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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On March 15, 2019, the House Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change held a hearing titled, “Protecting Americans at Risk of PFAS Contamination & Exposure.” The hearing examined approaches to eliminate or reduce environmental and health risks to workers and the public from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). At the hearing, there was discussion of proposed PFAS Legislation.
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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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In their ongoing efforts to require EPA to develop a hazardous substance spill program under the Clean Water Act, environmental groups allege in a new lawsuit that EPA must promulgate worst-case discharge regulations requiring certain facilities to develop facility response plans. What this means for EPA’s recent proposal not to develop a general CWA hazardous substance spill program and potentially regulated facilities remains to be seen.
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Over the past several decades, significant tension has developed between the federal role in overseeing and authorizing certain types of energy infrastructure projects and states’ roles in regulating water quality under the cooperative federalism structure of the Clean Water Act (CWA or the Act). This tension has played itself out in various contexts, but the

EPA has shown a little love for states wanting action on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). On February 14, 2019, EPA announced its PFAS Action Plan, calling it “the most comprehensive, cross- agency action plan for a chemical of concern ever undertaken by the Agency.” The Action Plan consists of 23 priority action items with the majority identified as short-term or generally taking place or expected to be completed in the next two years.
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There are many issues revolving around beneficial use of produced water associated with hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells, from drought relief, to the abundance of produced water, to earthquakes. Will the numerous stakeholders align sufficiently to allow the creation of programs to properly regulate the beneficial use of produced water?
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“According to FERC, it is now commonplace for states to use Section 401 to hold federal licensing hostage.”

These are the words the DC Circuit used in Hoopa Valley Tribe v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, No. 14-1271, p. 10 (D.C. Cir., Jan. 25, 2019), to describe the state of play on § 401 certifications affecting hydroelectric facility licensing or re-licensing applications. CWA § 401(a)(1) requires, as a prerequisite for federal permits for activities that may result in a discharge into the navigable waters, that affected states certify that any such discharge will comply with applicable, enumerated provisions of the Clean Water Act. But, if a state fails or refuses to act on a request for certification within “a reasonable period of time (which shall not exceed one year) after receipt of such request,” the statute deems the certification requirements waived.
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