s opinion expressly relied on the Sixth Circuit’s decision in Sierra Club v. ICG Hazard, LLC, 781 F.3d 281 (6th Cir. 2015), which reached the same conclusion.

Continue Reading Fourth Circuit Holds that Mine Not Liable Under Surface Mining Act When CWA Permit Shield Applies

Barack Obama was seven months into his first term as President of the United States, the World Health Organization had declared a H1N1 flu pandemic, and the California State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) adopted the current Construction General Permit for Stormwater Discharges (Permit or CGP).  It was September 2009.  Now, having administratively extended the Permit since 2014 when, by its terms, the Permit expired, the State Board may, under a schedule released late last year, soon release a new draft CGP for public comment, with a goal of adopting it late this summer.

Continue Reading Last Adopted in 2009, California State Water Board Working on New Construction Stormwater General Permit for 2021

The EPA Office of Water has taken a major step towards further regulation of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) under the Clean Water Act.  On March 17, it published an advance notice of a proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) that could lead to development of effluent limitations guidelines (ELGs), pretreatment standards, and new source performance standards for PFAS manufacturers, formulators, and possibly other industries now being studied by EPA.  86 Fed. Reg. at 14,560.  These industries include pulp and paper manufacturers, textile and carpet manufacturers, metal finishing companies, and commercial airports.  The ANPRM is open for public comment through May 17.

Continue Reading EPA Advances Efforts to Address PFAS in Industrial Discharges

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 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

On November 27, 2020, the US Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) published notice that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (“TCEQ”) has applied to the US EPA for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) program authorization for discharges of produced water, hydrostatic test water and gas plant effluent. [1] TCEQ’s application (“Application”) was filed in response to a bill passed during the last Texas legislative session that required TCEQ to submit to EPA no later than September 1, 2021, a request for NPDES permitting authority for discharges of produced water, hydrostatic test water and gas plant effluent associated with oil and gas activities currently under the jurisdiction of the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC). [2] Under this legislation, state authority to regulate these discharges will transfer from the RRC to TCEQ upon EPA’s grant of NPDES permitting authority to TCEQ. Should EPA grant NPDES permitting authority to TCEQ for these discharges, a prospective permittee would generally only need to obtain a single TCEQ authorization (rather than an authorization from both the RRC and EPA). [3]
Continue Reading TCEQ’s Request for NPDES Program Authorization for Oil and Gas Discharges Under Review