Articles Posted in Environmental

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The Clean Water Act (CWA) authorizes citizen suits to enforce the provisions of the law which requires a permit to discharge a pollutant from a point source into navigable waters. Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Upstate Forever v. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, held that discharges into groundwater, not surface water, could also trigger the regulatory authority of the CWA if there was a hydrological connection between the groundwater and the navigable, surface, waters. In its a closely-watched case, Sierra Club v. Virginia Electric & Power Company (“VEPCO”), which also involved discharges into groundwater, the Fourth Circuit was bound by this this new and controversial precedent (a Supreme Court review is very likely), but the plaintiffs in the VEPCO case could not establish that the landfill and the settling ponds used by VEPCO were “point sources”—another important element that must be established.

Unless this decision is reversed by an en banc Fourth Circuit ruling or the Supreme Court, VEPCO will avoid millions of dollars in cleanup costs, and this is also a restatement of the limiting conditions placed on CWA citizen suits.

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit’s July 18 ruling, in Shell Oil Company, et al., v. U.S., may have brought to an end a long-running dispute over the impact on World War II government procurement contracts on the liability of major oil companies for the remediation costs at a major Southern California Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund) site — the “McColl site.”

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On August 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decided the “coal combustions residuals” case: Utility Solid Waste Activities Group, et al. , v. EPA. This new Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) case could have important implications for the coal industry and powerplants that use coal.

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On August 17, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in the case Air Alliance Houston, et al., v. EPA, vacated the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “Delay Rule.” The so-called “RMP” ( for risk management plan) rule was substantially amended after a number of plant explosions took place in the past few years. The amended rules were published a week before the new administration took office EPA had delayed the effective date of the Chemical Disaster Rule of 2017 on three separate occasions: January 26, 2017, March 16, 2017, and ultimately to June 14, 2017.

The Court of Appeals held that the actions taken by EPA were not authorized under the relevant provisions of the Clean Air Act (CAA) and were otherwise arbitrary and capricious. The Court of Appeals vacated the Delay Rule of June 14, 2017.

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On August 14, two U.S. Court of Appeals released decisions regarding the interplay between environmental law and the federal tax code.

In the case of Green Gas Delaware Statutory Trust, et al. v. Commissioner of IRS. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the ruling of the Tax Court that the appellants could not claim federal tax credits connected with the generation and sale of “landfill gas” that is produced from decomposing landfill waste. Chief Judge Garland’s opinion begins with

Rumpelstiltskin could spin straw into gold. Rumpelstiltskin, Inc. thought it could do the same for garbage, spinning it into tax credits. The Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service disagreed. So did the Tax Court. So do we.

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released its Superfund Task Force Recommendations 2018 Update (the Update). The Superfund Task Force was established by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to “provide recommendations on an expedited timeframe on how the agency can restructure the cleanup process, realign incentives of all involved parties to promote expeditious remediation, reduce the burden on cooperating parties, incentivize parties to remediate sites, encourage private investment in cleanups of sites and promote the revitalization of properties across the country.” Over the years, thousands of sites have been listed on EPA’s National Priority List (NPL) of Superfund sites, but the process by which listed sites are cleaned up and finally removed from the NPL has been agonizingly slow. The process is governed by the National Contingency Plan rules. The Update states that, as of July 3, 2018, there are 1,346 sites listed on the NPL, and overall, 399 sites have been removed from the NPL.

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Within the past few weeks, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has issued some very significant rulings regarding the construction of new natural gas pipelines. These cases are Berkley, et al. v. Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC, decided July 25; Sierra Club, Inc., et al., v. U.S. Forest Service, The Wilderness Society, et al., v. U.S. Forest Service, and Sierra Club, Inc. et al. v. U.S. Department of the Interior, decided July 27, 2018; and Sierra Club v. U.S. Department of the Interior and Defenders of Wildlife, et al., v. U.S. Department of the Interior, decided August 6, 2018. The first two cases involve the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and the last case involves the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has issued Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity to these pipelines, but since the construction and operation will require various federal permits and authorizations, these federal regulatory actions are frequently being challenged in the courts. Continue reading

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On July 25, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit decided the case of Adorers of the Blood of Christ v. FERC, and affirmed the order of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissing the complaint.  The Court of Appeals held that

A Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)” cause of action, brought by invoking a court’s general federal question jurisdiction, does not abrogate or provide an exception to a specific and exclusive jurisdictional provision prescribing a particular procedure for judicial review of an agency’s action.”

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On July 31, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit decided the case of Jones Brothers, Inc. v. Secretary of Labor, et al., another decision involving the authority of a federal administrative law judge to decide a regulatory controversy. In order to reach this argument, the Court of Appeals had to be certain that it had jurisdiction to hear it, that the Jones Brothers had not forfeited their right to make this constitutional argument to the Court of Appeals. After an exhaustive review of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act, the Court of Appeals concluded that it was empowered to review the appointments issue. Accordingly, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission’s (Commission) decision was vacated, and the Jones Brothers are now entitled to a new hearing before a different judge.

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On July 23, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit decided the case of Cooling Water Intake Structure Coalition v. EPA. Environmental conservation groups and industry associations petitioned for review of a final rule promulgated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pursuant to section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act (CWA), establishing requirements for cooling water intake structures at existing facilities. Denying the petitions for review, the Court of Appeals summarized:

“Because we conclude, among other things, that both the Rule and the biological opinion are based on reasonable interpretations of the applicable statutes and sufficiently supported by the factual record, and because the EPA 3 gave adequate notice of its rulemaking, we DENY the petitions for review.”

This is a significant CWA and Endangered Species Act (ESA) decision involving the operation of major industrial facilities requiring the daily use of large amounts of water taken from adjacent bodies of water.

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