In the wake of the April 19 ruling by Judge Morris of the US District Court of the District of Montana that required the DOI to conduct an environment review on its decision to lift the coal leasing moratorium, the parties disagree on the necessary remedy and the next steps. Instead of immediately reinstating the moratorium, Judge Morris ordered additional briefing on the remedy, setting a July 22 deadline. The parties submitted dueling briefs; while DOI is requesting additional time to finalize its environmental review for its decision to lift the moratorium, environmental groups and states are requesting that the court vacate the Secretarial Order that lifted the moratorium altogether.
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In response to a court order, the Bureau of Land Management released a draft environmental assessment evaluating the potential environmental impacts of lifting the federal coal leasing moratorium. The publication opens a 15-day comment period that ends on June 6, 2019. The assessment focuses on the environmental impacts resulting from the three non-exempt leases issued as a result of the Zinke Order and the eight pending leases that would be produced about two years later if the moratorium remained in effect.
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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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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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Over the past several years, the EPA and states have wrestled with the controversial question of how to manage ash and other residual materials produced by the combustion of coal in coal-fired power plants. The Water Infrastructure Improvements Act (“WIIN Act”), signed by President Obama on December 16, 2016, should help provide clarity to address this question by creating a state permitting program for managing coal ash based on site-specific conditions and potential risk to human health and the environment.
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In two related decisions issued on March 20, 2017, the Ninth Circuit upheld an EPA plan imposing regional haze requirements on the Navajo Generating Station (NGS). The rulings suggest a possibility that future haze plans need not be unduly inflexible—sometimes forcing premature unit closures, as many haze plans did during the program’s first round of implementation.
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Corporate_Business Meeting Backli

Recently, the states and federal agencies have clashed in a number of environmental rulemakings and subsequent litigation over those rules. These disagreements have raised a host of important legal and policy questions, including the proper balance of power between the states and the federal government and the communication process and overall relationship between the states and federal agencies. Recently filed litigation challenging the Stream Protection Rule, 81 Fed. Reg. 93,066 (Dec. 20, 2016), would prompt judicial review of many of these issues. But the likelihood of administrative or congressional action on this rule (through the Congressional Review Act) could preclude judicial input on these questions for now. If the rule is ultimately withdrawn or overturned, the manner in which it is may also present important federalism questions. Further complicating this process are two motions to intervene in two of these cases, filed by several environmental groups to defend the final Stream Protection Rule from being vacated or weakened.


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Politico reports today that the Sierra Club is set to launch a $5 million campaign to fight construction of the 221 natural gas-fired power plants planned to be constructed across the country. Sierra Club argues that the world cannot afford more carbon dioxide emissions from combustion of fossil fuels.
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