With the federal government shutdown finally over after five weeks, the long-term effects are likely to have a lingering impact on regulatory and permitting programs for months to come. Even those federal agencies that were fully funded during the shutdown, such as the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), were stymied in their ability to undertake routine day-to-day operations during the lapse in appropriations. This post highlights two examples of the shutdown’s implications for regulatory reform and permitting in the natural resources arena. Continue Reading The Shutdown Trickle Down Effects
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.
WOTUS, an acronym that has received a lot of attention in recent years, stands for the “waters of the United States.” When Congress enacted the Clean Water Act (“CWA” or the “Act”) in 1972, it prohibited “the discharge of any pollutant by any person” into navigable waters without a permit. The Act defines navigable waters as the “waters of the United States, including the territorial seas.” 33 U.S.C. §§ 1311(a), 1362(7), (12). But Congress failed to, in turn, define the words “waters of the United States,” and the Supreme Court has noted that these “words themselves are hopelessly indeterminate.” Sackett v. EPA, 132 S. Ct. 1367, 1375 (2012) (J. Alito, concurring). The meaning of these words matters because violations of the CWA are subject to substantial criminal and civil penalties, so knowing whether a feature on your site is a WOTUS subject to federal jurisdiction has important consequences. Continue Reading Navigating the CWA’s Reach: What’s Happening with WOTUS?
Once large infrastructure projects, such as oil and natural gas pipelines, receive federal government approval, they are often the target of legal challenges from opposition groups. Opponents repeatedly argue that the environmental review, pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), was insufficient. If a court finds deficiencies in the government’s NEPA analysis, can a court halt construction or cease operations even after years of project design, permit approvals at all levels of government, and tens of millions of dollars in investment? This question was at the heart of the ongoing litigation involving the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), and, on October 11, Judge James Boasberg determined “no,” the court would not shut down the pipeline. This case is important precedent for projects being challenged under NEPA. For more information, see our post on PipelineLaw.
Despite oil already flowing through the pipeline, federal litigation involving the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) took another turn last week when partial summary judgment was granted to tribes challenging the adequacy of the US Army Corps of Engineers’ review of DAPL under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other statutes. Two tribes, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, filed suit in July 2016 attempting to block construction of the last remaining segment and operation of DAPL. As sometimes is the case, agency approvals came faster than the court’s opinion, and without a stay of proceedings DAPL began operating in early June 2017. Having granted partial summary judgment, the court did not require pipeline operations to cease, instead delaying the question of an appropriate remedy until after further briefing by the parties.