As the spotlight continues to focus on the City of Flint and its efforts in response to its public health crisis four years ago, water utilities seeking to avoid similar liability (and notoriety) should study Flint as a veritable textbook on potential liability under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the US Constitution, and state law. Part 1 of this series noted that a spate of civil lawsuits and criminal charges were filed in the aftermath of Flint. These cases are still unfolding in the courts. Continue Reading Liability for Exposure to Lead in Drinking Water (Part 2)
A second district court has agreed that challenges to the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule are likely to succeed on the merits. The US District Court for the Southern District of Georgia issued an order on June 8 enjoining the WOTUS Rule in 11 states. Georgia v. Pruitt, No. 2:15-cv-00079 (S.D. Ga. 2018). The rule was previously enjoined by the US District Court for North Dakota in 13 states. North Dakota v. U.S. EPA, 127 F. Supp. 3d 1047 (D.N.D. 2015). The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) (“the Agencies”) recently promulgated a new applicability date for the 2015 WOTUS rule (Applicability Rule), preventing its implementation until February 2020, but there have been several lawsuits challenging the Applicability Rule. Now, regardless of the outcome of challenges to the Applicability Rule, the 2015 Rule cannot be applied in 24 states until a court issues a final decision on the merits, either upholding or invalidating the Rule, or the Agencies finalize a repeal and/or replacement of the 2015 Rule. Continue Reading 2015 “Waters of the US” Rule Enjoined in an Additional 11 States
The Corps Struggles to Balance Competing Constitutional and Statutory Duties
Federal agencies must often balance competing policy concerns and legal requirements. This process may be difficult and fraught with intense public feedback, and frequently results in litigation. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) has found itself in the hot seat over how it manages the nation’s rivers, pitting its obligations under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) against private property rights. Litigation in the federal courts may soon determine whether, and if so how, responsible the federal government is for unintentional or incidental flooding when the government manages rivers for the benefit of listed species. These cases also bring to the fore a burning question: When can government agencies be held responsible for natural events? With the increase in climate change-related litigation nationwide, this issue will likely only rise in prominence. Continue Reading Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place
California is considering the first-in-the-nation general industrial stormwater permit incorporating Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL)-related numeric action levels (TNALs) and numeric effluent limitations (NELs). These new standards have the potential to further ramp up federal Clean Water Act (CWA) citizen suit litigation. Under the State Water Resources Control Board’s (State Board) proposed amendment to its stormwater general industrial permit (IGP), a “Responsible Discharger” whose stormwater discharge exceeds an applicable NEL automatically will be in violation of the IGP. Unless it complies with the permit’s existing exceedance response action process, it also will be in non‑compliance if its discharge exceeds an applicable TNAL.
Recognizing these consequences, and the difficulties some dischargers have complying with existing IGP requirements, the State Board is proposing two alternative compliance options. Touted as an effort to promote green infrastructure and water reuse, these options could revamp how industry manages stormwater. Both alternatives involve capture and reuse of the runoff from the 85th percentile 24-hour storm event, with the difference being the stormwater retention location. Under the “on-site” option, retention occurs at the facility. Under the “off-site” option, retention occurs at the local publicly owned treatment works (POTW). Continue Reading A Seismic Change Is Coming to California’s General Industrial Stormwater Permit
In a decision issued on April 12, 2018, a Fourth Circuit panel held (2-1) that (1) even though a pipeline leak has been repaired and remediation is ongoing under the supervision of the state environmental agency, environmental groups have standing to sue the pipeline owner, and (2) plaintiffs’ allegation that groundwater continues to carry discharged pollutants to jurisdictional waters through a “direct hydrological connection” supports liability under the Clean Water Act.
The Administration is considering substantial changes to the current regulatory approach to reducing exposure to lead in drinking water. The US EPA (EPA) is assessing long-term revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule (LC Rule), a Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) regulation that seeks to protect public health by minimizing lead and copper in drinking water, primarily through corrosion control measures. Lead contamination in drinking water has been the subject of national scrutiny in the aftermath of the public health crisis in Flint, Michigan, where high levels of lead leached from aging pipes into the city’s drinking water after the city switched its source of drinking water to the Flint River, the quality of which was more corrosive than the prior source. Congress eventually banned lead pipes in new construction with amendments to the SDWA in 1986, but in a 2016 survey, the American Water Works Association estimated that 6 million lead-containing service lines continue to distribute drinking water to 15-22 million people in the United States. As state and local governments nationwide confront similar challenges, EPA appears poised to address the legacy of lead infrastructure through updates to the LC Rule. In January 2018, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt pledged to update the LC Rule as part of his “war on lead” in drinking water. Continue Reading Reducing Exposure to Lead in Drinking Water: Status of Revisions to Lead and Copper Rule (Part 1)
We are taught from a young age that two plus two equals four; it is a given just as the earth is round, despite recent controversy. But two plus two may not equal four due to two concepts: significant figures and rounding. But why should you care about either of those two concepts? If you are subject to permit limits or standards those concepts can be the difference between compliance and noncompliance. Continue Reading Two Plus Two Does Not Always Equal Four
On March 12, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) order finding that delays by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) in reviewing Millennium Pipeline Company’s application for water quality certification constituted waiver of NYDEC’s authority under the Clean Water Act (CWA).
This week, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana granted a preliminary injunction, halting construction of the $750 million Bayou Bridge Pipeline. Judge Shelly D. Dick concluded that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in authorizing the project, did not provide sufficient explanation for how the proposed off-site mitigation would compensate for the loss of wetlands impacted by construction. In addition, the Court found the Corps’ environmental analysis failed to sufficiently consider and address historical impacts to wetlands from similarly situated pipelines. Thus, the Court held that these deficiencies likely violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and ordered the 162-mile oil pipeline to halt construction within the Atchafalaya Basin, a large wetland habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife species and a critical component of regulating flooding and stream recharge in the region. As we recently saw with the D.C. Circuit’s decision to vacate authorizations for the Sabal Trail Pipeline, this is another example of courts and environmental organizations relying on errors in a federal agency’s NEPA analysis to justify enjoining pipeline construction or operations.
Judicial review of state agency regulatory orders in California has long been seen as an exercise in futility as state courts typically give significant deference to agency determinations. However, two recent decisions by California Superior Courts have bucked that trend and may provide renewed hope that success at the trial court level is not out of reach. Continue Reading Scoring Gold at the Superior Court: California Water Boards’ Regulatory Authority Successfully Challenged