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

One of the first lessons that most Superfund practitioners learn is that it is no easy task to prevent EPA from placing a site on the National Priorities List. The NPL is the “list of national priorities among the known or threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants throughout the United States.”[1] It “contains the most serious uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites.”[2] There are nearly 1,350 sites on the NPL today. Since the first list was issued in 1980, only 399 – or, on average, ten per year – have been deleted. That is only two per state in a decade (on average). The pace of EPA’s decision-making on proposed deletions is protracted, if not glacial. And looking to the courts for relief from the stigma of having a site on the NPL rarely bears fruit.

It therefore surprised and may even have delighted some practitioners when the DC Circuit decided, in Genuine Parts Company v. EPA, No. 16-1416 (D.C. Cir. May 18, 2018), to overturn EPA’s decision to list the West Vermont Drinking Water Contamination Site on the NPL.

Continue Reading Genuine Surprise: DC Circuit Overturns NPL Listing Decision

On May 14, 2018, the Department of Energy Office of Electricity Delivery & Energy Reliability released its Multiyear Plan for Energy Sector Cybersecurity. The plan is significantly guided by DOE’s 2006 Roadmap to Secure Control Systems in the Energy Sector and 2011 Roadmap to Achieve Energy Delivery Systems Cybersecurity. Taken together with DOE’s recent announcement creating the new Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (“CESER”), DOE is clearly asserting its position as the energy sector’s Congressionally-recognized sector-specific agency on cybersecurity.

Read the full report on the Privacy & Information Security Law Blog.

2018 is turning out to be a banner year for nationally applicable developments—both judicial and administrative—with regard to National Ambient Air Quality Standards (“NAAQS” or “Standards”) for ozone. As the year began, EPA was proceeding with implementation of the ozone NAAQS that it set in 1997 and 2008 in accordance with a rule that it had promulgated in 2015 describing requirements for State Implementation Plans (SIPs) and the transition from the 1997 NAAQS to the more stringent 2008 one. 80 Fed. Reg. 12264 (Mar. 6, 2015) (2015 SRR). The Trump administration was reviewing the prior administration’s 2015 decision further tightening the NAAQS to determine whether those more stringent NAAQS should be maintained, modified or reconsidered. To allow the Trump administration to complete that review, the DC Circuit placed in abeyance litigation challenging the 2015 Standards as either too stringent or too lenient. Murray Energy v. EPA, No. 15-1385 (D.C. Cir. Oct. 26, 2015). EPA had designated most of the country attainment/unclassifiable for the 2015 NAAQS, but had not made designations for other areas. 82 Fed. Reg. 54232 (Nov. 16, 2017). Continue Reading 2018: A Banner Year for Regulatory Developments on Ozone NAAQS

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.

Read the full report on PipelineLaw.com.

On May 17, 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Commission) held its May 2018 open meeting. Highlights of the meeting include:

PURPA

In his opening remarks, Chairman McIntyre announced that the Commission would soon be turning to a review of its long-standing policies under the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA). He noted that the Commission had initiated a review of these policies in 2015-2016 and had held a technical conference on certain PURPA issues in 2016.  He has directed Commission staff to restart the initiative so the Commission can determine what, if anything, should be done to improve and update the policies.  The other commissioners were supportive of this initiative.  Commissioner Powelson pushed for an expedited review of the PURPA policies, referencing the previously developed record.  Commissioner Glick indicated that any changes to policies should address issues raised not only by industry, but also by qualifying facility developers.  The commissioners also acknowledged that more substantial changes to PURPA would have to be addressed by Congress. Continue Reading FERC May 2018 Open Meeting Highlights

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)

On May 9, the White House released its Spring 2018 update to EPA’s regulatory agenda. Agency watchers quickly dove into the document to check the status and timelines for high-profile rulemakings and gain insights on the Trump administration’s priorities. But aside from any revelations about the administration’s own initiatives, this latest document was also notable for showing just how much EPA’s regulatory agenda can be driven by forces outside of the executive branch. Continue Reading Setting the Agenda from the Outside: EPA’s Latest Regulatory Plan Demonstrates the Power of Deadline Suits

Recently, the Trump administration’s Assistant Administrator for Enforcement, Susan Parker Bodine, clarified the role of EPA’s Next Generation Compliance initiative in civil enforcement settlements by announcing that (contrary to the prior administration’s suggestion) there is “no default expectation” that “innovative enforcement” provisions will routinely be sought as injunctive relief in civil settlements. Does this suggest a broader reassessment of the “Next Gen” program by EPA? Continue Reading Revisiting “Next Generation Compliance”