Recent Trends: Environmental Protection Laws and Preliminary Injunctions

The federal authorizations required to construct major infrastructure and mineral-extraction projects are the product of years of administrative review and collaboration between agencies and the project proponents. Unfortunately, the issuance of those authorizations is followed quickly by legal challenges from environmental NGOs, which almost always include a demand for preliminary injunctive relief during the pendency of the challenge. If granted, these injunctions can delay the effectiveness of the authorization by years.

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I’ve Been CRA’d! What Happens Now? OSHA Formally Repeals Volks Rule

The effects of the regulatory reform initiatives of the Trump Administration are beginning to be felt at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) with the formal action by OSHA to finalize withdrawal of the “Volks Rule” regulation. On May 3, 2017, in response to a CRA resolution of disapproval, OSHA published a final rule removing amendments to OSHA’s recordkeeping regulations from the Code of Federal Regulations.

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California’s Cap-and-Trade System: Allowable Fee or Impermissible Tax?

This article was originally published in the May 1, 2017, online edition of The Recorder.

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”  Movie aficionados will recognize this classic line from the 1976 movie, “Network.”  For many Californians, the line captures the feeling in the state just before Proposition 13 (Prop 13) was passed by about 65 percent of voters in 1978 to amend the state constitution.  For a state that is used to sizable earthquakes, Prop 13 was a truly seismic event in California, restructuring the state property tax system.  It was enacted in response to frustration over California’s decades-old method of paying for government, which allowed property taxes to increase dramatically year to year, often resulting in senior citizens on fixed incomes being unable to afford to stay in their homes.  On top of cutting and restricting increases in property taxes, Prop 13 contained language requiring a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses for future increases of any state tax rates or amounts of revenue collected, including income tax rates and sales tax rates.

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Environmental Enforcement Efforts Continue Amid Regulatory Rollbacks

The latest news is full of stories of federal agencies reviewing and, in some cases, rescinding environmental regulations and cutting agency spending. From these reports, it could seem the federal government might also cut back its enforcement of environmental laws. But in fact, even in this turbulent regulatory and fiscal appropriations landscape, enforcement–particularly criminal enforcement–of core existing environmental laws is one aspect of environmental regulation that is sure to continue.

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The Cocktail Conundrum

The Cocktail Conundrum
A common question that we all ask whenever we meet someone new in a social setting is “what do you do?” This seemingly innocuous question always makes me brace myself for the inevitable exchange that will follow. When I say that I am an environmental attorney, the next question is almost always whether I work for the “good” or “bad” guys. The clear assumption in this question is that environmental advocacy groups are “good,” while industry parties are “bad.” But is this issue really that black and white? Based on my experience, no. The issue is far from being that simplistic.
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DC Circuit Pausing Challenges to Obama Environmental Rules Pending Trump Administration’s Review

In a series of orders this week, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit granted motions by EPA to pause cases challenging several Obama-era regulatory actions while the new administration reviews those rules. With those cases on hold, the dispute over the fate of those rules will move out of the courts and into the administrative process. Continue Reading

Is Superfund Heading in a New Direction?

In 1980, a lame duck Congress passed the nation’s first legislation, the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. §9601 et seq. (CERCLA), to address the cleanup of toxic waste disposal sites. Comprehensive amendments were passed six years later. Over the next 30 years, EPA’s enforcement powers were used with increasing regularity and consistency to study, begin, and often complete cleanups at hundreds of the nation’s contaminated waste sites. The program has always had its critics, but not until the current administration has there been a fundamental reassessment of its basic cost-benefit structure, just as is being done with many other federal programs. Continue Reading

National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone: With Litigation in Abeyance, What Now?

On April 11, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit canceled oral argument, which had been scheduled for April 19, in several consolidated cases challenging EPA’s 2015 revision of National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone. The court took this action, and ordered that the case be held in abeyance, in response to an EPA motion asking that oral argument be continued, to give the appropriate Trump administration officials adequate time to review those standards. EPA’s motion indicated that the new administration is deciding whether to reconsider them.

What is the regulatory significance of the court’s action?

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Department of Energy Turns the Reliability Safety Valve

On April 14, 2017, the Department of Energy (DOE) quietly issued an emergency order under Federal Power Act (FPA) § 202(c) to keep open a power plant slated for shutdown under the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). While DOE has issued FPA § 202(c) emergency orders in the past, this marks the first time that DOE has used such authority to address electric reliability concerns arising from MATS implementation. In doing so, DOE effectively inaugurated the so-called Reliability Safety Valve that was heavily discussed during MATS’ consideration nearly six years ago.

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Taking Environmental Markets to a New Frontier

The application of economic principles to environmental law decisions has come a long way. Today’s conflicts over cost-benefit analysis and the value of mitigation projects and trading markets are more a sign of the important and well-accepted role that economics has come to play in environmental decision-making than a fight over the threshold question of whether economics matters at all. The battle lines have shifted. Economic concepts must be taken into account. The turf on which we now fight concerns to what extent economics should drive environmental decisions.

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