Posts in Air.
Time 4 Minute Read

Under the federal Clean Air Act, new major sources of air pollutants and major modifications to existing sources are required to obtain preconstruction permits, known as PSD permits, even when locating in an area that attains the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (“NAAQS”).  EPA’s proposed revisions to the NAAQS for fine particulate matter (“PM2.5”) would make obtaining the required permit far more difficult.  EPA has indicated its intent to take final action on its proposal by the end of the year.  Permitting requirements for the revised PM2.5 NAAQS would apply once that standard becomes effective.  Generally, new or revised NAAQS have been effective sixty days after notice of their promulgation appears in the Federal Register, although commenters have requested a longer period before any revised PM2.5 NAAQS is effective.  These PSD permitting requirements can be triggered by emissions of PM2.5 itself or by emissions of the PM2.5 precursors nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.

Time 4 Minute Read

The Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol Corporate Standard and related guidance are widely accepted as leading sources for companies to use in quantifying and reporting their GHG emissions. Companies report GHG emissions for a number of reasons (both legally mandated and voluntary) and in a number of contexts. Accurate accounting and reporting is critical because inaccuracies in emissions reporting can potentially expose the reporting entity to several types of legal liability, as evidenced by the recent proliferation of lawsuits alleging “greenwashing” claims and increasing regulatory scrutiny in this area.

Time 5 Minute Read

EPA sets and implements primary and secondary National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for six common air pollutants. Primary NAAQS protect the public health, while secondary NAAQS protect the public welfare. Secondary NAAQS have traditionally not been more stringent than primary ones, yet EPA’s staff and science advisors are developing recommendations that EPA promulgate such standards. Any new, more stringent secondary NAAQS would raise significant implementation questions.

Time 3 Minute Read

On November 16, 2022, the California Air Resources Board (CARB or the Board) proposed a new Scoping Plan for the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Generally, the Scoping Plan is a means by which the Board can assess California’s progress toward achieving carbon neutrality by 2045, and issue new policies and strategy to meet that goal.  The Board is required by law to update the Scoping Plan every five years, and this is the third such update since the California legislature enacted the California Global Warming Solutions Act in 2006.  CARB staff are touting the Scoping Plan not only as reducing GHG emissions, but also as leading to the creation of four million new jobs and the avoidance of $200 billion in pollution-related health expenditures.

Time 4 Minute Read

Carbon Capture and Sequestration Will Be Necessary to Meet State Climate Targets

On November 16, 2022, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) released its proposed final “2022 Scoping Plan for Achieving Carbon Neutrality” (Scoping Plan). The proposed final Scoping Plan—California’s fourth roadmap for mitigating climate change—lays out a path for California to achieve carbon neutrality and reduce anthropogenic emissions to 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2045.

Time 7 Minute Read

On April 6, 2022, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a proposed rule in the Federal Register that would build on its existing Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) program by limiting further the emission of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from stationary sources located in 26 states. 87 Fed. Reg. 20,036 (Apr, 6, 2022). The proposal would implement EPA’s 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone of 70 parts per billion by imposing Federal Implementation Plans (FIPs) on specified states pursuant to its authority under the “good neighbor” requirements of section 110(a)(2)(D)(i)(I) of the Clean Air Act. This provision requires upwind states to prevent sources located within their borders from contributing significantly to nonattainment or interfering with maintenance of the NAAQS in downwind states.

Time 5 Minute Read

On December 7, 2021, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) held a public workshop to preview potential changes to the groundbreaking California Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) program, which has served as a model for other low carbon fuel programs across the country.  CARB is accepting written public comments on the concepts presented in the workshop through January 7, 2022.

Time 32 Minute Read

Building on the Biden Administration’s strategy to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050, and as world leaders begin gathering in Glasgow, Scotland, yesterday, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a proposal under the Clean Air Act to significantly expand regulation of methane from oil and gas operations in the United States. The proposal—issued in conjunction with measures proposed by at least five other cabinet-level agencies to address GHG emissions—is part of President Biden’s “whole of government” approach to addressing climate change and represents EPA’s most ambitious regulatory effort to date to curb oil and gas sector emissions. EPA estimates compliance costs of $12 billion (present value, 3% discount rate) for existing sources, which it indicates would be offset by an estimated $4.7 billion (present value) through the capture of natural gas pursuant to the fugitive emission requirements in the proposal.

Time 4 Minute Read

Recent federal court decisions continue to show that Article III standing can be a formidable defense to environmental citizen suits, particularly following the Supreme Court’s decision Spokeo v. Robins, 578 U.S. 330 (2016) (vacating decision below and emphasizing that an alleged injury in fact must be “concrete and particularized”).  Just last week, for example, a North Carolina federal court dismissed on standing grounds almost all of the plaintiffs’ Clean Air Act citizen suit claims asserted against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC).  Center for Biological Diversity v. University of North Carolina, No. 1:19-CV-1179, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 163459 (M.D.N.C. Aug. 30, 2021).  In their complaint, the plaintiffs asserted nine claims, including seven for alleged failures to maintain records, inspect equipment, report permit deviations to government authorities, and monitor pollution controls, as required by UNC’s Title V permit.  On summary judgment, the plaintiff citizen groups offered declarations from two members who alleged “health, aesthetic, and recreational interests in air quality in Chapel Hill and the areas around UNC’s campus.”

Time 4 Minute Read

As we have reported previously in this blog, in March 2021, the Massachusetts Governor signed historic climate legislation designed to effectuate the Commonwealth’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 (Chapter 8 of the Acts of 2021 or the “Act”). Some of the more controversial items in the Act were the provisions to incorporate requirements into the state’s building code to advance construction and/or retrofitting of buildings with energy systems designed to reduce emissions. In general, the efforts to facilitate a transition away from fossil-fuel energy systems in buildings continue to prove difficult as existing programs and policies are not necessarily designed to prompt the shift away from traditional energy systems at the pace that some argue is required to meet the aggressive emission targets of the state goals.

Time 6 Minute Read

Last month, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied a petition for review brought by environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) challenging EPA’s conclusion that the Phoenix-Mesa, Arizona metropolitan area, which had been designated nonattainment for a National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for ozone, had met that standard by the applicable deadline.  Bahr v. Regan, No. 20-70092, 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 22333 (9th Cir. July 28, 2021).  Failure to have met the standard would have had implications in terms of additional air emission controls required in the area.

Time 6 Minute Read

In response to judicial remand of its Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) Update, EPA published a revised CSAPR Update – the latest of EPA’s interstate transport rules using its CSAPR methodology – at the end of April 2021, slashing ozone-season budgets for emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) for a dozen states.[1]  By the end of the 60-day period for filing petitions for judicial review on June 29, a single petition for judicial review had been filed in the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.

Time 5 Minute Read

On Wednesday, June 16, 2021, EPA held the first of two public “listening sessions” to inform its review of the Risk Management Program (RMP) regulations pursuant to Executive Order 13990.  According to Carlton Waterhouse, EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Land & Emergency Management (OLEM), the listening sessions are “a first step in considering improvements to the RMP rule, so EPA can better address the impacts of climate change on facility safety and protect communities from chemical accidents, especially vulnerable and overburdened communities living near RMP facilities.”

Time 6 Minute Read

On March 18, 2021, the Massachusetts House joined the Senate in passing a revised, historic climate legislation that appears to finally have enough support from the Governor’s office to be signed into law.  As we have highlighted in this blog previously, complete agreement between the Commonwealth’s executive and legislative branches on the Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy S.9 (the “Bill”) has proven elusive.  When we last left this topic, the Governor of Massachusetts was faced with a decision to: (1) sign the Bill; (2) veto it for a second time; or (3) return the Bill to the Legislature with recommended amendments.  On February 7, 2021, the Governor did the latter, returning the Bill to the Legislature with approximately 50 recommended changes to various sections within the Bill.  On March 15, the Senate adopted certain further amendments to the original Bill, which the House then likewise adopted on March 18th, and again laid the Bill before the Governor. This leaves the Governor another ten days to either sign the Bill or veto it for the third time and face the possibility of a Legislative override.

Time 4 Minute Read

On December 18, 2020, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) published notice of its intent to issue a non-rule standard permit for Marine Loading Operations (MLO). [i] The 30 day comment period ends on January 22 and instructions for the submittal of written comments are provided in the notice. A telephonic public meeting will be held on January 21 at 10:00 a.m. Instructions for participation are provided in the notice. In addition, the standard permit section of the TCEQ website includes a background document and a copy of the permit. [ii]

Time 3 Minute Read

Last month, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (“TCEQ”) launched a temporary “Find It and Fix It” program effective through January 31, 2021 to facilitate air quality compliance for companies with oil and gas operations in the Permian Basin.  Regulated entities that comply with the requirements of the temporary program may be eligible for enforcement discretion. 

Time 3 Minute Read

In challenges to California development projects, the “usual suspects” typically include environmental NGOs or neighborhood organizations.  However, that’s not always the case, as illustrated by a new lawsuit filed by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (“SCAQMD”) against the Port of Los Angeles.

Time 6 Minute Read

On October 30, 2020, EPA published in the Federal Register a proposed rule to revise its 2016 Cross-State Air Pollution Rule Update (the CSAPR Update) to further reduce interstate air pollution from 12 upwind states. EPA is proposing this revision pursuant to its authority under the Clean Air Act’s “Good Neighbor” provision (section 110(a)(2)(D)(i)(l)), which requires upwind states to prevent sources located within their borders from contributing significantly to nonattainment or interfering with maintenance, of the national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) in downwind states.

Time 4 Minute Read

As we reported in an earlier posting, on June 4, 2020, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (“AGO”) filed a petition, which requested the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (“DPU”) to open an investigation into potential changes to local natural gas distribution company (“LDCs”) operations to support the Commonwealth’s legislatively mandated greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emission limit reductions (the “Petition”). Specifically, the AGO’s Petition seeks to evaluate the industry, regulatory and policy adjustments that are requisite to meet the state GHG limits, and to “determine what near and long-term adjustments are necessary to maintain a safe and reliable gas distribution system and protect consumer interests as the Commonwealth transitions” to carbon neutrality by 2050.

Time 10 Minute Read

On October 8, 2020, Wyoming federal district court Judge Skavdahl struck down the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) “Waste Prevention Rule,” otherwise known as the “Venting and Flaring Rule,” which had been promulgated on November 18, 2016, in the closing months of President Obama’s second term (“2016 Rule”).  See Order on Pets. for Review of Final Agency Action, Wyoming v. U.S. Dep’t of Interior, No. 2:16-CV-0285-SWS (D. Wyo. Oct. 8, 2020) (Order vacating 2016 Rule).  The detailed fifty-seven-page decision concludes that in issuing the 2016 Rule, BLM exceeded its statutory authority and acted arbitrarily.  The core of the court’s holding was that the 2016 Rule was grounded in air quality motivations, which was the purview of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and, therefore, beyond BLM’s statutory authority to promulgate.

Time 6 Minute Read

On October 14, 2020, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) issued an enforcement alert entitled “Self-Disclosure of Non-Compliance Software and Other Violations by December 31, 2020.” The alert states that ARB will provide up to a 75% reduction in penalties for timely self-disclosed violations where the company “expeditiously” settles the matter.

Time 4 Minute Read

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 1371 nearly six years ago, directing the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Air Resources Board to work together to further the dual goals of minimizing safety hazards associated with gas pipeline leaks and reducing pipeline greenhouse gas emissions.

Time 8 Minute Read

On June 4, 2020, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (AGO) filed a Petition requesting the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to open an investigation into potential changes to natural gas distribution operations to support the Commonwealth’s legislatively mandated greenhouse gas (GHG) emission limit reductions (the Petition).

Time 4 Minute Read

On September 6, Assistant Secretary of Energy for Electricity Bruce Walker issued an order under Section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act declaring an emergency shortage of electric generation and directing the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) to require the dispatch of electrical output from specified electric generating units, if the CAISO determines the generation is necessary to meet demand.  The order applies during afternoon and evening hours from September 6 through September 13, 2020.

Time 7 Minute Read

As I have reported previously, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit issued a significant decision in September 2019 on EPA’s implementation of the so-called “Good Neighbor Provision” of the federal Clean Air Act (CAA). That is the CAA’s principal provision addressing what is often termed “interstate transport,” the physical process in which emissions from cars, trucks, factories, power plants, and myriad other sources—and the resulting air pollution—are carried by prevailing winds across state borders. The main purpose of the Good Neighbor Provision (section 110(a)(2)(D)(i)(I) of the CAA) is to prevent “significant contribution” by “upwind” states’ emissions to violations of national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) in “downwind” states. Although states have the principal responsibility to implement this provision, EPA periodically has invoked its CAA authority to impose requirements to curb interstate transport when it determines upwind states have not adopted adequate controls.

Time 6 Minute Read

In March of this year, we provided an update regarding how lower courts were applying the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Kisor v. Wilkie, 139 S. Ct. 2400 (2019), which addressed the question of whether the Court should overrule the Auer doctrine, named after the 1997 Supreme Court case Auer v. Robbins.  The Auer doctrine rests on the premise that agencies are in a better position than courts to interpret their own regulations.  Under the doctrine, courts generally defer to an agency’s reasonable readings of its own “genuinely ambiguous” regulations.  In a 5-4 decision, the Court declined to abandon the Auer doctrine on grounds of stare decisis but seemed to outline restrictions on the scope and applicability of the doctrine, including the rule that deference to an agency’s interpretation of an ambiguous regulation is not appropriate if the interpretation does not reflect the “fair and considered judgment” of the agency.  This means that deference may not be appropriate if the interpretation creates “unfair surprise,” such as when the agency’s interpretation conflicts with a prior interpretation or upends a party’s reliance on established practices.  Kisor, 139 S. Ct. at 2417-18.

Time 4 Minute Read

Recent press reports note that air quality has improved worldwide and in the United States during the ongoing pandemic1. Shortly prior to the pandemic, though, stories lamented declining American air quality2. What’s really going on?  Is the news good or bad?

Time 5 Minute Read

On May 30, 2020, for the first time in nine years, a manned spacecraft launched from American soil and ultimately docked at the International Space Station, just under a day later.  This launch, which marks a significant step in the development of reusable rocket technology, will undoubtedly inspire a new generation of astronauts, astrophysicists, engineers, and others who are interested in sustainable space exploration.  It has been reported that spacecraft launches of this nature burn approximately 400 metric tons of kerosene and leave behind a trail of carbon dioxide (“CO2”) exceeding two centuries worth of CO2 emissions from those of an average car.

Time 6 Minute Read

The largest market for CO2 captured from industrial sources through carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) is enhanced oil recovery (EOR), using the CO2 to produce oil.  Captured CO2 can be used for cement, algae production, and other uses, but EOR has vast potential.  Moreover, it has a nearly 50-year track record in the US, where it was pioneered.  Carbon dioxide injected into oil formations becomes permanently stored as part of the process.

Time 7 Minute Read

[caption id="attachment_2123" align="aligncenter" width="735"] Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)[/caption]

This article was originally published on Law360.

On March 11, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency completed an important rulemaking under Title VI of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, revising its requirements applicable to the management of refrigerants in appliances and industrial process refrigeration.

The rulemaking corrects what the EPA states was an incorrect Obama-era interpretation of the Clean Air Act, that would have allowed the agency to issue sweeping and costly regulations for refrigerants that companies had invested in to alleviate the problem of ozone-layer depletion pursuant to the 1987 Montreal Protocol.

Time 6 Minute Read

On Sunday, April 12, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed into law the Virginia Clean Economy Act and the Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act. These two new laws will require Virginia to transition to 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2050 and join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), among other things.

Time 7 Minute Read

Following months of development and building on a host of previous renewable and alternative energy portfolio programs intended to incrementally decarbonize the electric sector, Massachusetts is poised to codify a Clean Energy Peak Standard (CPS) in the summer of 2020. In contrast to the existing Massachusetts programs, which have incentivized renewable and alternative energy sources simply to “show-up,” the CPS takes aim at incentivizing new and existing generation resources to “show-up at the right time” in order to further reduce greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions. Electricity generators and commercial, industrial and residential energy consumers alike should understand this new incentive program.

Time 4 Minute Read

Commentary regarding the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) memorandum articulating a temporary policy applying enforcement discretion in light of the COVID-19 pandemic has been significant this week. Proponents and critics alike have misinterpreted the scope of the policy as reaching far beyond what OECA’s memorandum actually stated. As we stated in Deciphering EPA’s Temporary Enforcement Discretion Policy for COVID-19 and as the EPA has now confirmed, the “temporary policy” of exercising enforcement discretion for noncompliance “resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic” is not a free pass to pollute, despite opponent’s musings to the contrary.

Time 6 Minute Read

Joining a growing chorus of states, several Northeastern states, including Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island, have recently announced their intentions to impose a ban on the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). The looming regulatory actions by these states are generally anticipated to follow an HFC ban rulemaking model established by the members of the US Climate Alliance.[1] It remains to be seen, however, whether the states will look to additional regulatory options, as it was a worldwide product ban in the late 1980s that inadvertently set the stage to now limit alternatives containing HFCs due to their climate forcing potential as a greenhouse gas (GHG).

Time 4 Minute Read

Following Governor Abbott’s recent proclamation of a state of disaster in Texas due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) have issued guidance for regulated entities relating to environmental compliance concerns as well as other useful information relative to agency operations during these uncertain times.

Time 6 Minute Read

A previous post, EPA Makes Room for State Flexibility in Addressing “Interstate Transport” Under the Clean Air Act, discussed the evolving policy of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding approval of state plans—required under the “Good Neighbor Provision” of the federal Clean Air Act—addressing “interstate transport” of air pollution. That article reviewed a series of guidance documents EPA issued in 2018 to allow states flexibility in addressing wind-borne emissions that can contribute to ground-level ozone pollution in other states located downwind. At stake are not only downwind states’ air quality objectives but the prospect of expensive additional emission controls on upwind states’ manufacturing facilities and power plants.

One of EPA’s 2018 guidance documents addresses the seemingly technical question of what “contribution threshold” to apply. That term refers to the quantity—measured in parts per billion (ppb) of ozone in the air at ground level—below which an upwind state’s impact on a downwind state’s ozone concentrations is small enough that any contribution would be considered essentially de minimis. Generally, a state will want its emission contributions to be deemed low enough that it would be clear that its emission sources would not need new control requirements.

Time 4 Minute Read

In June 2019, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Kisor v. Wilkie, 139 S. Ct. 2400 (2019), which addressed the question of whether the Court should overrule the Auer doctrine, named after the 1997 Supreme Court case Auer v. Robbins. The Auer doctrine rests on the premise that agencies are in a better position than courts to interpret their own regulations. Under the doctrine, courts generally defer to an agency’s reasonable readings of its own “genuinely ambiguous” regulations. In a 5-4 decision, the Court declined to abandon the Auer doctrine on grounds of stare decisis but outlined important restrictions on the scope and applicability of the doctrine. See, e.g., Devon Energy Prod. Co., L.P. v. Gould, No. 16-CV-00161-ABJ, 2019 WL 6257793 (D. Wyo. Sept. 11, 2019) (“The Court [in Kisor] chose to restrict the Auer doctrine rather than abolish it.”); Johnson v. Starbucks Corp., No. 2:18-cv-02956, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 145900, *8 (E.D. Cal. Aug. 26, 2019) (“Kisor did not overrule Auer,” but “limited the deference afforded to an agency’s interpretation”).

Time 3 Minute Read

On December 20, 2019, the Supreme Court of The Netherlands ruled in a climate case brought against the state by Urgenda, a non-governmental organization for “a fast transition towards a sustainable society.” The Court of Appeal and the Court of The Hague had previously ruled on Urgenda's claims. In both instances, the courts granted Urgenda's claim that the Dutch state should reduce emissions of CO2 from its territory by at least 25% by the end of 2020. The Supreme Court rejected the state’s appeal and confirmed the ruling.

Time 7 Minute Read

How can sitting still in the Northeast potentially land you in a world of trouble under the Federal Clean Air Act (CAA) and corresponding state laws? Quite easily, if you happen to be in or leave a vehicle with its engine on and the vehicle itself is not in motion for more than a few minutes. That is the definition of “unnecessary vehicle idling” in many jurisdictions.

Across the Northeast and elsewhere, unnecessary vehicle idling is, subject to certain nuances and exceptions, generally prohibited. Recently, violators have come under attack by non-governmental organizations. State penalties vary, but the potential exposure can be severe, especially when the statutory maximum available penalties are calculated pursuant to the Federal CAA and compounded on a per-violation/per-day basis. Accordingly, owners and operators of all forms of trucking and transit companies should not sit still and should take proactive measures to educate or reeducate vehicle schedulers and operators alike on these anti-idling requirements.

Time 2 Minute Read

Over the last decade, phase one of the Clean Air Act’s regional haze program cost companies (primarily electric generating companies) hundreds of millions of dollars in compliance costs and caused the early closure of a number of facilities. The program is just now entering the initial stages of its second planning period, with major implementation activities expected over the next few years. Unsuspecting companies are finding themselves the targets of the program’s requirements for the first time. In states that have taken early action—Arizona, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon and Washington—there has been a shift in attention from older power plants to oil and gas operations and manufacturing facilities in the pulp and paper, cement, and minerals sectors, among others. Even companies that have been through this regulatory process before are facing difficult new questions due to major rule changes enacted in 2017, changes to guidance and key technical documents, and a new focus on statutory provisions addressing “reasonable progress” that were not often used in the past. Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP partner Aaron Flynn has assisted numerous clients in dealing with regional haze issues. In this video, partner Allison Wood interviews Aaron regarding the recent developments in the regional haze program and regarding how companies can best position themselves as states and EPA decide on the next round of emission control requirements.

Time 10 Minute Read

Since the first Gulf of Mexico rig was installed in 1947, over 12,000 offshore oil and gas platforms have been installed globally. A 2016 study forecasts 600 will require decommissioning by 2021 and 2,000 more by 2040 at a cost of US$210 billion. Many newer platforms are sited in deeper waters, facing higher decommissioning costs and complexity.

The 1958 UN Convention on the Continental Shelf and 1972 London Convention broadly prohibited ocean “dumping.” Subsequent frameworks recognize exceptions permitting in situ offshore structure decommissioning consistent with internationally recognized standards. The 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), for example, requires member states adopt rules no less stringent than the London Protocol, amending the original Convention to allow deliberate placement of subsea structures in defined circumstances. Thus, in situ offshore platform decommissioning has been recognized as conforming with governing treaties and legal frameworks.

Time 6 Minute Read

On January 9, 2020, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released its highly anticipated proposed rule to improve its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations. The proposed changes would be the first comprehensive amendment of the NEPA regulations since their original publication in 1978. CEQ’s proposed changes are designed to streamline and speed the NEPA review process, clarify important NEPA concepts, and codify key guidance and case law. CEQ’s Proposal is informed by comments it received on last year’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

NEPA requires that federal agencies analyze the environmental effects of their proposed federal actions. This means that virtually any project that requires a federal permit or authorization could be required to undergo a NEPA review. Development of broadband infrastructure, roads, bridges, oil and gas pipelines, and renewable energy facilities are just a few examples of the types of activities that could trigger NEPA. A NEPA review can take significant agency and applicant resources, can substantially delay permits and can provide a basis for a federal court challenge to the project.

Time 3 Minute Read

On January 9, 2020, WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility filed suit in the DC District Court challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) approval of over 2,000 oil and gas leases. The leases were sold through 23 different lease sales, spanning from December 8, 2016, to March 20, 2019, and they cover over two million acres of public lands across five western states—Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. The conservation groups contend that BLM continually fails to fully account for climate change impacts associated with oil and gas leasing.

Time 4 Minute Read

Additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing, has already found commercial application in various industries and its use is on the rise. 3D printing converts 3D digital models created on a computer or with a scanner into physical objects, usually by successively adding material layer by layer. The process allows manufacturers to make complex designs, rapid prototypes and final products while offering the potential to limit process waste and reduce production costs.

Time 4 Minute Read

In August 2018, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced it was rebranding its National Enforcement Initiatives as National Compliance Initiatives, and specifically stated it was no longer targeting oil and gas sources as deserving of extra scrutiny. In addition, since taking office in January 2017, the Trump administration has aggressively rolled back many environmental regulations promulgated under the Obama administration. Despite what some may perceive as a kinder, gentler EPA and the Trump administration’s “deregulatory” agenda, however, the EPA has continued to pursue enforcement cases against many of the same businesses believed to benefit the most from the administration’s policies. Notably, this includes midstream oil and gas sources, as recently evidenced by EPA’s September 2019 Enforcement Alert (EA) titled, “EPA Observed Air Emissions from Natural Gas Gathering Operations in Violation of the Clean Air Act.”

Time 3 Minute Read

In my October 16, 2018, post, I observed that a panel of the Fifth Circuit put another nail, though not the final nail, in the coffin of NSR enforcement for projects completed a long time (some of them, decades) before EPA or other plaintiffs filed a complaint alleging NSR violations. In United States v. Luminant, No. 17-10235 (5th Cir. Oct. 1, 2018), the panel unanimously ruled that the statute of limitations bars civil penalties for NSR violations that allegedly occurred more than five years before the filing of the complaint. But over a strong dissent by Judge Elrod, a 2-1 majority ruled that while injunctive relief is also barred in those circumstances for non-government plaintiffs (Sierra Club, in this case), injunctive relief is still “available” when the government is seeking to enforce the Clean Air Act.

Time 6 Minute Read

As we have discussed previously, the federal Clean Air Act (CAA) addresses what is often termed “interstate transport.” That is the phenomenon in which emissions from factories, power plants, motor vehicles and many other emission sources are transported by prevailing winds across state lines, sometimes over great distances. The CAA looks to states, first and foremost, to include control measures in implementation plans to reduce emissions that travel into other states. The statutory objective is to prohibit “significant contributions” by upwind states to violations of national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) in downwind states. Although states have primary responsibility, EPA sometimes has invoked its CAA authority to establish federally enforceable requirements to address significant contributions when it concludes upwind states have not taken sufficient steps. In 2016, EPA adopted its most recent set of regulatory interstate transport controls in a rulemaking action called the “Cross-State Air Pollution Rule Update”—or the “CSAPR Update” for short. On September 13, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit issued a decision in closely-watched litigation involving challenges to the CSAPR Update. (The case is Wisconsin v. EPA, No. 16-1406.) While upholding this EPA regulation in most respects, the court ruled in favor of a challenge that concerns the timing of upwind-state emission controls.

Time 4 Minute Read

The South Coast Air Quality Management District’s (SCAQMD or the District) Regional Clean Air Incentives Market (RECLAIM) made history as California’s first emissions cap-and-trade program. But the District’s decision to sunset the program has resulted in significant uncertainty surrounding RECLAIM’s transition for local communities and industry alike.

Widely acclaimed at its 1993 inception, the program was intended to promote more efficient emissions reductions by allowing facilities to meet their annual cap either by adopting pollution controls directly or by purchasing RECLAIM trading credits (RTCs) from other facilities able to install controls at lower cost and achieve emissions below their caps. In its early years supporters praised RECLAIM as a success, pointing to significant reductions across the South Coast Air Basin. But in more recent years, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other stakeholders criticized RECLAIM as falling short of expectations, pointing to periods of RTC price spikes reducing the program’s coverage and a subsequent glut of RTCs from plant closures that critics claim lowered the incentive for pollution reductions at remaining RECLAIM facilities.

Time 6 Minute Read

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released its latest National Compliance Initiatives (NCIs), which aim to focus the Agency’s enforcement arm, the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA), on areas of significant environmental violations and other opportunities for the greatest environmental benefit through increased compliance with environmental laws. In a memorandum issued June 7, 2019, enforcement chief Susan Parker Bodine advised the Agency’s regional offices of the NCIs for upcoming fiscal years 2020 through 2023.

Time 5 Minute Read

On June 26, 2019, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Kisor v. Wilkie, 139 S. Ct. 2400 (2019), which presented the question of whether the Court should overrule the Auer doctrine, named after the 1997 Supreme Court case Auer v. Robbins. The Auer doctrine rests on the premise that agencies have more expertise on their own regulations and are therefore in a better position than courts to interpret them. Under the doctrine, courts generally defer to an agency’s reasonable readings of its own “genuinely ambiguous” regulations. In a 5-4 decision, the Court declined to abandon the Auer doctrine on grounds of stare decisis but outlined important limitations on the scope and applicability of that doctrine.

Time 7 Minute Read

Policy makers in California have pledged to resist Trump administration policy changes on environmental and other issues. Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), proposing the California Environmental, Public Health and Workers Defense Act of 2019, is the California legislature’s current preemptive response to the administration’s attempts to modify certain federal environmental and worker safety laws.

SB 1 has passed the California Senate. It is awaiting a final hearing in the State Assembly’s Appropriations Committee, likely sometime in mid‑to‑late August. After that, it moves to the Assembly floor, where a final vote is required by the end of California’s legislative session on September 13, 2019.

Time 2 Minute Read

The United States’ first major offshore wind energy project is running into delays as federal agencies internally debate whether the project plan adequately protects the fishing industry.

Vineyard Wind—an approximately 800 megawatt, 84-turbine wind energy project to be located roughly 15 miles off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts—is scheduled to begin construction this year and would have the capacity to power over 400,000 homes by 2021.

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On June 26, 2019, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released draft guidance instructing federal agencies on how to consider and document greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the effects of climate change when evaluating proposed federal actions, including rulemakings and permitting decisions, under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The guidance, if finalized, would replace a now-revoked Obama Administration 2016 guidance, which advanced broad positions on how agencies should evaluate GHG emissions and the effects of climate change when undertaking NEPA reviews for proposed federal actions.

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Since retaking control of the House following the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats have introduced a flurry of climate change-related legislation. While the ambitious Green New Deal resolution grabbed much of the headlines earlier this year, Democrats have continued to roll out various other measures aimed at addressing climate change.

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Standing may seem like an arcane concept, but, as lawyers, we know that this term has special legal meaning—and that it affects whether our clients or our clients’ opponents can successfully bring a lawsuit. In the field of environmental law, understanding standing (a little alliteration) is no easy task. In a decision by the DC Circuit last week, the Sierra Club was reminded just how important standing can be when challenging, or more to the point attempting to challenge, environmental laws.

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As noted in previous blog posts, Assembly Bill 617’s (AB 617) Community Air Protection Program (CAPP) is limited in effect to specific, named communities included in it. Thus, stationary sources not located in a CAPP included community are not regulated by CAPP. However, AB 617’s new requirements are not limited to CAPP. AB 617 also requires the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to develop new regulations for criteria pollutant and toxics emissions reporting. The new regulation, titled “Regulation for the Reporting of Criteria Air Pollutants and Toxic Air Contaminants” (CTR Regulation) is not yet finalized, but the current draft will apply to stationary sources throughout California, regardless of whether they are located in a CAPP community.

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State environmental regulators are beginning to develop plans designed to meet more stringent air quality standards under the Clean Air Act (CAA), including standards to protect against unhealthful levels of ground-level ozone. In doing so, many states are looking more closely at a factor that contributes to their air quality problems but that they lack any authority to address: the phenomenon of air pollution carried by prevailing winds into their jurisdictions from emission sources located not only outside their own state borders but outside the US itself. The issue of international contributions to air quality concerns has gained currency in part due to the many challenges states face in meeting the stringent nationwide air quality standards for ground-level ozone that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted in 2015.

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With the Texas Legislature having now convened for the 2019 session, various key environmental issues are anticipated to be the subject of debate and legislative action. Based on bills filed to date, interim charges and recommendations made by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), environmental initiatives to be considered are expected to address, among others, the following subjects:

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The US National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) are the centerpiece of the US Clean Air Act (CAA) and establish allowable concentration levels for six "criteria air pollutants": ozone, particulate matter, lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. The CAA requires the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review and, as appropriate, revise the NAAQS at least every five years, and EPA has, since 1970, regularly adopted increasingly stringent standards. Whether those revisions have gone far enough or too far has become a predictably contentious issue, with each review involving debates over science, the role of EPA's Clean Air Science Advisory Committee (CASAC), the discretion of the EPA Administrator, and the format of the review process itself, among many other issues.

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EPA has finalized a regulation you can live with, but someone dissatisfied with that result has sued the Agency.  Should you intervene to defend EPA’s action?  Is it worth it?  Does the court really pay attention to the arguments of an intervenor?  A recent decision by the D.C. Circuit in Masias v. EPA, No. 16-1314 (D.C. Cir. Oct. 19, 2018), illustrates the value of participation as a Respondent-Intervenor in these circumstances.

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In my April 2, 2018, post, I asked whether the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit would put another nail in the coffin of NSR enforcement for projects completed a long time (some of them, decades) before EPA or other plaintiffs filed a complaint alleging NSR violations. A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals answered in United States v. Luminant, No. 17-10235 (5th Cir. Oct. 1, 2018), by unanimously ruling that the statute of limitations bars civil penalties for NSR violations that allegedly occurred more than five years before the filing of the complaint. But in a 2-1 decision, the majority ruled that, while injunctive relief is also barred in those circumstances for non-government plaintiffs (Sierra Club, in this case), injunctive relief is still “available” when the government is seeking to enforce the Clean Air Act. In her dissent in part, Judge Elrod said she would have affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the case in all respects, characterizing any “injunctive” relief sought by the government as “really just time-barred penalties in disguise.”

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The implementation of California’s ambitious Assembly Bill 617 (AB 617) is well under way, but it is still very uncertain whether it can or will achieve its intended outcome. Despite the long process to select the initial list of communities to be included in the in the first year of CARB’s Community Air Protection Program (CAPP) (CARB’s AB 617 implementation program), the hard work to ensure AB 617 is a success remains—namely the development and implementation of the emissions monitoring/reduction plans in the selected disadvantaged communities. In the end, the biggest impediment to AB 617’s successful implementation might be the law’s own requirements, specifically its accelerated implementation schedule, which may not provide California’s air quality management districts (air districts) with enough time to achieve the law’s goals.

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The phrase “interstate transport” conjures images of planes, trains and trucks carrying people and goods cross-country. But, under the federal Clean Air Act (CAA), the term is often used to refer to interstate air pollution—emissions from factories, power plants, motor vehicles, refineries and other sources that are transported by prevailing winds across state lines, sometimes over hundreds of miles. The interstate transport phenomenon often has posed for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) what the Supreme Court has called “a thorny causation problem: How should EPA allocate among multiple contributing upwind States responsibility for a downwind State’s excess pollution?” EPA v. EME Homer City Generation, L.P., 134 S. Ct. 1584, 1604 (2014). EPA’s efforts to address this issue have yielded, over the last two decades, a series of complex federal regulatory programs imposing increasingly stringent controls on emissions in most states in the eastern half of the country—first the “NOx SIP Call” rule in 1998, then the Clean Air Interstate Rule in 2005, followed by the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) in 2011 and, most recently, the 2016 “CSAPR Update” rule. Now, however, EPA, while vigorously defending the CSAPR Update rule against pending litigation challenges, is signaling a fresh approach for potential future interstate transport regulation, an approach that may involve greater deference to states’ analyses and determinations and that may eschew additional broad regulatory mandates imposed by EPA.

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The New Source Review (NSR) program of the Clean Air Act requires major stationary sources to go through an extensive, time-consuming, and expensive review and permitting process prior to construction. Among other requirements, such sources are required to install the best available control technologies (BACT) to reduce levels of specific regulated pollutants. The NSR program also applies to existing facilities if they are modified in ways that result in significantly increased emissions.

The pace of enforcement actions has decreased in recent years, but more than a ...

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As a former regulator (both as an inspector and an attorney, ensuring compliance and enforcing violations) in the environmental law enforcement space, I read EPA Assistant Administrator Susan Parker Bodine’s recent memorandum entitled Transition from National Enforcement Initiatives to National Compliance Initiatives with great interest. Having numerous facility inspections and enforcement settlements under my belt, I have seen firsthand the interplay between compliance and enforcement. To be sure, the threat of enforcement and the deterrence factor associated with resolving an enforcement action are powerful tools. But, if the end goal is compliance with environmental laws, does the road leading there have to be so scary for the regulated community? Whereas many regulated parties commonly see EPA and other environmental agencies as enforcement machines, this proposed transition to a more compliance-oriented approach may be not only a welcome change, but also an appropriate one that will actually improve compliance. After all, Ms. Bodine’s office is entitled the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA). Isn’t it a good idea to have an equal focus on helping with compliance and on enforcement? And isn’t the point to maximize compliance? Shouldn’t OECA be striving for a world in which its “enforcement” arm goes out of business because it has “assured compliance?” That may be too much for the regulated community to hope for, but the notion of “compliance” initiatives over “enforcement” initiatives is not a bad way to start.

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Our regulatory state is founded on the principle that regulated parties must have notice of their compliance obligations. Laws or regulations that fail to give fair notice violate due process and cannot give rise to liability. See, e.g., Gen. Elec. Co. v. EPA, 53 F.3d 1324 (D.C. Cir. 1995).

A notoriously unclear regulatory program addresses circumstances under which an existing facility triggers the Clean Air Act’s (CAA) “new source review” (NSR) program and its associated control technology and air quality review requirements. Over the past two decades, courts have concluded that the same words in the regulations have diametrically opposed meanings. Compare Nat’l Parks Conservation Ass’n, Inc. v. TVA, No. 3:01-CV-71, 2010 WL 1291335 (E.D. Tenn.Mar. 31, 2010) (boiler tube replacement is “routine” repair and replacement) with United States v. Ohio Edison Co., 276 F. Supp. 2d 829 (S.D. Ohio 2003) (boiler tube replacement is not “routine” repair and replacement). Indeed, after addressing the application of NSR to an industrial facility on two occasions, one three-judge panel in the Sixth Circuit produced five different opinions advancing three different interpretations of key provisions of the rules. See United States v. DTE Energy Co., 711 F.3d 643 (6th Cir. 2013); United States v. DTE Energy Co., 845 F.3d 735 (6th Cir. 2017). Disagreement among judges over the meaning of a regulation is objective evidence of a rule’s failure to provide fair notice of its compliance obligations.

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In an article published in Law360, two Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP Partners discuss the passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 and its implications for Section 45Q of the Internal Revenue Code. Carbon capture and sequestration supporters expect this to significantly boost deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) across the US.

Readers can access the full article here.

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When most Americans think about the traditions of presidential transitions, they recall the oath of office, the prior president and family leaving the White House, the inaugural parade, the balls with their beautiful gowns and sharp tuxedos, and more. What they more than likely don’t think about, much less even know about, are other happenings in the White House and in the agencies that run our government. While the peaceful transfer of power is a hallmark of the American political system, it is not without controversy, particularly where the outgoing president is a member of a different political party with remarkably different political views than the incoming commander in chief.

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New lawsuits filed in the US Courts of Appeal are seeking to upend a fundamental tenet of the Clean Air Act (CAA or the Act) Title V operating permit program—i.e., that the program does not itself impose new substantive requirements but rather has the purpose of identifying, in a single document, the CAA requirements that apply to a source. These lawsuits have been filed in the D.C. Circuit, the Fifth Circuit, and the Tenth Circuit challenging EPA orders issued in response to various third-party professional environmental advocacy groups’ requests that EPA object to Title V permits proposed for several industrial facilities in Utah and Texas. In the orders, EPA clarified that the Title V permitting and petition process set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 7661d(b)(2) is not the appropriate forum to second-guess preconstruction authorizations issued under Title I of the Act and incorporated into a facility’s Title V permit. 

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2018 is turning out to be a banner year for nationally applicable developments—both judicial and administrative—with regard to National Ambient Air Quality Standards (“NAAQS” or “Standards”) for ozone. As the year began, EPA was proceeding with implementation of the ozone NAAQS that it set in 1997 and 2008 in accordance with a rule that it had promulgated in 2015 describing requirements for State Implementation Plans (SIPs) and the transition from the 1997 NAAQS to the more stringent 2008 one. 80 Fed. Reg. 12264 (Mar. 6, 2015) (2015 SRR). The Trump administration was reviewing the prior administration’s 2015 decision further tightening the NAAQS to determine whether those more stringent NAAQS should be maintained, modified or reconsidered. To allow the Trump administration to complete that review, the DC Circuit placed in abeyance litigation challenging the 2015 Standards as either too stringent or too lenient. Murray Energy v. EPA, No. 15-1385 (D.C. Cir. Oct. 26, 2015). EPA had designated most of the country attainment/unclassifiable for the 2015 NAAQS, but had not made designations for other areas. 82 Fed. Reg. 54232 (Nov. 16, 2017).

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On May 9, the White House released its Spring 2018 update to EPA’s regulatory agenda. Agency watchers quickly dove into the document to check the status and timelines for high-profile rulemakings and gain insights on the Trump administration’s priorities. But aside from any revelations about the administration’s own initiatives, this latest document was also notable for showing just how much EPA’s regulatory agenda can be driven by forces outside of the executive branch.

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We are taught from a young age that two plus two equals four; it is a given just as the earth is round, despite recent controversy. But two plus two may not equal four due to two concepts: significant figures and rounding. But why should you care about either of those two concepts? If you are subject to permit limits or standards those concepts can be the difference between compliance and noncompliance.

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When California Assembly Bill 617 (AB 617) was signed into law, California ambitiously announced a new “community focused” strategy to improve air quality in California. AB 617’s stated goal is to improve air quality in environmental justice communities through local, community-specific strategies focused on the individual needs and issues particular to each community. The development and implementation of this “community focused” strategy is largely the responsibility of California’s local air quality management districts (AQMDs) because AB 617 places new, explicit responsibilities on AQMDs so that they take the lead in improving the air quality in their environmental justice communities.

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The New Source Review (NSR) Program of the Clean Air Act (CAA) requires large new plants (in the parlance of the Act “major” “stationary sources”) to go through an extensive, time consuming and expensive review and permitting process prior to construction. Such sources are required through these permits, among other requirements, to install the best available control technologies (BACT) to reduce levels of specific regulated pollutants. The NSR program also applies to existing facilities if they are modified in substantial ways and if, as a result, emissions increase by significant amounts (these are known as “major modifications”).

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As we have noted previously (An Opportunity for a New Federal-State Relationship Under the Regional Haze Program, July 17, 2017; A New Perspective on Regional Haze Regulation?, February 14, 2017), the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently signaled a new openness to recognizing state prerogatives and flexibility in implementing the regional haze program under the Clean Air Act (CAA). That program addresses impairment of visibility in the skies over protected national parks and wilderness areas that is attributed to widespread haze resulting from emissions to the air from varied sources.

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There are 7.6 billion people on the planet today. By 2050, there are projected to be 9.7 billion—or put another way, in just thirty years we will add the equivalent population of seven United States. The world’s most credible energy forecasting entities predict a global increase over that time not only in demand for energy, but demand for fossil energy. Even with steady increases in energy efficiency and a massive increase in renewables, consumption of fossil fuels will grow. That means carbon dioxide emissions won’t be reduced significantly without some technology to do so.

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Over the past year, several cities and counties have brought common law actions for activity they claim causes climate change, targeting both in-state and out-of-state sources. Does state common law reach this far?

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We are serious.  And don’t call us Shirley.

So EPA sent your company a dreaded Request for Information (“RFI”).  What do you do now?  If you’ve never been through this process before, you likely have a lot running through your head:

  • Did our company do something wrong?  Is my company under investigation?
  • Is this EPA’s way of asking for my help to improve its regulations?
  • Do I have to answer this?
  • How can I possibly compile all this information in 30 days?
  • Do we need a lawyer to help us respond?
  • What about confidential information?  EPA is asking for customer or supplier information.  Isn’t that private?
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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.

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On November 16, 2017, the D.C. Circuit heard oral argument in the cases challenging EPA’s 2012 rule allowing states to rely on compliance with the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) to satisfy electric generating units’ “best available retrofit technology” (BART) requirements for emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide under the Clean Air Act (CAA). The cases are UARG v. EPA, No. 12-1342­ and consolidated cases (D.C. Cir.).

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In October 2015, EPA reduced the level of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (“NAAQS”) for ozone from 75 parts per billion (“ppb”) to 70 ppb. What is happening concerning implementation of those NAAQS?

Although litigation over EPA’s decision to lower the ozone NAAQS remains in abeyance as the Trump Administration continues to consider whether the Agency should reconsider the rule or some part of it, the 2015 standard itself has not been stayed. Thus, the Clean Air Act requires that implementation of the standard proceed. One key step in implementation is promulgation by EPA of a list of areas where the standard is violated, including areas that contribute to standard violations in nearby areas. EPA’s identification of these “nonattainment” areas is a trigger for many of the Act’s control requirements.

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As is almost always the case following a change in administration, many EPA policies and interpretations are being reviewed and, depending on your point of view, either appropriately reconsidered or “rolled back.” Front and center in this debate is the practical reality that such reviews take time, including in some cases the time necessary to comply with procedural requirements for notice and comment rulemaking. The extent to which the EPA can take the time it believes is necessary is currently playing out in courts across the country, which are grappling with questions of the degree to which the EPA can postpone regulatory compliance deadlines or delay statutorily required actions while it conducts that review.

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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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Ladies and Gentleman.

Start Your Engines.

Wait! According to California, you can only use engines that are certified to meet air-emission standards, have a current “Executive Order,” and have not been tampered with, OR engines that are used solely for competition (but not every competition) and are not used on public highways (is a dirt road a public highway?).

Sound complicated? The Clean Air Act provides racing vehicles a broad exemption from federal air emission standards and also provides for broad preemption of state motor vehicle standards, with specific exceptions for California. In addition, California has its own broad racing vehicle exemption which can be found in the California Health and Safety Code. The exemption for racing vehicles seemed straightforward enough—they are not subject to federal or state emissions standards. This exemption makes sense, of course, because when you are racing, you need enhanced engine capabilities to win and because racing engines are a small percentage of the engines we see on the road for everyday use, such as commuting to school/work, running errands, etc.

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In recent years, plaintiffs’ attorneys and public-interest groups have brought common law actions seeking injunctive relief or damages for air emissions they claim cause climate change. Because climate change is a global phenomenon, these actions have targeted both in-state and out-of-state sources. Does state common law reach this far?

A state’s common law is founded in its police powers, which are among the powers that the Constitution generally reserved to the states. By contrast, the Constitution specifically delegates to Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce. A state’s police powers therefore do not extend beyond its borders. For this reason, the Supreme Court in the last century discovered a limited “federal” common law to address interstate pollution at a time when there were no federal laws regulating such interstate concerns. Missouri v. Illinois, 180 U.S. 208, 241 (1901). As the Court observed, “[i]f state law can be applied, there is no need for federal common law; if federal common law exists, it is because state law cannot be used.” City of Milwaukee v. Illinois, 451 U.S. 304, 314 n.7 (1981) (Milwaukee II).

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Since President Trump’s inauguration and the beginning of Scott Pruitt’s tenure as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), much of the focus of Clean Air Act activity in the new administration has been on global climate change issues. As more time passes, however, EPA is beginning to address other areas of Clean Air Act regulatory policy, and, in some respects at least, charting a new course that departs from the record of the Obama administration. One of the areas to which EPA has started to give renewed attention is the regional haze program.

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Throughout the Obama administration, federal officials from the President on down touted an “all of the above” approach to energy policy.  At the same time, they pressed forward with environmental regulations—climate change rules in particular—that would have made a seismic shift in the role fossil fuels play in the nation’s energy mix.

We all know the Trump administration is poised to make major changes.  A shakeup for the EPA was a consistent theme of the Trump campaign. The President made things official in March when he signed an executive order that, among other things, called for a “review” of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the EPA’s program to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, and a proposed rule regarding the CPP is now under review at the White House Office of Management and Budget. The administration has also announced plans to cut the EPA’s budget, to take a new “red team-blue team” approach to climate change science, and to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord. That’s quite a lot of activity for an administration that is often accused of moving too slowly.

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Earlier this week, July 4, 2017, was the nation’s 241st birthday. In Washington, DC, and in countless other places across the country, the event was celebrated with dazzling fireworks displays. My childhood days are long behind me. But, a good fireworks display still evokes awe and gives me goose bumps. Although fireworks are synonymous with the 4th of July, Americans are not alone in their appreciation of fireworks. All across the globe—from Europe, to Asia, to South America and back again—fireworks are a universal symbol of celebration.

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Increased use of renewable fuels is a core element of our country’s quest for energy independence and has also been used to incentivize private efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Now more than ten years old, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program has helped make ethanol made from sugarcane and compressed natural gas produced from sludge at municipal wastewater treatment facilities common household concepts. While the vast majority of renewable fuel producers are compliant, the program has suffered from high-profile cases of fraud and abuse requiring federal enforcement, including criminal prosecutions.

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In a surprising turn of events, the Board of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) voted to delay adoption of first-of-its-kind caps on refinery greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As we reported just three weeks ago, the Board was slated to adopt Regulation 12, Rule 16: Petroleum Refining Facility-Wide Emissions Limits (Rule 12-16), a regulation that would establish refinery-specific, facility-wide caps on GHG emissions from the five Bay Area refineries and three support facilities.  At a public hearing last week, in what initially looked to be a sure thing, the Board pivoted.  Signaling unease about legal vulnerabilities surrounding procedure, the Board voted to delay adoption of the regulation until at least September 2017.

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Since President Trump’s election, his Administration has emphasized cooperative federalism and has opened the door for more state responsibility.  California is walking through that door, and has positioned itself, according to its elected officials, at the vanguard of the so-called “resistance” to the Administration and its policies, real and perceived.  This is particularly clear on environmental, energy, and natural resource matters.  Last week illustrates the growing divide between California and the federal government in these areas.

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[caption id="attachment_417" align="aligncenter" width="300"] 2017 Chambers USA Awards[/caption]

Last week at the 2017 Chambers USA Awards, Hunton & Williams’ environmental team was recognized as the team of the year in the environment practice area.  Chambers USA evaluated our practice as “preeminent” in the environmental area and “highly esteemed.”  Chambers USA also noted our “fine track record” for our utility and energy work and our “noteworthy expertise across air, water, waste and climate change matters.”

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Just before President Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, California is moving ahead with new greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations, making good on its commitment to continue its path regardless of what goes on in Washington, DC. This week, the Board of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) held a special meeting to consider a controversial new regulation targeting oil refineries. If adopted, as planned at the June 21, 2017, Board public hearing, Regulation 12, Rule 16:  Petroleum Refining Facility-Wide Emissions Limits (Rule 12-16) would establish first-of-its-kind, refinery-specific, facility-wide caps on emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). The proposed caps limit refinery emissions to seven percent above recent operating levels.

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This article was originally published in the May 1, 2017, online edition of The Recorder.

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”  Movie aficionados will recognize this classic line from the 1976 movie, “Network.”  For many Californians, the line captures the feeling in the state just before Proposition 13 (Prop 13) was passed by about 65 percent of voters in 1978 to amend the state constitution.  For a state that is used to sizable earthquakes, Prop 13 was a truly seismic event in California, restructuring the state property tax system.  It was enacted in response to frustration over California’s decades-old method of paying for government, which allowed property taxes to increase dramatically year to year, often resulting in senior citizens on fixed incomes being unable to afford to stay in their homes.  On top of cutting and restricting increases in property taxes, Prop 13 contained language requiring a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses for future increases of any state tax rates or amounts of revenue collected, including income tax rates and sales tax rates.

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On April 11, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit canceled oral argument, which had been scheduled for April 19, in several consolidated cases challenging EPA’s 2015 revision of National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone. The court took this action, and ordered that the case be held in abeyance, in response to an EPA motion asking that oral argument be continued, to give the appropriate Trump administration officials adequate time to review those standards. EPA’s motion indicated that the new administration is deciding whether to reconsider them.

What is the regulatory significance of the court’s action?

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On April 14, 2017, the Department of Energy (DOE) quietly issued an emergency order under Federal Power Act (FPA) § 202(c) to keep open a power plant slated for shutdown under the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). While DOE has issued FPA § 202(c) emergency orders in the past, this marks the first time that DOE has used such authority to address electric reliability concerns arising from MATS implementation. In doing so, DOE effectively inaugurated the so-called Reliability Safety Valve that was heavily discussed during MATS’ consideration nearly six years ago.

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In the latest of a series of moves reflecting the state’s intention to double down on its climate change agenda in the wake of President Trump’s inauguration, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) recently approved a new regulation aimed at curbing methane emissions from oil and gas operations. This measure, characterized by CARB as “the most comprehensive of its kind in the country,” comes on the heels of several actions recently announced by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) to reassess the climate change programs of the previous administration, specifically those targeted at oil and gas sector emissions.

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The New Source Review (NSR) Program of the Clean Air Act requires large new plants (in the parlance of the act, “major” “stationary sources”) to go through an extensive, time-consuming and expensive review and permitting process prior to construction. Such sources are required through these permits, among other requirements, to install the best available control technologies (BACT) to reduce levels of specific regulated pollutants. The NSR program also applies to existing facilities if they are modified in substantial ways and if, as a result, emissions increase by significant amounts (these are known as “major modifications”).

For the first two decades of the NSR program, existing sources rarely triggered it. That is because EPA applied it in a way to be triggered only by unusual projects that would expand the capacity of the source. It is also because NSR is so time-consuming and expensive that sources generally avoided activities that would expand their capacities because they could trigger NSR.

That all changed drastically in the late 1990s.

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[caption id="attachment_291" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Navajo Generating Station Navajo Generating Station[/caption]

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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Since 2013, EPA’s enforcement office has been promoting an initiative it terms Next Generation Compliance. In common parlance, the term “next generation” refers to the next stage of development or version of something. The term inherently suggests improvement – a better mousetrap, for example. Who would object to such progress? Several recent applications of EPA’s “Next Gen” strategy illustrate that, as with most things in life, the devil is in the details.

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