This is a brief review of the recently released “Climate 21 Project” policy memo. It is the work of many former members of the Obama Administration who are deeply concerned about climate change and what steps the new administration can take in the first 100 days to confront a problem. Offering “actionable advice” rather than a policy agenda, the group recognizes that Congress must do its part by providing new statutory authorities within the early days of the new administration, and the President must be prepared to aggressively exercise the powers of his office. As the members of the Group see it, there are four interlocking crises facing the President: (a) the COVID-19 pandemic; (b) the economic devastation visited upon many people by the pandemic; (c) racial injustice; and (d) accelerating threats posed by climate change.
This roundup of recent environmental and regulatory law rulings and rulemakings includes an EPA deadline extended, a NEPA exclusion and PSM application upheld, and an unsuccessful appeal to the federal officer removal doctrine.
On March 2, 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency revised its “On-Site Civil Inspection Procedures” in accordance with Executive Order 13892 . (The rules are located at 40 CFR Part 31.) These rules set forth the components of an appropriate inspection procedure. Briefly, the rules require that, after the inspector’s credential are made available, the object of the inspection will be discussed (and most inspections will be held during regular working hours), consent to enter must be obtained, there should be an opening and a closing conference with facility representatives, safety protocols must be observed, confidential business information must be protected, and there will be an opportunity for split sampling. Once the report is completed, it will be shared with the facility.
Join us on November 12, 2020, for a 45-minute conversation, where Mona and Paul discuss the power sector’s role in the energy transition, the growing prominence of hydrogen and energy storage, collaborating with customers and stakeholders and setting a path toward a decarbonization of the power grid.
To attend this exclusive fireside chat, register here.
In this summary of recent developments in environmental and regulatory law, venues are challenged, standing is upheld, statutory exemption is disputed and more.
THE U.S. SUPREME COURT
Change Must Come from Within … Maryland?
As the new term begins, the Court has agreed to review BP PLC v. Mayor and City Council of Maryland, a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit which held that a climate change damages case filed against many energy companies must be heard in the state courts of Maryland and not the federal courts. The petitioners argue that the federal office removal statute authorizes such removal, and the Fourth Circuit’s contrary decision conflicts with rulings from other circuit courts.
As the end of summer approaches, the courts have provided a potpourri of relevant environmental decisions.
FEDERAL COURTS OF APPEAL
Town of Weymouth, et al. v. Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MDEP)
On August 31, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit issued an opinion revising the mandate of its earlier June 3, 2020, ruling in the case. In the earlier ruling, the court vacated the grant by the MDEP of an air permit to Algonquin Gas Transmission to build and operate an air compressor station, ordering the agency to “redo” its Best Available Control Technology analysis within 75 days. Algonquin asked the court to reverse without vacatur because the agency could not comply within the time limits established by the court. The First Circuit agreed, and established a new deadline for the agency of January 19, 2021.
The last few weeks have yielded a number of interesting developments in the Federal courts.
FEDERAL COURTS OF APPEAL
In re Flint Water Cases
Several local and State of Michigan officials, including the former governor, requested dismissal from the civil litigation seeking damages for the massive failure of Flint, Michigan’s public drinking water system. On August 5, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit agreed that the plaintiffs, residents of Flint, have successfully pled a case that the conduct of the defendants so “shocked the conscience” that a claim for a violation of their substantive due process rights was appropriately alleged. The defendants, including the former governor, argued that they were entitled to a qualified immunity defense. The court rejected this argument on the basis of the earlier decisions made by the court in this matter. Judge Sutton concurred because he was bound by this precedent, but remarked that the evidence for the governor’s culpability was very thin; he was not intimately connected to the extraordinary error in judgment. The majority was very upset with this concurrence as indicted by their own opinion.
Some very interesting and fairly complex environmental law rulings have been released in the past few days.
U.S. Supreme Court—Trump, et al. v. Sierra Club, et al.
On July 31, 2020, in a 5-to-4 decision, the Supreme Court denied a motion to lift the stay entered by the Court a few days earlier. The earlier action stayed a preliminary injunction issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which had enjoined the construction of a wall along the Southern Border of the United States which was to be constructed with redirected Department of Defense funds. The merits will be addressed by the lower court and perhaps the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
As one would expect, the 110-page document released by the Biden campaign of policy recommendations reached by its joint task forces with supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders includes a number of energy and environmental policy statements.