On Monday, the Trump Administration released an ambitious legislative proposal that aims to stimulate $1.5 trillion in new infrastructure investment over the next 10 years, expedite the federal permitting process, address rural infrastructure needs, and prepare the American workforce for the future. To accomplish those goals, the proposal includes aggressive recommendations to streamline key federal environmental review and permitting processes for infrastructure projects. In addition to traditional forms of infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and airports, the Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America addresses drinking and wastewater systems, energy infrastructure, veterans’ hospitals, and Brownfields and Superfund sites.


Continue Reading Ambitious White House Infrastructure Legislation Proposal Would Make Major Changes to Environmental Permitting and Reviews

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?

The stakes are high for anyone facing environmental liability in the wake of superstorms like Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, Irma, and Maria. If you are among the parties potentially liable for the costs to clean up a release of oil or hazardous substances caused by a major storm event, you may be thinking about a possible “act of God” defense.  You may want to think again. In practice, the availability of this defense has proved elusive.  It is still a good idea, however,  to minimize risk in planning for the next “big one.”  Ultimately, advance actions taken to avoid or mitigate the impacts of natural disasters may be the difference between being excused from or being saddled with cleanup liability.
Continue Reading Viability of the “Act of God” Defense in a Superstorm World

In August 2014, residents of Toledo lost the use of tap water for two days because of a toxic algal bloom in the western basin of Lake Erie, which is their water source. In subsequent summers, the lake’s algal blooms have been smaller, but they remain a persistent phenomenon. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting a significant cyanobacteria algal bloom in western Lake Erie this summer.

Numerous definitions of “harmful algal blooms” exist, but they generally can be understood as excessive growths of various species of phytoplankton, protists, cyanobacteria, or macro and benthic algae that negatively impact water quality, aquatic ecosystem stability, or animal and human health. The blooms may be toxic or nontoxic. Even nontoxic blooms can have repercussions for drinking water treatment, recreational use of the waterbody, and the overall economy.


Continue Reading Cooperative Federalism At Work: States Differ on Lake Erie Algal Blooms