From Maine to Florida, Designated Critical Habitat for Atlantic Sturgeon Will Complicate Federal Permitting

From the Penobscot River in Maine to the St. Mary’s River in Florida, the Atlantic sturgeon ranges, swimming periodically up river to spawn and returning to marine waters when it is done. With a lifespan of up to 60 years, the Atlantic sturgeon can grow up to 14 feet long and weigh up to 800 pounds, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Despite this species’ mighty proportions and vast range, five distinct population segments of the species have been listed by the as threatened or endangered.

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California’s State Water Board Unleashes New Supplemental Environmental Project Policy for Public Comment

The regulated community in California may soon have additional reasons to implement supplemental environmental projects (SEPs) when settling an administrative environmental enforcement action. Under a 2009 State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board) policy, settling parties may voluntarily undertake an environmentally beneficial project in return for an offset of a portion of any civil penalty, provided that the project meets certain criteria. The Water Board has now released sweeping proposed amendments to its Policy on Supplemental Environmental Projects (draft SEP Policy) that will incentivize more projects. Most notably, the draft SEP Policy:

Will consider projects that address climate change, such as greenhouse gas emissions reductions or those that build resilience to climate change impacts on ecosystems or infrastructure.

Will allow—subject to approval—greater than 50% of any monetary assessment in administrative enforcement cases to be allocated towards SEPs that are located in or benefit disadvantaged or environmental justice communities, or communities suffering from a financial hardship, or that further the Water Board’s priority of ensuring a human right to water. Under the original policy adopted in 2009, the maximum civil penalty reduction available via performance of a SEP is capped at 50%.

Will allow up to 10% of oversight costs to be included as part of the total SEP amount for the same reasons above. Otherwise, oversight costs are paid in addition to the total SEP amount.

Establishes a new category of SEPs called “Other Projects” to allow educational outreach and other “non-traditional” water quality or drinking water-related projects to be considered for approval.

Expands the applicability of SEPs to enforcement actions prosecuted by the Division of Drinking Water and its Districts and the Division of Water Rights.

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Vapor Intrusion: Acute Exposure Regulatory Developments and Litigation Trends

Over the last decade, regulators have accelerated their focus on vapor intrusion risk at hazardous cleanup sites. This has led to new cleanup standards, policies and guidance to evaluate potential risks, environmental investigation requirements for brownfield redevelopments, and the reopening of previously closed remedial actions. Recently, attention has turned from chronic to acute vapor intrusion risk. Although protection of human health is paramount, this recent focus has been plagued with concerns about the validity of the underlying science and a lack of comprehensive guidance from regulators on how to respond. This article explores the evolution of vapor intrusion regulation, particularly developments addressing acute risk, as well as trends in vapor intrusion- related litigation.

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California’s Appliance Efficiency Standards and Cost of Non-Compliance

It is no secret that California has had appliance efficiency standards in place for some time now. And it is no secret that the California Energy Commission (“CEC”) has been responsible for crafting those standards. According to the CEC and the California State Legislature, however, compliance with those standards has been hit-or-miss. In 2011, the Legislature found that “significant quantities of appliances are sold and offered for sale in California that do not meet the state’s energy efficiency standards,” and the CEC itself has stated that nearly half of all regulated appliances are non-compliant, and that certain product categories are entirely non-compliant. The broad range of products covered by the CEC’s efficiency standards may be partly to blame for the lack of compliance, as manufacturers may not even realize their product must comply. For example, the efficiency standards encompass nearly every device with a rechargeable battery and that rechargeable battery system, meaning everything from cell phones to laptops to tablets to golf carts must be tested, certified and listed in the CEC’s database before being offered for sale in California.

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DOE Grid Study Recommends Market Improvements

On August 23, the Department of Energy (DOE) released a study entitled “Staff Report to the Secretary on Energy Markets and Reliability.” This is the so-called “DOE grid study” that Secretary of Energy Rick Perry ordered his chief of staff Brian McCormack to produce in an April 14 memorandum, noting that “Over the last few years…grid experts have expressed concerns about the erosion of critical baseload resources.”

These concerns have been simmering for several years. As the US Environmental Protection Agency was developing the rule that became the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)—prompted by then-Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Republican Lisa Murkowski—held a multi-day meeting to evaluate potential electric reliability impacts from anticipated closings of coal-fired power plants prompted by the rule.

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LNG Export Supporters Win Another Victory in Court

On August 15, 2017, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit (DC Circuit) issued its decision in Sierra Club v. Department of Energy (Freeport),[1] denying Sierra Club’s challenge to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) order authorizing export under the Natural Gas Act of 1938 (NGA) from the proposed Freeport Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Terminal in Freeport, Texas. The decision marks yet another victory in a string of successes for supporters of LNG export.

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Will Executive Direction Accelerate Federal Environmental Review and Permitting?

Highway Interchange

Several presidential administrations have sought to shorten the lengthy process for obtaining federal authorizations and permits, with particular attention on infrastructure projects that usually require multiple federal permits with accompanying environmental reviews. Despite consistent interest in improving this process, delays persist, in part because of how courts have interpreted the level of analysis required during these environmental reviews. This past Tuesday, President Trump issued a new Executive Order (EO) 13807: “Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects.” As this EO is implemented, the big question is: How much relief can this or any other executive action provide?

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FERC Update: Quorum Restored, Chatterjee Named Chairman, Next Steps Outlined

On August 10, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) officially regained its quorum when Robert Powelson was formally sworn in as a commissioner. Mr. Powelson joins  fellow Republican Neil Chatterjee and Democrat Cheryl LaFleur at the agency. It was also announced that Mr. Chatterjee would be FERC’s new chairman pending the expected Senate confirmation of Republican nominee Kevin McIntyre as chairman in the fall.

At full strength, FERC has five members, but three are the minimum legally required to conduct much agency business. FERC lost its quorum in early February when former Chairman Norman Bay resigned after Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur was elevated to chairman. In addition, former Commissioner Colette Honorable stepped down at the end of June, leaving LaFleur as the sole Commissioner. For the last six months, FERC staff has handled various routine matters under delegated authority, but FERC has been unable to act in contested proceedings. Continue Reading

Yellow Flag: California’s Racing Vehicle Exemption Slated for Change

Ladies and Gentleman.

Start Your Engines.

Wait! According to California, you can only use engines that are certified to meet air-emission standards, have a current “Executive Order,” and have not been tampered with, OR engines that are used solely for competition (but not every competition) and are not used on public highways (is a dirt road a public highway?).

Sound complicated? The Clean Air Act provides racing vehicles a broad exemption from federal air emission standards and also provides for broad preemption of state motor vehicle standards, with specific exceptions for California. In addition, California has its own broad racing vehicle exemption which can be found in the California Health and Safety Code. The exemption for racing vehicles seemed straightforward enough—they are not subject to federal or state emissions standards. This exemption makes sense, of course, because when you are racing, you need enhanced engine capabilities to win and because racing engines are a small percentage of the engines we see on the road for everyday use, such as commuting to school/work, running errands, etc.

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State Common Law and the Global Environment

In recent years, plaintiffs’ attorneys and public-interest groups have brought common law actions seeking injunctive relief or damages for air emissions they claim cause climate change. Because climate change is a global phenomenon, these actions have targeted both in-state and out-of-state sources. Does state common law reach this far?

A state’s common law is founded in its police powers, which are among the powers that the Constitution generally reserved to the states. By contrast, the Constitution specifically delegates to Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce. A state’s police powers therefore do not extend beyond its borders. For this reason, the Supreme Court in the last century discovered a limited “federal” common law to address interstate pollution at a time when there were no federal laws regulating such interstate concerns. Missouri v. Illinois, 180 U.S. 208, 241 (1901). As the Court observed, “[i]f state law can be applied, there is no need for federal common law; if federal common law exists, it is because state law cannot be used.” City of Milwaukee v. Illinois, 451 U.S. 304, 314 n.7 (1981) (Milwaukee II).

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