Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two important environmental cases—one that could change the approach to routine maritime charters and another that could introduce a potentially punishing permitting regime via a CWA citizen suit.
Two recent decisions from federal appeals courts illustrate once again that the courts will extend significant judicial deference to federal agencies that are grappling with controversial and complicated issues subject to their jurisdiction.
Sustainability has evolved from a passing trend or niche preference into an undeniable, growing driver of the real estate market. This is particularly true as millennials comprise an increasing proportion of the workforce, home-buying population, and individuals influencing the future of real estate development in the United States.
The pre-publication version of the final rule to be promulgated by EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) to repeal the 2015 redefinition of the Clean Water Act’s term “Waters of the United States” which is the linchpin of these agencies’ regulatory power under the CWA, was made available on September 12, 2019. The rule should be published in the Federal Register in the next few weeks, and it will be effective 60 days thereafter. Many challenges are expected to be filed in the federal courts.
The federal courts have recently decided two significant Clean Water Act (CWA) cases: State of Georgia, et al. v. Wheeler, where the US District Court for the Southern District of Georgia held that the 2015 rulemaking proceeding of EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers redefining the term “Waters of the United States” in the CWA violated the Act as well as the Administrative Procedure Act; and the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, et al. v. Glaser, where the appeals court ruled that the lower court erroneously interpreted a CWA NPDES permitting exception involving agricultural return flows.
This is a brief survey of many of the environmental and regulatory laws passed by the Texas Legislature and signed by the Governor in the 86th Regular Session of the Legislature, which ended in May 2019. Altogether, more than 1,300 laws were enacted in this session, including a surprising number of environmentally related bills. Most of these new laws take effect on September 1, 2019. This survey places them in the following broad categories: Air, Water; Waste; Disaster (principally because of the effects of Hurricane Harvey); and Miscellaneous. (Special thanks to Jay Bowlby, a summer intern in our Houston office, who made a significant contribution to this survey.)
The U.S. Court of Appeals or the District of Columbia has recently issued two important rulings on the Clean Air Act in particular and administrative law in general: California Communities Against Toxics, et al., v. EPA and Murray Energy Corporation v. EPA.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit decided the case of Allegheny Defense Project, et al. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on August 2, 2019. In a Per Curiam opinion, the court denied petitions challenging the Commission’s orders permitting the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company’s expansion of an existing natural gas pipeline which extends from northern Pennsylvania across the Carolinas into Alabama. The expansion is called the “Atlantic Sunrise Project.” In February 2017, FERC approved the expansion, and denied various petitions, filed by environmental organizations and affected landowners, who then challenged the decision in the DC Circuit. However, the court concluded, on the basis of the administrative record, that these challenges “cannot surmount the deferential standards of agency review and binding DC Circuit precedent.” Under the law, the Commission must consider whether the projected pipeline project meets a market need, and whether the public benefits outweigh the harms. If both criteria are satisfied, FERC will, as in this instance, issue a certificate authorizing the pipeline’s construction, and that certificate also empowers the certificate holder to exercise eminent domain authority under to the Natural Gas Act when necessary. It was the latter consequence of the FERC’s determinations that caused several Pennsylvania landowners to file their objections with the Commission and seek to stay construction.
In January 2017, the outgoing Solicitor of the Department of the Interior issued a memorandum which reaffirmed the Department’s “long-standing interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that the MBTA prohibits the incidental taking of migratory birds.” In December 2017, following the change in administrations, the Department’s Primary Deputy Solicitor, exercising the authority of the Solicitor, issuing a new memorandum which withdrew and replaced the January 2017 interpretation. In response to this change in policy, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued new guidance as to what now constitutes a “prohibited take.” This change in policy has been challenged by several states, the National Audubon Society and the National Resource Defense Council. On July 31, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York consolidated these challenges and denied the bulk of the Government’s motion to dismiss these petitions for review. This decision is National Resources Defense Council, et al. v,. U.S. Department the Interior.
On July 26, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration can access $2.5 billion in Defense Department funds to replace and enhance sections of barrier along the southern border in Arizona, California and New Mexico. The Court’s 5-4 decision in Trump v. Sierra Club stayed an injunction and let the administration access funds that were frozen by decisions of a federal district court in California in May and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (agreeing with the district court) on July 3. The significance of the decision is that the administration can now move forward with the work—for which contracts have already been awarded, but not finalized—while litigation brought by environmental groups proceeds in lower courts, a process that will take several months.