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.

Continue Reading DOE Grid Study Recommends Market Improvements

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?

Continue Reading Will Executive Direction Accelerate Federal Environmental Review and Permitting?

Over the past several years, the EPA and states have wrestled with the highly controversial question of how to manage ash and other residual materials produced by the combustion of coal in coal-fired power plants.  These so-called “coal combustion residuals” (“CCR”) have been traditionally managed in large man-made ponds at many power plant sites.  While discharges from these impoundments directly to surface waters are regulated by permits issued under the Clean Water Act, the impoundments themselves have been regulated under state waste management programs.  In 2015, EPA fundamentally changed the regulatory landscape for these facilities when it promulgated a federal rule setting national standards for design, operation and closure of CCR impoundments.  EPA, Hazardous and Solid Waste Management System; Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities, 80 Fed. Reg. 21,302 (Apr. 17, 2015).

Continue Reading The WIIN Act: A Path to Risk-Based Management of Coal Ash

Navajo Generating Station
Navajo Generating Station

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.

Continue Reading The Ninth Circuit Upholds a Haze Plan That Could Lead to New Flexibility in Future Rulemakings

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.

Continue Reading Continuing Federalism Issues Emerge in Challenges to Stream Protection Rule