Posts in Water.
Time 7 Minute Read

On April 10, 2024, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a pre-publication copy of its final rule to establish limits on six per-and-polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The rule will be effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

Time 5 Minute Read

On May 18, 2023, EPA proposed a rule that would expand the federal regulations governing the management of coal combustion residuals (“CCR”) to cover landfills and surface impoundments that were previously excluded from regulation under the CCR rule, first promulgated in 2015 under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (“RCRA”). 88 Fed. Reg. 31,982 (May 18, 2023). The CCR rule, codified at 40 C.F.R. Part 257, sets national minimum standards for the management of CCRs at existing and new landfills and surface impoundments, but it currently does not impose requirements on impoundments at inactive facilities (those that no longer generate electricity).

Time 8 Minute Read

On September 8, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) (together, the Agencies) published a final rule in the Federal Register to amend the Agencies’ January, 2023 “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) definition (Amended Rule). 88 Fed. Reg. 61,964 (Sep. 8, 2023).[i] According to the Agencies, these amendments conform that definition to the Supreme Court’s Sackett decision. 

Time 10 Minute Read

On August 14, EPA published its proposed modifications to regulations establishing the requirements for a state or tribe to assume the Clean Water Act (CWA) section 404 permit program, including necessary state program elements, EPA responsibilities (e.g., approval and oversight of assumed programs), and requirements for review, modification, and withdrawal of state programs.  88 Fed. Reg. 55,276 (Aug. 14, 2023).  The proposal provides helpful clarifications but does not resolve a number of key issues faced by states considering assumption and by permittees in those States. 

Time 3 Minute Read

On May 31, 2023, the Eleventh Circuit in South River Watershed Alliance, Inc. et al. v. DeKalb County, Georgia affirmed dismissal of an environmental group’s citizen suit challenging a Clean Water Act (CWA) consent decree between DeKalb County and government regulators on “diligent prosecution” grounds. The CWA precludes citizen suits if the government is “diligently prosecuting” an action to require compliance with the same standard, limitation, or order for which the citizen suit alleges a violation. The Eleventh Circuit’s opinion may provide guidance to defendants seeking to resolve government enforcement actions and obtain protection from future citizen suits.   

Time 3 Minute Read

On March 29 the US House of Representatives adopted by voice vote an amendment offered by Reps. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) and August Pfluger (R-TX) to speed up Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) review of state applications for primacy to run the Class VI Underground Injection Control (UIC) program. The amendment was included in H.R. 1, the Lower Energy Costs Act, the high-profile energy and permitting reform bill the House approved on March 30.

The UIC program is designed to prevent endangerment of underground sources of drinking water from subsurface injections. The Class VI program specifically regulates the geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide, which is considered to be essential for the world to meet international emission reduction targets. 

Time 3 Minute Read

President Biden issued his second veto late last week. The President’s second veto protects a U.S. EPA rule that went into effect on March 20, 2023. That rule redefines “waters of the United States” (WOTUS), and at a high conceptual level, returns the Agency’s interpretation of WOTUS to that of the Obama administration, an interpretation that was revoked and replaced by the Trump administration.

This matter has been hotly contested in the federal courts. Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to issue a ruling within the next several weeks on Sackett v. EPA, a decision which could substantially revise and narrow the Agency’s definition of “waters of the United States.” The Court’s decision here could send the Biden administration’s revised definition of WOTUS back to EPA for changes needed in-line with the Court’s decision, if and when issued.

Time 3 Minute Read

A Tennessee federal district court recently awarded a defendant summary judgment on multiple Clean Water Act claims because they were time-barred under the “concurrent-remedies” doctrine.  Relying on case law from the Fifth Circuit holding that the concurrent-remedies doctrine is “alive, well, and strong” as applied to private plaintiffs, the court held that the plaintiff’s claims were barred in their entirety with respect to all legal and equitable relief based on the expiration of the limitations period applicable to claims for civil penalties. Starlink Logistics Inc. v. ACC, LLC, No. 1:18-CV-00029, 2023 WL 1456179 (M.D. Tenn. Jan. 31, 2023).

Time 9 Minute Read

Yesterday, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) (together, the Agencies) published a final rule revising the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) subject to federal regulation and permitting requirements under the Clean Water Act (CWA).  This rule is the latest attempt by the Agencies to craft a durable rule defining WOTUS.  The new rule, which largely mirrors the 2021 proposal, asserts a broader geographic scope of federal jurisdiction than the 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR).  In particular, the Agencies adopt the broadest possible interpretation of the Supreme Court’s decision in Rapanos (through incorporation of both the plurality’s “relatively permanent” test and Justice Kennedy’s “significant nexus” test).  The final rule would, for the first time, codify aspects of the Agencies’ 2008 Rapanos Guidance and would rely on the significant nexus test’s case-by-case approach for evaluating jurisdiction for tributaries, wetlands, and other waters.  The Agencies released the final rule while the Supreme Court considers the scope of CWA authority over a major category of WOTUS, “adjacent wetlands,” in Sackett v. EPA, and the Supreme Court could hand down a decision in the coming months that could require changes to the rule.

Time 3 Minute Read

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is inviting informal public comment on the draft TCEQ Regulatory Guidance Document for Evaluation of Regionalization for Potential New Wastewater Systems (“Draft Regionalization Guidance”). Under Section 26.081 of the Texas Water Code, TCEQ is required to implement a policy to “encourage and promote the development and use of regional and area-wide waste collection, treatment and disposal systems to serve the waste disposal needs of the citizens of the state and to prevent pollution and maintain and enhance the quality of the water in the state.”

Time 5 Minute Read

On July 20, 2022, in Naturaland Trust v. Dakota Finance, LLC, No. 21-1517, a split Fourth Circuit panel held that a state agency’s notice of violation did not “commence an action” within the meaning of 33 U.S.C. § 1319(g)(6)(A)(ii). That provision states that a Clean Water Act violation “shall not be the subject of” a citizen suit for civil penalties if a state “has commenced and is diligently prosecuting” an action with respect to the violation “under a State law comparable to” the Clean Water Act. The court also held that this provision is not jurisdictional.

Time 8 Minute Read

On June 15, 2022, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released drinking water health advisories [1] for certain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), resulting in the establishment of:

  1. Near zero updated interim advisory levels for Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) that are not only orders of magnitude below previously established levels, but that are also below detectable levels and, notably, were issued in advance of completion of peer review by EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB); and
  2. Newly issued final advisories at low levels for GenX and PFBS chemicals that have been used as replacement chemicals for PFOA and PFOS.
Time 4 Minute Read

On May 18, 2022, in York et al. v. Northrop Grumman Corp. Guidance and Electronics Co. Inc. et al., No. 21-cv-03251 (W.D. Mo.), a federal district court dismissed state-law tort claims for alleged groundwater contamination, finding that they were preempted by an existing Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) consent decree. The court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that two CERCLA “savings clauses” allow their claims to proceed.

Time 3 Minute Read

On April 5, 2022, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) published a second 15-day notice of modification to its proposed Proposition 65 safe harbor “short-form” warning regulations.  If adopted, the amendments would significantly impact businesses’ use of the short-form warnings.

Time 4 Minute Read

On April 5 and 7, 2022, the State Water Resources Control Board (Board) will be holding public workshops to present information and solicit public input regarding a proposed administrative draft of a hexavalent chromium (chromium-6) maximum contaminant level (MCL). MCLs are drinking water standards with which public water systems must comply. The workshops, and administrative draft of the MCL, will help inform the Board’s formal rulemaking, expected to begin later this year. If adopted, the MCL would be the first drinking water standard for chromium-6 in the nation. [1]

Time 7 Minute Read

I. Introduction

In the 1967 film The Graduate, Mr. Maguire says to Benjamin: “There is a great future in cleaning up microplastics.” That’s not exactly correct, but if the movie were remade today, it might be. [1]

The State of California and the United Nations certainly envision that future. Late last month, California adopted a first-in-the-nation strategy to address microplastics in the environment. Shortly thereafter, on March 2, 2022, the United Nations Environment Assembly adopted a resolution setting up a path to a global treaty to end plastic pollution. And, after adopting the world’s first regulatory definition of “microplastics in drinking water” in 2020, California anticipates additional action addressing microplastics in drinking water as early as this month.

Time 4 Minute Read

Last week, in Residents of Gordon Plaza, Inc. v. Cantrell, the Fifth Circuit denied a petition for rehearing en banc of a recent decision affirming the dismissal of a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) citizen suit. The key issue in the underlying appeal, 25 F.4th 288 (5th Cir. 2022), was whether certain maintenance activities qualify as a “removal” action under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The court affirmed that the maintenance activities do indeed constitute a “removal action.” Therefore, the suit was barred under 42 U.S.C. § 6972(b)(2)(B)(iv), which precludes RCRA citizen suits where a “responsible party is diligently conducting a removal action” pursuant to a CERCLA consent decree with EPA.

Time 10 Minute Read

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.

Time 7 Minute Read

On December 27, 2021, the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) issued a final nationwide permit (NWP) rule  renewing a critical permitting tool for both the government and the regulated community. To comply with the Clean Water Act (CWA or the Act), projects with minimal adverse environmental effects can obtain authorization for the discharge of dredged or fill material into “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) through the Corps’ streamlined NWP process.  With this rule, the Corps reissued 40 existing NWPs and one new NWP.  These 41 NWPs will combine with 16 NWPs issued on January 13, 2021 to authorize use of the full suite of NWPs through March 14, 2026.

Time 11 Minute Read

As a top priority for the Biden Administration and a key component of energy transition plans, offshore wind energy development is front and center and receiving a lot of attention.  The Biden Administration has announced a commitment to create 30 gigawatts of electricity via US offshore wind by 2030. Congress provided a boost to offshore wind development late last year via a 30% investment tax credit to projects that start construction before 2026.  And just last week, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced plans to spur that development by offering a slate of offshore wind lease sales by 2025 in federal waters off the East, Gulf, and West Coasts.

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 5 Minute Read

In the face of accelerating EPA and state regulatory activity on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”)[i], Congress is pressing forward with measures that would address or impose limitations on these “forever chemicals.” More than thirty such legislative measures are currently pending in Congress covering a number of subjects related to PFAS including, but not limited to, those involving military uses, funding assistance, detection and research, product stewardship, site remediation, and regulatory mandates. Of these, the most comprehensive initiative ...

Time 5 Minute Read

In April 2020, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund et al., 140 S. Ct. 1462 (2000), vacating the Ninth Circuit’s decision.  The appeals court had affirmed a district court’s finding of Clean Water Act (“CWA”) liability for the County’s alleged failure to obtain a discharge permit for subsurface releases of pollutants that reach navigable waters by way of groundwater.  In vacating the judgment below, the Supreme Court rejected the Ninth Circuit’s conclusion that a discharge permit is required where pollutants reaching navigable waters are “fairly traceable” to a point source.  It set forth a new standard for determining when a source needs an NPDES permit:  “the statute requires a permit when there is a direct discharge from a point source into navigable waters or when there is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge.”  Id. at 1468 (emphasis added).

Time 6 Minute Read

The lesser prairie-chicken—a grouse whose range covers the western portions of Kansas and Oklahoma; the Texas Panhandle, including the Llano Estacado; eastern New Mexico; and southeastern Colorado—is subject to yet another proposed listing under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).  On June 1, 2021, the US Fish & Wildlife Service (“FWS” or the “Service”) proposed to re-list two distinct population segments (“DPS”) of the species.  86 Fed. Reg. 29,432 (June 1, 2021).  The proposal is subject to a 60‑day public comment period, through August 2.  FWS is expected to issue a final decision within a year.

Time 5 Minute Read

The topic of infrastructure has been front and center in recent weeks, following the Biden Administration’s unveiling of the American Jobs Plan, a massive investment plan to “Build Back Better” the country’s infrastructure.  A critical infrastructure component is water systems—drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater—many of which have deteriorated with age and lack of funding.  The renewed focus on infrastructure proposes to funnel massive investment into upgrading the nation’s water systems, under the American Jobs Plan and a slate of bills now before Congress.  We take a look at what the new infrastructure developments could mean for water systems.

Time 8 Minute Read

As we previously reported, for the first time in over 25 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the formal transfer of Clean Water Act (CWA) section 404 permitting authority to a state.  On December 22, 2020, the State of Florida – only the third state to receive such approval – “assumed” 404 permitting authority from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) in certain waters of the United States (WOTUS).  Since that time, CWA section 404 permit applicants have faced a number of questions about the scope and process of assumed 404 permitting.  Five of the top questions are listed below, followed by their answers.

Time 4 Minute Read

In Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards et al. v. Red River Coal Co., Inc., 2021 WL 1182464 (4th Cir. Mar. 30, 2021), a unanimous Fourth Circuit panel recently affirmed a district court holding that an operator cannot be held liable under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (Surface Mining Act) for a discharge that is otherwise shielded from liability by the Clean Water Act (CWA).  The court’s opinion expressly relied on the Sixth Circuit’s decision in Sierra Club v. ICG Hazard, LLC, 781 F.3d 281 (6th Cir. 2015), which reached the same conclusion.

Time 3 Minute Read

Barack Obama was seven months into his first term as President of the United States, the World Health Organization had declared a H1N1 flu pandemic, and the California State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) adopted the current Construction General Permit for Stormwater Discharges (Permit or CGP).  It was September 2009.  Now, having administratively extended the Permit since 2014 when, by its terms, the Permit expired, the State Board may, under a schedule released late last year, soon release a new draft CGP for public comment, with a goal of adopting it late this summer.

Time 3 Minute Read

The EPA Office of Water has taken a major step towards further regulation of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) under the Clean Water Act.  On March 17, it published an advance notice of a proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) that could lead to development of effluent limitations guidelines (ELGs), pretreatment standards, and new source performance standards for PFAS manufacturers, formulators, and possibly other industries now being studied by EPA.  86 Fed. Reg. at 14,560.  These industries include pulp and paper manufacturers, textile and carpet manufacturers, metal finishing companies, and commercial airports.  The ANPRM is open for public comment through May 17.

Time 4 Minute Read

In April 2020, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund et al., 140 S. Ct. 1462 (2000), vacating the Ninth Circuit’s decision.  The appeals court had affirmed a district court’s finding of Clean Water Act (“CWA”) liability for the County’s alleged failure to obtain a discharge permit for subsurface releases of pollutants into groundwater that conveys pollutants to navigable waters.  In vacating the judgment below, the Supreme Court rejected the Ninth Circuit’s “fairly traceable” test and set forth a new standard for determining when a source needs an NPDES permit:  “the statute requires a permit when there is a direct discharge from a point source into navigable waters or when there is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge.”  Id. at 1468 (emphasis added).  In other words, “an addition falls within the statutory requirement that it be ‘from any point source’ when a point source directly deposits pollutants into navigable waters, or when the discharge reaches the same result through roughly similar means.”  Id. at 1476 (emphasis added).

Time 4 Minute Read

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

Time 4 Minute Read

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

Time 6 Minute Read

Before yesterday only two states had received approval to administer the Clean Water Act (CWA) section 404 program (Michigan and New Jersey), and no state had received approval since 1994.  Now, for the first time in over 25 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the formal transfer of section 404 permitting authority to a third state: Florida.  Once EPA’s approval is published in the Federal Register, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) will “assume” 404 permitting authority from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) in certain waters, significantly altering the 404 permitting process in Florida.  EPA’s decision has broader implications for the 404 program on a national scale, as other states, including Oregon and Minnesota, consider whether to pursue assumption.

Time 3 Minute Read

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.

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 1 Minute Read

For over 40 years, one of the Clean Water Act’s (CWA’s) key regulatory programs has not functioned as Congress originally intended, producing, over time, significant inefficiencies in the federal permitting process that increase costs and delays for developers and hinder environmental review and protection. Today, renewed efforts at both the state and federal levels seek to achieve the objectives established by Congress in 1977. In particular, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that it intends to revise long-standing regulations that have derailed state implementation of the program. EPA’s approach to this rulemaking, and whether it can adequately address critical barriers to state assumption, has the potential to transform the regulatory landscape and produce substantial benefits for states, the public, the regulated community, and the environment.

Time 6 Minute Read

On June 1, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, signed a final rule seeking to increase predictability for applicants by clarifying the regulations that govern the Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 401 water quality certification process.

Time 9 Minute Read

The California State Water Resources Control Board (“State Board”) is poised to become “the first regulatory agency in the world to specifically define ‘Microplastics in Drinking Water.’”[1] In September 2018, the California legislature adopted Health and Safety Code section 116376 via Senate Bill No. 1422, adding microplastics regulations to California’s Safe Drinking Water Act (“SDWA”).[2] This provision requires the State Board to adopt a definition for Microplastics in Drinking Water by July 1, 2020. Additionally, before July 1, 2021, the State Board must: (1) adopt a standard methodology for testing drinking water for microplastics; (2) adopt a requirement for four years of testing and reporting of microplastics in drinking water, including public disclosure of the results; (3) consider issuing a notification level or other guidance to help consumers interpret the testing results; and (4) accredit laboratories in California to analyze for microplastics. The State Board can implement these requirements through adoption of a Policy Handbook, rather than through the formal rulemaking process.

Under the requirements of Health and Safety Code section 116376, water suppliers in California will be the first in the nation to test for microplastics in drinking water.

Time 9 Minute Read

Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States issued its most significant Clean Water Act decision in more than a decade, resolving a split among lower courts over the reach of the Clean Water Act’s “point source” or National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program. Pollutants travel to bodies of water in many ways: by pipe, ditch, or runoff, for example. The Clean Water Act defines some of those ways of moving pollutants as “point sources”—specifically, pipes, ditches, and similar “discernible, confined and discrete conveyance[s]”—and bans the “addition of any pollutant to navigable waters from any point source” without an NPDES permit. But no similar permitting requirement applies to pollution added from nonpoint sources, which is instead controlled by state and other federal environmental laws.

Time 3 Minute Read

On March 20, the California Water Boards issued guidance about complying with regulatory requirements during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders. We summarized that guidance here. In short, the guidance directs regulated entities to “immediately” notify the Board if compliance is not possible and to seek appropriate relief. Water Board staff committed to “do their best to respond within 24/48 hours.”

It has now been a month, and preliminary data about the extent to which regulated entities have sought relief, and how the Regional Water Boards have responded is available. The following information was presented today in a Bar Association of San Francisco’s Environmental Law Section Master Series Roundtable providing detail about extension requests and delays by regulated entities as of the week of April 20 (i.e., at the conclusion of the first month of the policy):

Time 7 Minute Read

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is attempting to thread the needle in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic: offering clarity about ongoing federal environmental obligations to the broad swath of regulated entities faced with the threat of significant disruptions and other challenges, while contending with intense opposition from others who perceive its temporary enforcement policy as a “free pass to pollute” and a failure to enforce legal requirements. Notwithstanding the mounting scrutiny from U.S. Senators, states, and citizens groups, and now a legal challenge, EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) has continued implementing its temporary policy regarding the exercise of enforcement discretion due to the COVID-19 pandemic via issuance of additional guidance on National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) reporting. Other state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC), and the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) (addressed in a separate blog post) have followed EPA’s lead in issuing their own temporary policies related to the pandemic.

Time 10 Minute Read

Regulated industry has been expressing significant concern about disruption as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and seeking assurance from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the extraordinary circumstances across the United States would be taken into account in the event of any unanticipated noncompliance. Yesterday, March 26, 2020, EPA’s (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) Assistant Administrator Susan Parker Bodine responded to these concerns with the issuance of a memorandum addressing the impact of the current global COVID-19 pandemic on EPA’s enforcement program. In it, OECA commits EPA to a “temporary policy” of exercising enforcement discretion for noncompliance “resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” provided that regulated entities follow the steps required in the policy.

Time 5 Minute Read

Waterway ImageEven as COVID-19 is altering daily routines and operations within the federal agencies, all indications are that natural resource agencies continue to work on agency priorities and to advance the regulatory agenda.  Agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), Natural Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) have not indicated any plans, at this point, to delay their efforts on the Administration’s key initiatives. Public interest groups and organizations representing state and local officials have asked the White House to freeze rulemakings that are not directly related to the COVID-19 response effort.  EPA has responded to these requests by noting that it continues to be open for business and is fully functioning.

Time 4 Minute Read

The California State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) and the nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards (the Regional Water Boards) recently published guidance on complying with regulatory requirements during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders.[1]

California Governor Gavin Newsom’s “stay-at-home” order was issued on March 19, 2020, just a few days after similar “shelter-in-place” orders were issued by seven counties in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The state-wide order and the county orders require residents to “shelter at their place of residence” but provide an exemption for individuals performing “Essential Activities,” “Essential Government Functions,” or to operate “Essential Businesses.”

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 2 Minute Read

On March 2, 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed its new Multi-Sector General National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit (MSGP), which authorizes the discharge of stormwater associated with industrial activity. 85 Feb. Reg. 12,288 (March 2, 2020). The 2015 MSGP expires on June 4, 2020. The MSGP authorizes stormwater discharges associated with a wide range of facilities and activities, including oil and gas, mining and mineral processing and manufacturing, among other operations.

The MSGP authorizes discharges in only those states where EPA is still the NPDES permitting authority (Idaho, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Mexico), Indian country, US Territories and other select jurisdictions. However, most states model their state-specific industrial stormwater permits on the EPA’s MSGP, which makes this permit important as the trendsetter.

Time 5 Minute Read

On January 22, 2020, the Texas Senate Committees on Natural Resources and Economic Development and Water and Rural Affairs (Senate Committees) held a joint hearing to consider Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s 2019 interim legislative charge related to one of the most pressing matters facing the state—future water supply issues. This interim charge requires that these legislative committees make recommendations to promote the state’s water supply, including the development of new sources. The recommendations made will be the subject of consideration when the Texas Legislature reconvenes in 2021 and will inform future legislative initiatives. While a broad range of water supply topics was discussed during the hearing, notably, the subject of produced water, including opportunities for reuse within and outside the oil field, continues to be a focal point under review by state policymakers.

Time 6 Minute Read

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).

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 5 Minute Read

The reach of the CWA is “notoriously unclear.” Sackett v. EPA, 132 S. Ct. 1367, 1375 (2012) (Alito, J., concurring). It can be difficult for a landowner to understand whether wetlands or a small creek on his or her parcel, for example, are federal waters that require a Clean Water Act (CWA) permit before the landowner can begin work to build a home, develop the property, or cultivate the land. Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) (together, the Agencies) issued a new, long-awaited final rule, titled the “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” which seeks to streamline and clarify the geographic scope of federal CWA jurisdiction.

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 4 Minute Read

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).  

Time 7 Minute Read

One of the Supreme Court’s recurring environmental law topics is the scope of Clean Water Act (CWA) jurisdiction. Various aspects of CWA jurisdiction and implementation have been addressed over the years by the Court, including the meaning of “navigable waters” in U.S. v. Riverside Bayview Homes, Inc. (1985); Solid Waste Agency of N. Cook Cnty v. Army Corps of Eng’rs (2001); and Rapanos v. U.S. (2006), and judicial review of agency actions related to the applicability of the CWA dredge and fill permit program in Sackett v. EPA (2012) and U.S. Army Corps of Eng’rs v. Hawkes Co. (2016). Most recently, the Supreme Court heard oral argument on November 6 in County of Maui v. Hawai’i Wildlife Fund, et al., a case that addresses the applicability of the CWA’s prohibition on “point source” discharges to “navigable waters” to releases from point sources to groundwater. The Court granted certiorari to address whether releases from point sources that are carried to navigable waters by groundwater are regulated under the federal NPDES permit program or under state non-point source management programs.

Time 2 Minute Read

On November 4, 2019, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the Clean Water Act (CWA) section 404 permit issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) for the extension of an existing phosphate mine in central Florida. Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, No. 18-10541 (11th Cir. Nov. 4, 2019). The Corps permit authorizes the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States that comprise a small portion of the mining extension. Opponents challenged the permit in the Middle District of Florida, claiming the issuance of the permit violated the CWA, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by not considering “downstream” effects, and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The district court rejected all of the claims, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

Time 5 Minute Read

Over the past few years, certain states have relied on ambiguities in the Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 401 water quality certification process to block the construction of significant energy infrastructure projects (e.g., oil and gas pipelines, coal export facilities, and liquid natural gas [LNG] terminals) determined by federal agencies to be in the public interest of individual states, regions, and the nation as a whole. Consistent with the cooperative federalism structure of the CWA—and the important role of states in protecting water quality within their borders—Section 401 requires applicants for a federal license or permit anticipated to result in discharges to navigable waters to obtain a certification from the relevant state that the discharge will comply with applicable state water quality standards. States can waive this requirement, and if they do not act within “a reasonable period of time (which shall not exceed one year) after receipt” of the request for the certification, waiver is automatic. 33 U.S.C. § 1341(a).

Time 4 Minute Read

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

Time 6 Minute Read

Last December, we reported that President Trump signed into law the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the 2018 Farm Bill). Since then, federal and state governments have rushed to implement the new law and state analogs in time for the 2020 growing season. As we have seen with the development of complex new regulatory schemes in other industries, regulatory uncertainty and opportunities abound.

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Which Waters of the US (WOTUS) rule applies to my project? For four years, that has been a recurring question with a complicated, ever-changing answer. The 2015 WOTUS Rule promulgated by the Obama administration was challenged almost immediately, and, because of various district court injunctions, only 22 states are operating under the 2015 WOTUS Rule, while 27 states are subject to the pre-2015 Rule regime; the status of the rule in New Mexico is unclear. Yesterday, EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers (together, the Agencies) signed a pre-publication version of the highly anticipated repeal of the 2015 WOTUS Rule, which will place the entire country under the pre-2015 Rule regime while the Trump administration works to complete its replacement WOTUS definition.

Time 3 Minute Read

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is moving forward with steps necessary to seek delegation of the federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting program for produced water discharges. In doing so, Texas will be joining similar efforts underway or under consideration in the neighboring states of Oklahoma and New Mexico. Should EPA delegate such NPDES authority and separately take action to address the restrictive federal regulatory framework now in effect for onshore produced water discharges, this would result in streamlined and expanded beneficial reuse options for produced water in the key oil and gas producing states in the country.

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 6 Minute Read

A new decision curtails agency discretion to approve total maximum daily loads for impaired waterbodies and sets a precedent that may lead to more stringent National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit limits.

Total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) have been described as “pollution budgets” for impaired waterbodies. A permitting authority developing a TMDL typically considers all known sources of the pollutant at issue (including contributions from point and non-point sources) as well as the relevant characteristics of the waterbody (such as flow rates) and determines how much pollutant the waterbody can receive without exceeding applicable water quality standards. Once a TMDL is adopted for a specific pollutant that is adversely affecting a waterbody, the permitting authority (either a delegated state or EPA) will use the TMDL to derive NPDES permit limits for facilities that are sources of the pollutant.

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.

Time 3 Minute Read

On Thursday, July 11, 2019, the House of Representatives approved amendments to the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act to address contamination from PFAS chemicals.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals are colloquially known as “forever” chemicals due to their ability to build up and to persist over time. PFAS chemicals regulated under this bill have long been used to manufacture a wide range of products, like firefighting foam, cookware, stain repellents, apparel and food packaging and wrappers.

Time 4 Minute Read

On May 15, 2019, EPA released its draft Study of Oil and Gas Extraction Wastewater Management under the Clean Water Act (Draft Study). The Draft Study addresses the results of an extensive review initiated last year to evaluate the management of oil and gas wastewaters generated at onshore facilities and to assess the need for additional discharge options for onshore oil and gas wastewater under the Clean Water Act (CWA).[1] Although EPA has not yet adopted any recommendations for regulatory action, it is evident that EPA is continuing to take a hard look at the merits of authorizing broader discharges of produced water to surface waters than those currently allowed for onshore discharges under the CWA effluent guidelines (and generally referred to as the zero discharge standard).[2] See 40 CFR Part 435, Subpart C. EPA is now requesting additional public comment on the Draft Study by July 1 of this year with the goal of finalizing it and determining next steps this summer.

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On March 15, 2019, the House Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change held a hearing titled, “Protecting Americans at Risk of PFAS Contamination & Exposure.” The hearing examined approaches to eliminate or reduce environmental and health risks to workers and the public from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Time 4 Minute Read

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently determined that no revisions to existing RCRA Subtitle D regulations for the management of oil and gas wastes are necessary. This conclusion follows EPA’s completion of an extensive review to fulfill the requirements of a Consent Decree entered by the US District Court for the District of Columbia that settled litigation filed by certain environmental organizations over EPA’s alleged failure to update its rules for management of oil and gas wastes. EPA’s findings, released on April 23, 2019, are set forth in a report titled, Management of Oil and Gas Exploration, Development and Production Wastes: Factors Informing a Decision on the Need for Regulatory Action (Report). This means that, at least for now, EPA’s longstanding position on regulation of oil and gas wastes remains unchanged.

Time 3 Minute Read

In a lawsuit recently filed in the Southern District of New York, a group of environmental plaintiffs allege that, for nearly 30 years, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has failed to develop worst-case hazardous substance discharge, or spill, regulations under Section 311(j)(5) of the Clean Water Act (CWA). This suit comes on the heels of EPA’s June 2018 proposal not to develop a general hazardous substance spill program under CWA § 311(j)(1) (a provision related to the Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) Rule well known to industrial facilities storing oil) because of the many other programs EPA believes already regulate the prevention and containment of hazardous substance spills. That proposal is expected to be finalized in August 2019 under a 2016 consent decree in which EPA agreed to evaluate the need for general rules governing the prevention and containment of hazardous substance spills. The new lawsuit narrowly focuses on worst-case hazardous substance spills and the need for corresponding facility response plans.

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Over the past several decades, significant tension has developed between the federal role in overseeing and authorizing certain types of energy infrastructure projects and states' roles in regulating water quality under the cooperative federalism structure of the Clean Water Act (CWA or the Act). This tension has played itself out in various contexts, but the most pronounced in recent years has been the battle over CWA Section 401 water quality certifications for energy infrastructure projects, in particular interstate natural gas pipelines.

 

Click here to read the full ...

Time 4 Minute Read

On Wednesday, April 10, President Trump signed an Executive Order (EO), titled Promoting Energy Infrastructure and Economic Growth, that requires the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal agencies to undertake a series of regulatory actions to clarify the Clean Water Act (CWA) § 401 water quality certification (WQC) process. CWA § 401 provides states with the opportunity to evaluate the potential water quality impacts from discharges of proposed projects by certifying whether the discharge will comply with applicable water quality standards. States can waive this requirement, and if they do not act within “a reasonable period of time (which shall not exceed one year) after receipt” of a request for certification, waiver is automatic. 33 U.S.C. § 1341(a). A handful of states have relied on this process to thwart the development of energy infrastructure projects, either by denying certification due to concerns unrelated to water quality (such as opposition to hydraulic fracturing, climate change concerns, etc.) or by ignoring the statutory time period to reach a determination.

Time 3 Minute Read

Everyone can agree that environmental assessments should be based on the best science. The “best” science, however, is an ever-advancing standard. Despite budget uncertainties and other hurdles, EPA scientists often pioneer new methods of assessment capable of detecting smaller and smaller increments of environmental impact. Although it may take years for EPA to develop and demonstrate a new method, stakeholders may benefit from paying attention to the development process and seeking opportunities to participate in it.

Time 3 Minute Read

EPA has shown a little love for states wanting action on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). On February 14, 2019, EPA announced its PFAS Action Plan, calling it “the most comprehensive, cross- agency action plan for a chemical of concern ever undertaken by the Agency.” The Action Plan consists of 23 priority action items with the majority identified as short-term or generally taking place or expected to be completed in the next two years.

Time 9 Minute Read

An interesting confluence of issues may facilitate the creation of an improved regulatory framework for the beneficial use of produced water from oil and gas operations. Water supply and produced water management have the attention of many oil and gas companies for a variety of reasons. Concern over water supply and severe drought has lead a number of states and municipalities to look for sources of water outside the traditional sources of groundwater and surface water. At the same time, environmental groups are concerned over drought impacts to surface water and wildlife. Given the abundance of produced water in some formations, it may be possible to reuse produced water within oil and gas operations and beneficially use produced water outside of oil and gas operations. What are the issues surrounding produced water and how are they impacting the development of regulatory programs governing the use of produced water?

Time 5 Minute Read

“According to FERC, it is now commonplace for states to use Section 401 to hold federal licensing hostage.”

These are the words the DC Circuit used in Hoopa Valley Tribe v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, No. 14-1271, p. 10 (D.C. Cir., Jan. 25, 2019), to describe the state of play on § 401 certifications affecting hydroelectric facility licensing or re-licensing applications. CWA § 401(a)(1) requires, as a prerequisite for federal permits for activities that may result in a discharge into the navigable waters, that affected states certify that any such discharge will comply with applicable, enumerated provisions of the Clean Water Act. But, if a state fails or refuses to act on a request for certification within “a reasonable period of time (which shall not exceed one year) after receipt of such request,” the statute deems the certification requirements waived.

Time 4 Minute Read

With the federal government shutdown finally over after five weeks, the long-term effects are likely to have a lingering impact on regulatory and permitting programs for months to come. Even those federal agencies that were fully funded during the shutdown, such as the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), were stymied in their ability to undertake routine day-to-day operations during the lapse in appropriations. This post highlights two examples of the shutdown’s implications for regulatory reform and permitting in the natural resources arena.

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2018 was a banner year for M&A activity in the energy space, with numerous high dollar value transactions in the upstream, midstream, downstream and oil field services (OFS) segments. As investors in the public securities markets have shown a significantly decreased appetite for new issuances of equity by energy companies, the preferred exit or growth strategy for 2018 has been through strategic mergers, acquisitions or divestitures. These transactions have manifested themselves in various forms: asset acquisitions and divestitures, private equity investment into “drillcos” with strategic oil and gas companies, public-public mergers between OFS companies and upstream shale drillers, and simplification transactions by master limited partnerships (MLPs) in the midstream space. In addition to all this M&A activity, one element has become significantly more prevalent in the oil and gas industry throughout 2018 and shows no signs of letting down for 2019: water.

Time 6 Minute Read

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:

Time 5 Minute Read

Last week, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) (together, the Agencies) issued a long-awaited proposal to redefine the “waters of the US” (WOTUS) subject to federal regulation and permitting requirements under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The reach of the CWA is notoriously unclear, but knowing which areas on your property are jurisdictional and will require permits is critical to project planning and timelines. If finalized, the proposed rule would replace the Obama administration’s contentious 2015 WOTUS Rule and eliminate the regulatory patchwork that currently exists as the 2015 WOTUS Rule is being implemented in only certain parts of the country.

Time 4 Minute Read

Can permitted, well-operated septic systems at vacation resorts give rise to liability under the Clean Water Act (CWA)? That is the question an Environmental Non-Governmental Organization (eNGO) is asking a federal district court to decide in two cases pending in Massachusetts federal court.

Time 5 Minute Read

Responding to an EPA collection request can be costly, time consuming and stressful for the target of the request—especially because failure to submit a timely and accurate response can result in significant civil or criminal penalties. On November 21, EPA’s Office of Water (OW) and Office of Civil Enforcement (OCE) issued new policies that, if followed, promise to make the process more reasoned and less burdensome.

Time 4 Minute Read

With produced water volumes on the rise as a result of the growth in oil and natural gas production and various areas of the country experiencing water scarcity, states and stakeholders are increasingly looking for ways to reuse, recycle and beneficially use waters originating from the oil and gas industry. Two recent initiatives are likely to significantly advance policy decisions related to produced water management.

Time 4 Minute Read

For decades, the precise scope of the Clean Water Act’s point source permitting program has been the subject of much controversy.  Over the past several years, the question of whether that program—known as the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”)—regulates discharges to groundwater that is hydrologically connected to surface water has produced a number of conflicting decisions and a torrent of commentary and public debate.  The Fourth and Ninth Circuits recently concluded that the NPDES program regulates such discharges under certain circumstances, while the Sixth Circuit reached the opposite conclusion, setting up potential review of the issue in the United States Supreme Court.  See Upstate Forever v. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, L.P., 887 F.3d 637 (4th Cir. 2018); Haw. Wildlife Fund v. Cty. of Maui, 886 F.3d 737 (9th Cir. 2018); Ky. Waterways All. v. Ky. Utils. Co., No. 18-5115, 2018 WL 4559315 (6th Cir. Sept. 24, 2018); Tenn. Clean Water Network v. Tenn. Valley Auth., No. 17-6155, 2018 WL 4559103 (6th Cir. Sept. 24, 2018).

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Continuing its vanguard approach to environmental regulation, California is poised to incorporate Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL)-specific requirements into its industrial storm water general permit (IGP). TMDLs are pollutant- and water body-specific and establish the maximum amount of a pollutant a water body can receive while meeting water quality standards. Once effective, these new requirements will provide additional avenues of attack for the already active Clean Water Act citizen suit docket.

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in July issued a long-awaited decision in the case Cooling Water Intake Structure Coalition v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), upholding the EPA’s 2014 Rule establishing requirements pursuant to Clean Water Act (CWA) section 316(b) for cooling water intake structures (CWIS) at existing facilities. The court also upheld the biological opinion (BO) and incidental take statement (ITS) issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (the Services) on the 2014 Rule.

The Second ...

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This summer, California’s State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) adopted amendments to the Underground Storage Tank (UST) Regulations (California Code of Regulations, title 23, division 3, chapter 16). The new regulations, which become effective on October 1, 2018, impose new design and construction, upgrading, monitoring, notification, testing, inspection, recordkeeping, training and reporting requirements on UST owners and operators in California. The State Water Board’s purpose in amending these regulations was essentially two-fold: (1) to effectively make the California UST regulations just as stringent, and consistent with, the federal UST regulations (part 280 of 40 Code of Federal Regulations); and (2) to reduce the risk of groundwater contamination resulting from UST releases.

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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.

Time 5 Minute Read

In May, EPA issued its 2016 Final Effluent Guidelines (ELG) Program Plan, which is EPA’s first screening step to selection of industries for possible revision or development of technology-based limits on wastewater discharges (i.e., effluent limitations guidelines and standards (ELGs)). 83 Fed. Reg. 19281 (May 2, 2018). EPA releases a new ELG plan every two years, and the process bears watching because it cuts across all industry types (there are 59 industries with final ELGs in place) and provides some perspective on EPA’s assessment of pollutants of concern and emerging technologies to address those pollutants.

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The US District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana ordered the $750 million Bayou Bridge pipeline to halt construction within the Atchafalaya Basin when it concluded that the US Army Corps of Engineers’ environmental analysis likely violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act due to the following deficiencies:

  • The Corps did not provide sufficient explanation for how the proposed off-site mitigation would compensate for the loss of wetlands impacted by construction; and
  • The Corps failed to sufficiently consider and address historical ...
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As explained in an earlier post, PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are highly fluorinated manmade compounds that are reported to have a variety of adverse health effects. PFAS are resistant to heat, water and oil. These properties have led to use of PFAS compounds in a wide-range of products designed to be waterproof, stain‑resistant or non‑stick, such as carpets, furniture, cookware, clothing and food packaging. They are also used in fire retardant foam at airfields and industrial processes involving flammable and combustible liquids. PFAS compounds are resistant to chemical breakdown. This property, combined with their extensive use, explain why PFAS compounds are being found in drinking water supplies throughout the country.

Time 5 Minute Read

What is California’s Proposition 65?

California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (Prop 65) is one of the most onerous chemical right-to-know statutes in the nation. It prohibits businesses with 10 or more employees, including businesses that merely ship products into California, from exposing people in California to listed chemicals without providing a “clear and reasonable” warning.

Why Should I Care?

Bringing a Prop 65 action is relatively easy and lucrative for private plaintiffs and their counsel. In 2017, there were nearly 700 cases settled with defendants paying more than $25,000,000 in plaintiffs’ attorneys fees and penalties. This does not include defense counsel fees, business interruption and other costs to comply.

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As the spotlight continues to focus on the City of Flint and its efforts in response to its public health crisis four years ago, water utilities seeking to avoid similar liability (and notoriety) should study Flint as a veritable textbook on potential liability under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the US Constitution, and state law. Part 1 of this series noted that a spate of civil lawsuits and criminal charges were filed in the aftermath of Flint. These cases are still unfolding in the courts.

Time 5 Minute Read

A second district court has agreed that challenges to the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule are likely to succeed on the merits. The US District Court for the Southern District of Georgia issued an order on June 8 enjoining the WOTUS Rule in 11 states. Georgia v. Pruitt, No. 2:15-cv-00079 (S.D. Ga. 2018). The rule was previously enjoined by the US District Court for North Dakota in 13 states. North Dakota v. U.S. EPA, 127 F. Supp. 3d 1047 (D.N.D. 2015). The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) (“the Agencies”) recently promulgated a new applicability date for the 2015 WOTUS rule (Applicability Rule), preventing its implementation until February 2020, but there have been several lawsuits challenging the Applicability Rule. Now, regardless of the outcome of challenges to the Applicability Rule, the 2015 Rule cannot be applied in 24 states[1] until a court issues a final decision on the merits, either upholding or invalidating the Rule, or the Agencies finalize a repeal and/or replacement of the 2015 Rule.

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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.

Time 10 Minute Read

California is considering the first-in-the-nation general industrial stormwater permit incorporating Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL)-related numeric action levels (TNALs) and numeric effluent limitations (NELs). These new standards have the potential to further ramp up federal Clean Water Act (CWA) citizen suit litigation. Under the State Water Resources Control Board’s (State Board) proposed amendment to its stormwater general industrial permit (IGP), a “Responsible Discharger” whose stormwater discharge exceeds an applicable NEL automatically will be in violation of the IGP. Unless it complies with the permit’s existing exceedance response action process, it also will be in non‑compliance if its discharge exceeds an applicable TNAL.

Recognizing these consequences, and the difficulties some dischargers have complying with existing IGP requirements, the State Board is proposing two alternative compliance options. Touted as an effort to promote green infrastructure and water reuse, these options could revamp how industry manages stormwater. Both alternatives involve capture and reuse of the runoff from the 85th percentile 24-hour storm event, with the difference being the stormwater retention location. Under the “on-site” option, retention occurs at the facility. Under the “off-site” option, retention occurs at the local publicly owned treatment works (POTW).

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In a decision issued on April 12, 2018, a Fourth Circuit panel held (2-1) that (1) even though a pipeline leak has been repaired and remediation is ongoing under the supervision of the state environmental agency, environmental groups have standing to sue the pipeline owner, and (2) plaintiffs’ allegation that groundwater continues to carry discharged pollutants to jurisdictional waters through a “direct hydrological connection” supports liability under the Clean Water Act.

Read the full report on PipelineLaw.com.

Time 6 Minute Read

The Administration is considering substantial changes to the current regulatory approach to reducing exposure to lead in drinking water. The US EPA (EPA) is assessing long-term revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule (LC Rule), a Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) regulation that seeks to protect public health by minimizing lead and copper in drinking water, primarily through corrosion control measures. Lead contamination in drinking water has been the subject of national scrutiny in the aftermath of the public health crisis in Flint, Michigan, where high levels of lead leached from aging pipes into the city’s drinking water after the city switched its source of drinking water to the Flint River, the quality of which was more corrosive than the prior source. Congress eventually banned lead pipes in new construction with amendments to the SDWA in 1986, but in a 2016 survey, the American Water Works Association estimated that 6 million lead-containing service lines continue to distribute drinking water to 15-22 million people in the United States. As state and local governments nationwide confront similar challenges, EPA appears poised to address the legacy of lead infrastructure through updates to the LC Rule. In January 2018, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt pledged to update the LC Rule as part of his “war on lead” in drinking water.

Time 2 Minute Read

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.

Time 1 Minute Read

On March 12, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) order finding that delays by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) in reviewing Millennium Pipeline Company’s application for water quality certification constituted waiver of NYDEC’s authority under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

Read the full report on PipelineLaw.com.

Time 1 Minute Read

This week, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana granted a preliminary injunction, halting construction of the $750 million Bayou Bridge Pipeline. Judge Shelly D. Dick concluded that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in authorizing the project, did not provide sufficient explanation for how the proposed off-site mitigation would compensate for the loss of wetlands impacted by construction. In addition, the Court found the Corps’ environmental analysis failed to sufficiently consider and address historical impacts to wetlands from similarly situated ...

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