In a closely watched case, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last week dismissed an interstate natural gas pipeline company’s challenge to the State of New York’s delay in issuing a water quality certification under section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) for the Millennium pipeline project. While the company requested a ruling that the state had waived its right to make a decision on water quality certification for the project, the court decided to dismiss the action – holding that even if the state agency’s lengthy delays did constitute a waiver under CWA section 401, there was no cognizable injury to the company that would give it standing to challenge the delays in court. Rather, according to the court, the remedy is for the company to present evidence of waiver directly to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to seek authorization to begin construction of the project. The case is one of several pending across the country that involve a state’s authority to issue, deny, or waive a CWA water quality certification for interstate natural gas pipeline projects.
In January, the US Army Corps of Engineers published the final 2017 nationwide permits (NWPs), renewing a critical permitting tool for both the government and the regulated community. To comply with the Clean Water Act (CWA or the Act), projects with minimal adverse environmental effects can obtain authorization for the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States through the Corps’ streamlined NWP process. The Corps reissued all 50 of the 2012 NWPs, issued two new NWPs, one new General Condition and made a number of notable revisions.
Yesterday President Trump signed several Executive Orders (EOs) and Presidential Memoranda designed to speed environmental permitting and reviews. Among them is an EO to “Expedite Reviews and Approvals for High Priority Infrastructure Projects.” While past administrations have recognized the costs and delays of federal environmental permitting and encouraged timely decisions by regulatory agencies (e.g., EOs 13,212, 13,274 and EO 13,604), President Trump’s EO reflects a new sense of determination by the White House to move important infrastructure projects forward. The EO reflects a recognition that major infrastructure projects trigger an array of overlapping environmental and natural resource laws and requirements.
There has been much controversy in recent weeks surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), a 1,172-mile line proposed to carry crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois. Although only 3 percent of the DAPL requires federal approval, much of the pipeline has already been constructed In particular, the DAPL has raised issues regarding the scope and adequacy of the US Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps’) consultation with federal tribes in authorizing segments of oil and gas pipelines crossing federal waters, and has caused the administration to consider reforms for how tribes weigh in on infrastructure reviews.