In April 2020, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund et al., 140 S. Ct. 1462 (2000), vacating the Ninth Circuit’s decision.  The appeals court had affirmed a district court’s finding of Clean Water Act (“CWA”) liability for the County’s alleged failure to obtain a discharge permit for subsurface releases of pollutants into groundwater that conveys pollutants to navigable waters.  In vacating the judgment below, the Supreme Court rejected the Ninth Circuit’s “fairly traceable” test and set forth a new standard for determining when a source needs an NPDES permit:  “the statute requires a permit when there is a direct discharge from a point source into navigable waters or when there is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge.”  Id. at 1468 (emphasis added).  In other words, “an addition falls within the statutory requirement that it be ‘from any point source’ when a point source directly deposits pollutants into navigable waters, or when the discharge reaches the same result through roughly similar means.”  Id. at 1476 (emphasis added).
Continue Reading Groups Seeking to Expand Reach of Clean Water Act

Before yesterday only two states had received approval to administer the Clean Water Act (CWA) section 404 program (Michigan and New Jersey), and no state had received approval since 1994.  Now, for the first time in over 25 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the formal transfer of section 404 permitting authority to a third state: Florida.  Once EPA’s approval is published in the Federal Register, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) will “assume” 404 permitting authority from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) in certain waters, significantly altering the 404 permitting process in Florida.  EPA’s decision has broader implications for the 404 program on a national scale, as other states, including Oregon and Minnesota, consider whether to pursue assumption.

Continue Reading Florida Receives EPA Approval to Assume Clean Water Act Section 404 Program

For over 40 years, one of the Clean Water Act’s (CWA’s) key regulatory programs has not functioned as Congress originally intended, producing, over time, significant inefficiencies in the federal permitting process that increase costs and delays for developers and hinder environmental review and protection. Today, renewed efforts at both the state and federal levels seek to achieve the objectives established by Congress in 1977. In particular, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that it intends to revise long-standing regulations that have derailed state implementation of the program. EPA’s approach to this rulemaking, and whether it can adequately address critical barriers to state assumption, has the potential to transform the regulatory landscape and produce substantial benefits for states, the public, the regulated community, and the environment.
Continue Reading When States Assume: Fulfilling Congress’s Objectives Under the Clean Water Act’s Wetlands Program

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), a trilateral trade agreement between the three counties, entered into force on July 1, 2020 replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The focus of the USMCA is diverse, ranging from intellectual property, to labor, to financial services. New provisions create incentives to manufacture cars in North American and open new markets for US agricultural products. The expectation is that it will take time for companies to understand and comply with the new requirements in the USMCA, in particular during a global pandemic and economic recession. The US Customs and Border Protection has released guidance to assist in the short-term with implementation of the USCMA.
Continue Reading The USMCA, Trade, and the Environment

Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States issued its most significant Clean Water Act decision in more than a decade, resolving a split among lower courts over the reach of the Clean Water Act’s “point source” or National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program. Pollutants travel to bodies of water in many ways: by pipe, ditch, or runoff, for example. The Clean Water Act defines some of those ways of moving pollutants as “point sources”—specifically, pipes, ditches, and similar “discernible, confined and discrete conveyance[s]”—and bans the “addition of any pollutant to navigable waters from any point source” without an NPDES permit. But no similar permitting requirement applies to pollution added from nonpoint sources, which is instead controlled by state and other federal environmental laws. 
Continue Reading County of Maui v. Hawai’i Wildlife Fund: Supreme Court Rejects Ninth Circuit’s Expansive Test for NPDES Permitting Under Clean Water Act, Requires Direct Discharges to Navigable Waters or Functional Equivalent of a Direct Discharge

On January 23, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released their new regulatory definition of “the waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) clarifying the geographic scope of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.
Continue Reading Agencies Release Final Rule Clarifying Federal Jurisdiction Under the Clean Water Act

One of the Supreme Court’s recurring environmental law topics is the scope of Clean Water Act (CWA) jurisdiction. Various aspects of CWA jurisdiction and implementation have been addressed over the years by the Court, including the meaning of “navigable waters” in U.S. v. Riverside Bayview Homes, Inc. (1985); Solid Waste Agency of N. Cook Cnty v. Army Corps of Eng’rs (2001); and Rapanos v. U.S. (2006), and judicial review of agency actions related to the applicability of the CWA dredge and fill permit program in Sackett v. EPA (2012) and U.S. Army Corps of Eng’rs v. Hawkes Co. (2016). Most recently, the Supreme Court heard oral argument on November 6 in County of Maui v. Hawai’i Wildlife Fund, et al., a case that addresses the applicability of the CWA’s prohibition on “point source” discharges to “navigable waters” to releases from point sources to groundwater. The Court granted certiorari to address whether releases from point sources that are carried to navigable waters by groundwater are regulated under the federal NPDES permit program or under state non-point source management programs.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Addresses the Scope of CWA Jurisdiction Once Again

On November 4, 2019, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the Clean Water Act (CWA) section 404 permit issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) for the extension of an existing phosphate mine in central Florida. Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, No. 18-10541 (11th Cir. Nov. 4, 2019). The Corps permit authorizes the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States that comprise a small portion of the mining extension. Opponents challenged the permit in the Middle District of Florida, claiming the issuance of the permit violated the CWA, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by not considering “downstream” effects, and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The district court rejected all of the claims, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.
Continue Reading Eleventh Circuit Confirms Proper Scope of NEPA Review Governing Corps Clean Water Act Section 404 Permit

On August 22, EPA issued a proposed rule seeking to increase predictability for applicants by clarifying the Clean Water Act section 401 state water quality certification process.
Continue Reading EPA Proposes to Increase Predictability and Timeliness of Water Quality Certification Process