In what the Court of Appeals describes as “the infamous government-created environmental disaster known at the Flint Water Crisis,” a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has ruled that some of the government personnel responsible for this disaster may be liable, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for monetary damages based on the Substantive Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The case is Guertin, et al., v. State of Michigan, et al., decided on January 4, 2019.
With the close of 2018, the Competitive Enterprise Institute released a report asking “how is President Donald Trump’s regulatory reform project going”? Their answer: “Better than Obama, Bush II, and Clinton in terms of fewer regulations, but not as good as Trump’s own first year.”
On December 3, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court invited the Solicitor’s views on the contested issues whether discharges to groundwater are subject to an he National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, and whether there is an “ongoing violation” of the Clean Water Act for Citizen Suit jurisdiction when the source of the pipeline spill has been fixed, yet not all pollutants have been cleaned up.
On December 26, a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit accepted an interlocutory appeal of the presiding District Court’s pre-trial rulings in the novel climate change case that is being tried in Oregon. The case is Juliana, et al. v. United States of America.
An unusual Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, known also as Superfund) remedial action has resulted in a broad ruling that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) remedial actions and their implementation by EPA contractors may be entitled to broad protection from liability insofar as the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) is involved. The case is Gadsden Industrial Park LLC v. United States of America, CMC Inc., and Harsco Corporation, an unpublished opinion released by the court on November 30, 2018.
On December 3, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a Federal Register notice advising the regulated community that EPA’s controversial Clean Air Act (CAA) stationary source Risk Management Program (RMP) rules are effective as of December 3, 2018 – the Final Rule: Accidental Release Prevention Requirements: Risk Management Programs Under the Clean Air Act (83 FR 62268). The initial package of the RMP rules was promulgated in 1996, but a series of chemical explosions prompted the development of new rules, whose process safety, third party auditing, emergency response, preparedness and information sharing provisions were designed to confront these challenges.
The latest iteration of these rules was published on January 13, 2017, or only a few days before the new administration took office. The new administration took various administrative steps to delay them for a while. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in its August 17, 2018 decision in Air Alliance Houston, et al., v EPA, held that the arguments made to delay the effective date of these rules were not consistent with the relevant provisions of the CAA. The Court of Appeals also stated that EPA retains authority under the CAA to ”substantially amend the programmatic requirements of the Chemical Disaster Rule, and pursuant to that authority, revise its effective and compliance dates, subject to arbitrary and capricious review.”
The California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) recently posted final adopted text for amendments to the CEQA Guidelines. The result of over five years of development efforts by the Governor’s Office of Planning & Research and CNRA, the amendments are the most comprehensive update to the CEQA Guidelines since 1998. In “Natural Resources Agency Finalizes Updates to the CEQA Guidelines,” Pillsbury environmental attorneys Norman F. Carlin, Kevin Ashe and Eric Moorman explore the wide range of issues covered in the amendments, including the new Vehicle-Miles-Traveled (VMT) methodology for analyzing transportation impacts; use of regulatory standards as significance thresholds; environmental baselines; and numerous procedural and technical improvements.
On November 23, the latest National Climate Assessment, Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), was released by the U.S. Global Research Program, as required by the Clean Air Act. The Assessment, comprising three volumes and 1600 pages, contains some rather bleak findings which the Report usefully summarizes. Here’s a description of these findings.
On November 27, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling vacating and remanding the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Weyerhaeuser Company v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Court of Appeals had affirmed the District Court’s ruling that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) properly designated, under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a large tract of land located in Louisiana as a critical habitat suitable for the endangered Dusky Gopher Frog, which currently is only found in Mississippi. This is an important ruling under the ESA, and it will be very interesting to see what happens when the case is returned to the Fifth Circuit.
The Louisiana land is owned by the Weyerhaeuser Company and a group of family landowners, who have challenged these decisions of the Service and the lower federal courts. Weyerhaeuser Company v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service was argued on October 1, 2018. Justice Kavanaugh did not participate because he was not on the Court at the time of the oral argument. Continue reading