Recent federal court decisions continue to show that Article III standing can be a formidable defense to environmental citizen suits, particularly following the Supreme Court’s decision Spokeo v. Robins, 578 U.S. 330 (2016).
Continue Reading Article III Standing Still Proving to be a Formidable Defense to Environmental Citizen Suits

As we previously reported, for the first time in over 25 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the formal transfer of Clean Water Act (CWA) section 404 permitting authority to a state.  On December 22, 2020, the State of Florida – only the third state to receive such approval – “assumed” 404 permitting authority from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) in certain waters of the United States (WOTUS).  Since that time, CWA section 404 permit applicants have faced a number of questions about the scope and process of assumed 404 permitting.  Five of the top questions are listed below, followed by their answers.

Continue Reading Top 5 Frequently Asked Questions About Florida’s Assumption of Clean Water Act 404 Program

In Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards et al. v. Red River Coal Co., Inc., 2021 WL 1182464 (4th Cir. Mar. 30, 2021), a unanimous Fourth Circuit panel recently affirmed a district court holding that an operator cannot be held liable under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (Surface Mining Act) for a discharge that is otherwise shielded from liability by the Clean Water Act (CWA).  The court’s opinion expressly relied on the Sixth Circuit’s decision in Sierra Club v. ICG Hazard, LLC, 781 F.3d 281 (6th Cir. 2015), which reached the same conclusion.

Continue Reading Fourth Circuit Holds that Mine Not Liable Under Surface Mining Act When CWA Permit Shield Applies

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