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

On January 15, 2021, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (“TCEQ”) received approval to implement the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) program for oil and gas discharges. [1]  Generally, as a result of this approval, applicants for NPDES permits for produced water, hydrostatic test water, and gas plant effluent will only require a single TCEQ authorization rather than authorizations from both the Railroad Commission of Texas (“RRC”) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as previously had been required. [2]
Continue Reading TCEQ Receives NPDES Program Authorization for Oil and Gas Discharges

On November 27, 2020, the US Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) published notice that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (“TCEQ”) has applied to the US EPA for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) program authorization for discharges of produced water, hydrostatic test water and gas plant effluent. [1] TCEQ’s application (“Application”) was filed in response to a bill passed during the last Texas legislative session that required TCEQ to submit to EPA no later than September 1, 2021, a request for NPDES permitting authority for discharges of produced water, hydrostatic test water and gas plant effluent associated with oil and gas activities currently under the jurisdiction of the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC). [2] Under this legislation, state authority to regulate these discharges will transfer from the RRC to TCEQ upon EPA’s grant of NPDES permitting authority to TCEQ. Should EPA grant NPDES permitting authority to TCEQ for these discharges, a prospective permittee would generally only need to obtain a single TCEQ authorization (rather than an authorization from both the RRC and EPA). [3]
Continue Reading TCEQ’s Request for NPDES Program Authorization for Oil and Gas Discharges Under Review

On March 2, 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed an updated Multi-Sector General Permit, which authorizes the discharge of stormwater industrial activities and is the model for most states’ industrial stormwater NPDES permits. The proposal makes numerous updates to the MSGP and, notably, incorporates recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences report on improving permitting of industrial stormwater. EPA will be accepting public comments on the proposal until May 1, 2020.
Continue Reading EPA Proposes New Multi-Sector General Permit for Industrial Stormwater

Texas policymakers continue to focus on produced water beneficial reuse. On January 22, 2020, the Texas Senate Committees on Natural Resources and Economic Development and Water and Rural Affairs held a joint hearing to consider Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s 2019 interim legislative charge related to one of the most pressing matters facing the state—future water supply issues. This interim charge requires that these legislative committees make recommendations to promote the state’s water supply, including the development of new sources.
Continue Reading Texas Policymakers Continue Focus on Produced Water Beneficial Reuse

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

Under the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and California’s Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act, industrial facilities in California are required to obtain coverage under the state’s NPDES general permit for discharges associated with industrial storm water activities (General Industrial Permit) or justify why they are exempt. For regulated facilities, including manufacturing facilities, landfills, mining operations, steam electric power generating facilities, hazardous waste facilities, and oil and gas facilities, failure to obtain coverage under the General Industrial Permit is a potential violation of the Clean Water Act (in addition to state law), which could expose the owner or operator of the facility to potential civil penalties of up to $54,833 per day. Enforcement, however, largely is dependent upon agency inspections or enforcement by citizen groups. Based on estimates by the California Coastkeeper Alliance, many facilities in California may have failed to enroll in the industrial storm water permit program.
Continue Reading You Say You Want a Business License? California Enacts New Law to Improve Compliance with Industrial Storm Water Permitting Requirements

The Railroad Commission of Texas has authority to issue permits for discharges associated with oil and gas operations in the state, but it does not yet have delegation of the NPDES permitting program. Thus, to the extent that produced water discharges are not currently barred under federal regulations, facilities seeking authorization for these discharges to waters of the US must obtain authorization from both EPA and the RRC. This article highlights Texas efforts underway to obtain NPDES delegation for produced water discharges.
Continue Reading Texas Moving Forward with NPDES Delegation for Produced Water Discharges

EPA’s National Compliance Initiatives for fiscal years 2020 through 2023, recently released, replace the former National Enforcement Initiatives and aim to help regulated entities understand their compliance obligations. Additionally, the Agency plans to focus on returning to compliance through information actions, building state capacity, supporting state actions, bringing Federal civil administrative actions and bringing civil or criminal judicial enforcement actions.
Continue Reading EPA Sets New Enforcement Priorities