Posts in Climate.
Time 5 Minute Read

On May 28, the Biden Administration released a joint policy statement and a set of principles for voluntary carbon markets.  The statement provides an additional signal of the Administration’s support for voluntary carbon markets as a means of encouraging decarbonization efforts, while the principles put the weight of the Administration behind specific concepts underpinning the credibility of voluntary carbon credits and voluntary credit markets.

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On March 6, 2024, by a party-line vote of 3-2, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) adopted final rules (entitled “The Enhancement and Standardization of Climate-Related Disclosures for Investors”) requiring most public companies to disclose climate-related information in registration statements and annual reports filed with the SEC. The SEC first proposed climate disclosure rules in March 2022, and the proposal has been a source of much debate and controversy, generating over 24,000 comment letters, more than any regulation in the history of the SEC.

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Time 8 Minute Read

Last week marked the conclusion of the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). As we previously discussed, the expectations were COP28 would tackle a range of critical issues toward achieving the climate goals set out in the Paris Agreement. Below is an overview of the most significant developments coming out of Dubai, as reflected in the COP28 agreement, and the expectations for future climate action.

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The 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiating process will take place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, beginning today, November 30, through December 12. As in the past, we are closely following the events on the ground in Dubai and the actions taken and the commitments made toward achieving the climate change goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The themes of COP28, set by the host nation, include technology and innovation (aligning on actions by governments and the private sector to limit warming to 1.5°C); inclusion (engagement with diverse peoples); frontline communities (ensuring the most climate-vulnerable communities can adapt); and finance (funding to close the finance gap on adaptation and the energy transition and aligning public and private finance with the Paris Agreement’s goals). Beyond these themes – that will guide the two-week negotiations – there are a few specific issues we expect to be a priority at COP28, which we briefly discuss below and intend to follow closely.  

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On October 7, 2023 California Governor Gavin Newsom signed two landmark climate disclosure laws aimed at making major companies publicly disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and report on their climate-related financial risks. The first, the Climate Corporate Data Accountability Act (SB 253), will require all business entities with an annual revenue exceeding $1 billion to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions in a format accessible to the public. The second, SB 261, will require all business entities with annual revenue exceeding $500 million to publish a report on their “climate-related financial risks” on their websites. These first-in-the-nation laws are broader than the proposed SEC climate disclosure rule and reach more than just California-based entities.

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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.

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On July 10, 2023, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a suite of bills intended to facilitate the permitting and approval processes for clean energy and other infrastructure projects in California.

Enactment of these measures in conjunction with the state’s budget bill marked the culmination of negotiations between the governor and state legislators that began on May 19, 2023, when the governor’s office announced a number of legislative proposals to streamline approval and permitting processes for clean infrastructure projects in California. On the same day, Governor Newsom issued Executive Order N-8-23, creating an Infrastructure Strike Team to work across state agencies to maximize federal and state funding opportunities for California innovation and infrastructure projects. The governor’s legislative proposals and executive order reflect the administration’s commitment to infrastructure development in California.

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On June 3, 2023, President Biden signed the bipartisan Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 (FRA) to suspend the United States’ debt limit until January 2025. The legislation also imposes changes to the environmental review process for infrastructure projects. Most notably, the FRA amends key provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a touchstone environmental statute that imposes procedural requirements for the approval of major federal actions. The amendments to NEPA are the first major changes to the statute in almost 40 years. These changes signal Congress’s intent to streamline the environmental review of projects and improve the federal permitting process for energy projects. The amendments to NEPA will likely influence (and may delay) the Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) Phase 2 revisions to NEPA’s implementing regulations which are currently undergoing interagency review. The FRA also expedites the approval process for all permits for the Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline project in West Virginia.

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On November 28, 2022, the Council of the European Union (EU) formally adopted the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), following the European Parliament’s formal adoption of the directive earlier last month. The CSRD is a broad environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting framework that will impose uniform, mandatory reporting requirements on many companies with European operations, including companies not based in Europe.

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We have written extensively on the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proposal to require that public companies disclose climate-related information and other environment, social, and corporate governance (ESG) trends. However, the European Union (EU) is at the vanguard of emerging requirements focused on climate-related information and broader ESG-aligned information.

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Last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revealed its much-anticipated proposal to require that public companies disclose climate-related information. The proposed rule is significant because, for the first time, the SEC would mandate that companies (including foreign companies) publicly traded in the US disclose climate-related risk and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions information beyond the risk information currently required by existing SEC rules applicable to registration statements and annual reports.

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The road to net-zero emissions in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is not a well-defined highway. In fact, at times it feels more like a barely discernible path through deep forested woods. The recent abandonment of the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) in November 2021, less than a year after its announcement, stands as a clear reminder that there remains a vast divide between the ambitious 2050 net-zero emissions goal of the Commonwealth’s historic climate legislation (Chapter 8 of the Acts of 2021 or the Climate Act) and the regulatory changes necessary to achieve it. However, just as one proposed tool to clear the way gets dropped, Massachusetts regulators take up another to keep the track moving forward.

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Two recent actions by the Biden Administration will identify areas of focus for environmental justice (EJ) and therefore influence environmental enforcement priorities, federal permitting and licensing, and federal spending, among other actions. On February 18, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released the beta (or draft) version of its Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST), a key component of President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative and mandated by the same Executive Order 14008. As we described last year, the Justice40 Initiative set the goal of “delivering 40 percent of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments” to disadvantaged communities. The CEJST serves a specific purpose: to help agencies identify disadvantaged communities in order to direct federal benefits and help agencies measure whether 40 percent of benefits are being received by those communities.

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Last week, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the results of its enforcement and compliance efforts for the federal government’s 2021 fiscal year (FY2021)—October 2020 through September 2021. Prepared by EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA), the report offers the first high-level look at the EPA’s enforcement of environmental laws under the Biden Administration. “Coming off a challenging few years,” said EPA’s Acting Assistant Administrator for OECA, Larry Starfield, “these 2021 results make clear that rigorous enforcement is back at EPA.” Key metrics in the report appear consistent with that message.

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On the heels of the November 2021 Tribal Nations Summit, a flurry of memoranda was signed by the White House and many government agencies. These memoranda seek to further the Biden administration’s promises of consulting with indigenous people and acknowledging their communities’ cultures, customs, sacred sites, and historical knowledge in the contexts of environmental planning, sustainability, and justice, and in ongoing and forthcoming federal decision making and regulatory rulemaking.

Center stage in the ongoing discussion is Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge (ITEK), and the need for including and consulting with Tribal communities on the front end of planning as part of the environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)—something that inconsistently occurred in the past. Stakeholders from developers and investors to Tribes and regulators, among other parties, should expect increased focus and guidance from the Biden administration in 2022 on these issues. The additional focus on these issues will present opportunities, but also challenges, as it adds another step in the already time-consuming NEPA process.

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On January 11, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced the beginning of a scoping period to prepare a draft environmental assessment (Draft EA) for the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) Call Area to assess potential impacts associated with offshore wind leasing. The area includes approximately 30 million acres of federal lands on the outer continental shelf (OCS) in the GOM, and covers areas in what is commonly known as the Western and Central Planning Areas of the GOM. This is the same area described in the Call for Information and Nominations published in the Federal Register on November 1, 2021. Comments will be received through February 9, 2022. BOEM anticipates completing the Draft EA this summer.

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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.

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After over two weeks of conferencing, the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (COP26) concluded with the finalization of the Glasgow Climate Pact (the “Glasgow Pact”) listing the accomplishments of the summit. The Glasgow Pact reaffirms the long-term global goals (including those in the Paris Agreement) to hold the increase in the global average temperature to “well below 2°C” above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. It also states that limiting global warming to 1.5°C requires “rapid, deep, and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 relative to the 2010 level and to net zero around mid-century, as well as deep reductions in other greenhouse gases.”

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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.

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Using carbon dioxide to produce oil could be a key technology to transition to an energy landscape with lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Injecting CO2 into an oil formation to produce oil is known as enhanced oil recovery (EOR).  The injected CO2 not only increases pressure in the formation, which aids production, but under certain conditions, the CO2 will mix with oil trapped within the rock in the formation, causing it to become mobile and able to be produced.

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On November 1, 2021, as the world commences the COP26 gathering in Glasgow, Scotland, for the next round of global climate negotiations, the White House, under the signatures of John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, and Gina McCarthy, National Climate Advisor, issued a strategy stating that achieving net-zero GHG emissions by 2050 is possible and outlining the broad steps for doing so.  The Long-term Strategy of the United States: Pathways to Net-Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050 includes the following key elements: 

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The world will gather in Glasgow, Scotland, for the next round of global climate negotiations – the twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (COP26) – during the first two weeks of November. COP26 is a continuation of the process to flesh out the details and to implement the Paris Agreement, which committed almost every nation to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The Paris Agreement sets a goal to keep the global average temperature from rising by 1.5°C (2.7°F) above preindustrial levels and, failing that, prevent it from increasing by 2°C (3.6°F).

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Carbon markets are tools that aim to cost-effectively reduce the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHG). The Paris Agreement sets a goal to keep the global average temperature from rising by 1.5°C (2.7°F) above preindustrial levels and, failing that, prevent it from rising 2°C (3.6°F). Carbon markets are viewed as the primary market-based vehicle to drive reduction in GHG emissions to meet the ambitious Paris Agreement goal.

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On September 22, 2021, the Division of Corporation Finance (Division) of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a sample comment letter to highlight its increased focus on climate change-related disclosures or the absence of such disclosures in issuer filings under the Securities Act and the Exchange Act. This sample comment letter follows a recent increase in climate-related comments the Division has issued during the disclosure review process, and many of the sample comments appear to be derived from actual comment letters issued in 2021. The sample is consistent with the SEC’s 2010 Guidance Regarding Disclosure Related to Climate Change, which does not mandate specific, line item climate change-related disclosures, but instead takes a principles-based approach.

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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.

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After a disappointing showing in Mexico’s recent mid-term elections, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (commonly referred to as AMLO) and his party (i.e., Movimiento Regeneratión National or MORENA, commonly referred to as Morena) will face greater hurdles to unwinding “la Reforma Energética” (2013 Energy Reforms), the energy policy reforms adopted by the then-ruling party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI).

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Environmental justice (“EJ”) is a central focus of the Biden administration’s environmental agenda.  On Day One in January, the administration emphasized the importance of EJ in the federal government’s efforts to tackle climate change and to address the disparate impact of decisions affecting natural resources.  In addition, many states are implementing their own EJ requirements.  In the wake of issuance of new and enhanced EJ policies by both the federal government and states, it behooves lawyers in multiple disciplines to account for EJ issues in their legal practice.  The focus of most commentary on EJ issues has been on facility siting and the impacts of “polluting” activities on minority and economically disadvantaged communities.  This article, in contrast, addresses EJ in transactional practices.  Specifically, we identify some of the EJ issues practitioners may confront and seek to manage in merger and acquisition, asset purchase and sale, real estate purchase and sale, facility siting and/or construction, Brownfields development, financing and underwriting contexts.

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Yesterday, the European Commission (the Commission) – the executive branch of the European Union (EU) – adopted a package of proposals to deliver on the EU’s ambitious target of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 55% by 2030. These proposals – collectively known as “Fit for 55” – are only part of the suite of legislative tools, legal obligations, and policies to be rolled out under the European Green Deal, a broad non-binding action plan intended to make the EU’s economy more sustainable and help Europe become the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050. The comprehensive package of twelve policies proposed yesterday contains the following key initiatives:

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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.”

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Waterfront development in Massachusetts has a new problem.  In particular, projects that rely on a municipality’s approved municipal harbor plan and a corresponding building height exemption from what the Massachusetts waterfront development law otherwise requires will likely be blocked, at least for now.  The impact is not limited to Boston, as municipal harbor plans reach deep into waterfront zoning and development statewide.

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On Earth Day, as expected, the Biden-Harris Administration continued its efforts to fulfill campaign commitments on climate change.  The big announcement came on what is called the “Nationally Determined Contribution” or NDC.  The Administration announced that the United States will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 50% by 2030.  This reflects an increased commitment from the United States’ prior commitment of cutting emissions by 25% from 2005 levels by 2025.

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Environmental justice and equity issues have taken center stage as part of the national conversation on the environment, climate change and racial equality. As we have explained, environmental justice will be a central focus of the Biden administration, as reflected in a recent Executive Order that declares federal agencies:

shall make achieving environmental justice part of their missions by developing programs, policies, and activities to address the disproportionately high and adverse human health, environmental, climate-related and other cumulative impacts on disadvantaged communities, as well as the accompanying economic challenges of such impacts.

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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.

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As the Biden Administration settles in and begins to appoint its designees to key executive and administrative agencies, a series of policy objectives are coming into focus.  Chief among them is expanded attention and regulation in the ESG space regarding environmental, social and governance issues at American businesses. In this post, we survey the expected direction of these initiatives at, for example, the SEC, Department of Labor, and EPA.

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On January 28, 2021, and for the second time in a month, the Massachusetts Legislature passed historic legislation designed to holistically address issues associated with the effects from climate change.  Governor Baker has 10 days to sign it, veto it, or return it to the General Court with recommended amendments.

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The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is poised to outline its planned steps to achieve the goals of its climate change-focused policies.  On December 7, 2020, the Massachusetts Executive Office for Energy and  Environmental Affairs (“EOEEA”) hosted a webinar to discuss the development and pending release of the Massachusetts Decarbonization Roadmap to 2050 (the “Roadmap”), which EOEEA indicates it will publish this month. The Roadmap constitutes the plan of the Commonwealth to identify cost-effective and equitable pathways and strategies for Massachusetts to reach Net Zero emissions by 2050, and the priorities to achieve an on-pace interim goal by 2030. In addition to the development of the Roadmap, the Commonwealth is in the process of preparing the 2020 update to the Clean Energy and Climate Plan (“CECP”), which is mandated to receive updates every five years under the Global Warming Solutions Act (“GWSA”).

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One of the most frequent terms heard in conjunction with President-Elect Biden’s energy and environmental agenda is “environmental justice,” which is often described as an overarching objective as well as a key component of the incoming administration’s climate agenda.  This post looks at how the Biden Administration may translate environmental justice principles into concrete executive actions, and how project proponents can prepare for increased focus on environmental justice in their permitting.

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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.

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Following a public review process, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (“DOER”) recently found, among other factors, that the costs of a solicitation for independent offshore wind energy transmission outweigh the potential benefits.  Accordingly, the agency decided not to require the Massachusetts Electric Distribution Companies (“EDCs”) to pursue a joint competitive transmission only solicitation.  The DOER’s findings were presented in a letter to the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunication, Utilities and Energy, as a supplement to the DOER’s prior findings in its Offshore Wind Study, which was published just over a year ago.  This action appears to close the latest chapter in a several year effort to advance a coordinated transmission for offshore wind resources.  How this fits into the Commonwealth’s long term energy strategy remains an open question, which may need to be revisited as the Commonwealth aims to keep pace with its Global Warming Solutions Act greenhouse gas emissions limits.

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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).

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As we have previously reported, in July 2020, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published its highly anticipated final rule to improve its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations, the first comprehensive revision of the NEPA implementing regulations in over forty years.  The final rule, which has generated much controversy and spurred numerous lawsuits, goes into effect today.  This post provides a brief update on the pending litigation and implementation of the new rule.

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On July 16, 2020, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published its highly anticipated final rule to improve its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations.  The update, which largely mirrors the proposed rule, is the first comprehensive amendment to the regulations since their original publication in 1978.  The final rule is designed to streamline the NEPA review process, clarify important NEPA concepts, and codify key guidance and case law. 

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On June 30, 2020, Democratic members of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis unveiled a 538-page report that calls for reaching net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions economy-wide by 2050. The report, titled “Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy and Just America,” includes over a hundred policy recommendations to meet the 2050 goal.

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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.

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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.

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The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is pursuing various regulatory actions to implement state policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electric generation resources. As we previously reported, the Commonwealth is planning to implement a Clean Peak Standard (“CPS”) program this summer, which is designed to have renewable electricity generation resources “show up at the right time” on the grid to coincide with times of peak demand. In a complementary action, the Commonwealth has now doubled the size of its Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (“SMART”) incentive program, along with new  performance standards for the siting of these renewable generating resources. While these changes to the SMART program were adopted as emergency regulations—making them effective immediately—the Commonwealth will go through the notice and comment rulemaking process over the next few months to provide for continued input from stakeholders on the new regulations and associated guidance.

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[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.

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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.

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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.

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Facing growing criticism that they impede sustainable development goals, investment protections afforded by traditional international investment agreements (IIAs) are steadily eroding. Increasingly, the trend is toward provisions allowing host states greater flexibility to regulate environmental, transparency, human rights and other social impacts. At the same time, enhanced corporate social responsibility (CSR) obligations have become more common in recent IIAs.

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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).

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The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently published Guidance for Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 (Guidance), outlining steps employers can take to help protect their workforce. The Guidance focuses on the need for employers to implement engineering, administrative, work practice controls and personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as considerations for doing so. While there is no specific OSHA standard covering infectious disease or COVID-19 in particular, some OSHA requirements may apply to preventing occupational exposure to the virus including OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens standard (29 C.F.R. § 1910.20) Personal Protective Equipment (29 CFR 1910 Subpart I) Hazard Communication (29 C.F.R. § 1910.1200) and Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (29 C.F.R. § 1904). Also, the General Duty Clause of OSHA which requires employers to provide a “place of employment . . . free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”

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Hunton Andrews Kurth lawyers Aaron Flynn and David McSweeney discuss corporate management of external stakeholder interests in environmental social and governance issues, including climate change concerns and associated legal risks that can become presented.

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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”).

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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.

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Grocery shopping, you stand in the dairy section. The milk in front is dated three days out, but you see the milk toward the back is dated ten days out. You push aside the “three-day” milk and grab a half-gallon of the organic, one-percent “ten-day” milk. You may have just contributed to “food waste.” If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, behind only China and the United States.

While food waste has been an issue for some time (the statistic above has been circulating since at least 2011), the last 18 months have seen the United States government taking a more active role in the subject. In October 2018, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), (collectively, the Agencies) signed a formal agreement increasing their collaboration and coordination regarding the reduction of food waste as part of a newly announced Winning on Reducing Food Waste initiative (Federal Agreement).

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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.

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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.

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An independent panel of academics, engineers and other experts, in November 2019, released a draft set of international standards for tailings storage facilities (TSF). During mining operations, ore is reduced into sand-sized particles and mixed with water before the valuable minerals are removed and the remaining milled rock slurry—called tailings—flows to the TSF, an engineered impoundment. It is estimated there are over 3,500 TSFs globally.

The driver for these draft international standards is two recent catastrophic failures of TSFs in Brazil. In January, a TSF owned and operated by Vale in the state of Minas Gerais, near Brumadinho, collapsed, sending a tidal wave of mid and other debris downstream that killed over 250 people. Another TSF owned and operated by Samarco failed in Minas Gerais at Mariana in November 2015, killing 19 people and spreading pollutants over 400 miles of surface waters, eventually reaching the Atlantic Ocean.

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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.

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In his annual letter to CEOs, Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock expressed his belief that climate change and sustainability were important considerations in investment risk assessments. Investment based on these concepts is often captured under Environmental, Social and Governance Criteria, commonly called ESG. In his letter, Mr. Fink emphasized that he believes “we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.”

BlackRock’s letter builds on the ever-advancing trend in corporate institutional investing over the past decade regarding the examination of corporate valuation and investment risk within the context of ESG issues, otherwise referred to as sustainable investing.

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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.

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After conducting a “listening tour” in 14 cities across the state, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) has recently released proposed new rules for flood mitigation funding.  The proposed rules implement new legislation and measures[1] adopted in the aftermath of recent notable flooding events experienced in Texas, including Hurricane Harvey, a storm that resulted in an estimated $125 billion in damages.  As a result, the state will now play a significant role in funding flood mitigation infrastructure.  The new measures include, among other things, the TWDB’s implementation of the legislative transfer of about $800 million from the state’s rainy day fund, mainly funded by oil and gas taxes, to a newly-established flood infrastructure fund (FIF).  

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Last week, Annie Kuster (D-NH) along with four other Democratic members of Congress introduced a proposed Natural Gas Act (NGA) amendment aimed at banning the use of eminent domain for construction or expansion of interstate natural gas pipeline infrastructure through lands subject to conservation restrictions in favor of, or owned by, non-profit entities or local governments. The proposed legislation is “The Protecting Our Conserved Lands Act of 2019.”

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Going green has gone mainstream. Perhaps nowhere is this more pronounced than in the automotive industry. J.P. Morgan estimates that, by 2030, electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids will make up 59 percent of the global market share, up from about 1 percent in 2015. What may be the most important feature of the EV revolution is its power source: lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. They are not new; they have been powering cell phones and computers for years. What is new is their large-scale use to power automobiles (and, some day, trucks and buses) and significantly reduce emissions. As our colleagues Samuel L. Brown and Lauren A. Bachtel note in an article to be published in the ABA’s Natural Resource & Environment magazine, components of Li-ion batteries include metals (e.g., lithium, cobalt, nickel) that are costly to extract and process. As demand for them increases, pressure to re-use or recycle batteries will increase.

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On August 12, 2019, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) (together, the Services) signed final rules instituting the first comprehensive revisions to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations in 33 years. The Services made substantial and broad revisions to their regulations concerning the process and standards for listing species and designating critical habitat, the scope of protections for threatened species and the process for consultation with federal agencies.

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The Endangered Species Act increasingly plays a larger role in environmental law and the federal permitting process for infrastructure projects. Hunton Andrews Kurth Partner Kerry McGrath and Associate Brian Levey give an inside look at the complex process of obtaining federal authorization for “take” of endangered species.

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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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Twenty Democratic candidates took the stage in Miami on June 26-27, with the hopes of winning over voters in the first 2020 Democratic presidential debate. During the four-hour event, top Democratic candidates contentiously debated hot button issues, such as immigration, gun control and healthcare. When it came to the topic of climate change, however, the debate left some viewers wanting more.

Although climate change has been deemed one of the most important issues for Democratic voters ahead of the 2020 presidential election, only about 15 minutes in total between the two nights were dedicated to the issue. Given the sheer number of participants and the debate format, it was difficult for the candidates, including those with fully formulated climate change platforms, to articulate any detailed substantive policy. Nevertheless, there were still some key takeaways from the first debate’s limited discussion on climate change.

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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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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a draft environmental assessment (EA) evaluating the potential environmental impacts of lifting the federal coal leasing moratorium. Publication of the draft EA opens a 15-day comment period that ends on June 6, 2019. This review was necessitated by the April 19 decision of the US District Court for Montana in Citizens for Clean Energy, et al v. Department of the Interior, et al. The court held that BLM’s actions in lifting the moratorium via a March 2017 secretarial order (Zinke Order) were arbitrary and capricious and in violation of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) because it was a major federal action for which there was no such review. The court did not immediately reinstate the coal leasing moratorium or require a specific environmental review, but instead stated that BLM had an obligation to study the environmental impacts of lifting the coal leasing moratorium and required the parties to submit additional briefing on the remedy.

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The Department of Treasury and Internal Revenue Service have released Notice 2019-32 seeking comment on key issues to be interpreted in the Section 45Q carbon oxide sequestration tax credit. Congress significantly enhanced the Section 45Q tax credit in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, increasing the credit from $10/ton for CO2 used as a tertiary injectant (i.e., to produce oil or gas) to $35/ton; and increasing the credit for CO2 geologically stored but not used as a tertiary injectant from $20/ton to $50/ton. See our previous blog post here for additional details on the applicable credit amounts for projects before and after enactment of the Bipartisan Budget Act and other credit amount details.

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A recently successful effort by Wisconsin utility MGE Energy to exclude an environmental proposal from its proxy statement may signal a new approach for boards of directors to consider when managing vexatious shareholder proposals.

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On Wednesday, February 7, Congressman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced a federal resolution to recognize a “duty” of the federal government to create a Green New Deal (GND). This blog discussed the GND in a post on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis on January 31.

Addressing climate change may be a primary focus of the resolution, but “green” is perhaps a misnomer, as the resolution calls for action on issues well beyond climate or the environment generally.

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One of the first orders of business for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was to reinstate the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. This committee previously existed from 2007-2011 as the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming but was not renewed by Republicans when they gained control of the House in the 112th Congress. The new Select Committee will be chaired by Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-FL).

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A recent US Court of Appeals decision could have broad implications for how federal wildlife agencies consider potential climate change impacts on species and their habitat. Pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) must determine whether to list a species as endangered or threatened based on “the best scientific and commercial data available.” 16 U.S.C. § 1533(b)(1)(A). Given the inherent uncertainties and limitations of forecasting specific population changes (or habitat changes) on the basis of climate change projections, the Services may find that potential climate change impacts on a species are too speculative to support a decision to list a species. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, however, recently overturned a FWS decision not to list a species on that basis. In reviewing FWS’s decision not to list the arctic grayling, a cold-water fish species found in Montana, a three-judge panel found that FWS failed to adequately explain why uncertainty regarding future impacts of climate change justified its conclusion that listing the species was not warranted.

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Each year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center puts out a forecast for the upcoming hurricane season, stressing the dangers posed by hurricanes and the need to prepare. About this time last year, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in South Texas as a Category 4 and resulted in historic flooding. The devastating aftermath of the hurricane still continues. Preparation for and responding to incidents, such as those caused by Hurricane Harvey, has become increasingly more complex and more important than ever.

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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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On July 19, 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or Commission) held its July 2018 open meeting. This meeting was Commissioner Powelson’s last, following his announcement on June 28, 2018, that he would be leaving the agency.

Highlights of the meeting include the following:

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The Corps Struggles to Balance Competing Constitutional and Statutory Duties

Federal agencies must often balance competing policy concerns and legal requirements. This process may be difficult and fraught with intense public feedback, and frequently results in litigation. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) has found itself in the hot seat over how it manages the nation’s rivers, pitting its obligations under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) against private property rights. Litigation in the federal courts may soon determine whether, and if so how, responsible the federal government is for unintentional or incidental flooding when the government manages rivers for the benefit of listed species. These cases also bring to the fore a burning question: When can government agencies be held responsible for natural events? With the increase in climate change-related litigation nationwide, this issue will likely only rise in prominence.

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Earlier this month, the United States House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology published a staff report entitled “Russian Attempts to Influence U.S. Domestic Energy Markets by Exploiting Social Media.” The report is the result of the Committee’s investigation into Russian efforts to influence U.S. energy markets.

See the full report on PipelineLaw.com.

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While still early in the new administration, emerging enforcement trends are beginning to indicate that EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) will continue to pursue cases involving fraud in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. We noted last summer that EPA and DOJ have pursued numerous enforcement actions against renewable fuel producers and importers that generated invalid Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs), which are the “currency” of the RFS program. Although it is reasonable to assume the vast majority of program participants comply with EPA’s regulations, the program has suffered from high profile cases of fraud and abuse requiring federal enforcement, including criminal prosecutions. Recent cases and statements by DOJ and EPA officials show that federal prosecution of RFS fraud, particularly that involving multi-state schemes, will continue. And RFS fraud cases may even occupy a larger portion of EPA’s enforcement bandwidth as EPA gives greater deference to states in enforcement of delegated programs like the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

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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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As part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, Congress significantly increased and extended the Section 45Q tax credit for sequestration of carbon oxides. This has been a top priority of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) supporters for several years.

CCS is considered to be essential to global efforts to reduce CO2 emissions. The world’s most respected analysis organizations all estimate that fossil fuel use will increase in the coming decades, even with energy efficiency improvements and vast increases in renewable energy. 

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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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Federal agencies that authorize or permit large infrastructure projects, like interstate natural gas pipelines, are often subject to the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and environmental organizations frequently rely on NEPA to challenge a project. The D.C. Circuit recently struck down a decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to approve the construction and operation of three interstate natural gas pipelines because the Court found defects in FERC’s NEPA analysis. The court’s decision to vacate FERC’s authorization now threatens to shut down the pipelines, including the Sabal Trail pipeline currently supplying natural gas to newly constructed power plants in Florida.

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The regulated community in California may soon have additional reasons to implement supplemental environmental projects (SEPs) when settling an administrative environmental enforcement action. Under a 2009 State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board) policy, settling parties may voluntarily undertake an environmentally beneficial project in return for an offset of a portion of any civil penalty, provided that the project meets certain criteria. The Water Board has now released sweeping proposed amendments to its Policy on Supplemental Environmental Projects (draft SEP Policy) that will incentivize more projects. Most notably, the draft SEP Policy:

Will consider projects that address climate change, such as greenhouse gas emissions reductions or those that build resilience to climate change impacts on ecosystems or infrastructure.

Will allow—subject to approval—greater than 50% of any monetary assessment in administrative enforcement cases to be allocated towards SEPs that are located in or benefit disadvantaged or environmental justice communities, or communities suffering from a financial hardship, or that further the Water Board’s priority of ensuring a human right to water. Under the original policy adopted in 2009, the maximum civil penalty reduction available via performance of a SEP is capped at 50%.

Will allow up to 10% of oversight costs to be included as part of the total SEP amount for the same reasons above. Otherwise, oversight costs are paid in addition to the total SEP amount.

Establishes a new category of SEPs called “Other Projects” to allow educational outreach and other “non-traditional” water quality or drinking water-related projects to be considered for approval.

Expands the applicability of SEPs to enforcement actions prosecuted by the Division of Drinking Water and its Districts and the Division of Water Rights.

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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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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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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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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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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).

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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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In a series of orders this week, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit granted motions by EPA to pause cases challenging several Obama-era regulatory actions while the new administration reviews those rules. With those cases on hold, the dispute over the fate of those rules will move out of the courts and into the administrative process.

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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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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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