Supreme Court Agrees to Take Up CERCLA Suit Against U.S. Government

On January 8, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court took up a Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) dispute involving the territory of Guam and the United States. At issue in Guam v. United States is who must pay for cleanup costs associated with a landfill formerly operated by the U.S. Navy, into which the Navy deposited spent munitions, chemicals, and other waste. Although Guam asked EPA to address the landfill under CERCLA, the agency proceeded under the Clean Water Act (CWA) instead, and in 2004, Guam entered into a consent decree under the CWA under which the territory agreed to close and remediate the landfill.

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D.C. Circuit Strikes Down ACE Rule

On January 19, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down the Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE), which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgated in 2019 to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP had sought to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing power plants, in part, by authorizing states to increase renewable generation. As explained in a previous post, EPA had reasoned that it had the discretion to define the best system of emission reduction (BSER) at a plant under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act (Act) to include measures employed outside the facility (such as new renewable resources) that were located “beyond the fenceline.” Stayed by the Supreme Court in 2016, the CPP never went into effect. Instead, the Trump administration repealed the CPP and replaced it with ACE. In ACE, EPA reasoned that Section 111 of the Act required EPA to only find BSER to be a technology that could be applied “inside the fenceline” on the facility.

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Biden Administration to Review Environmental Regulations, Policies; Revokes Some Trump Executive Orders on Energy Infrastructure

On January 20, 2021, President Joe Biden issued an executive order, “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis.” The order directs executive agency heads to review hundreds of agency actions implemented during the Trump administration, including more than 120 related to energy and the environment. In addition, the order suspends or revokes, in whole or in part, nearly one dozen executive orders issued by the prior president directly tied to energy infrastructure.

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EPA Publishes “Transparency in Science” Final Rule

On January 6, 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA or the Agency) published a final rule, “Strengthening Transparency in Pivotal Science Underlying Significant Regulatory Actions and Influential Scientific Information.” EPA published the proposed rule in April 2018 and followed it with a supplemental notice in March 2020. The final rule establishes how EPA will consider the availability of dose-response data, and it is narrower in scope than both the proposed rule and the supplemental notice, as it is restricted to “those studies that describe the quantitative relationship between the dose or exposure of a pollutant, contaminant, or substance and an effect.” (more…)

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Finalizes 16 Nationwide Permits

On January 5, 2021, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) released a prepublication version of its final rule reissuing and modifying 12 existing Nationwide Permits (NWPs) and issuing four new NWPs. NWPs authorize activities under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 when those activities will result in “minimal individual and cumulative adverse environmental effects.” In addition to finalizing 16 NWPs, the rule also changed general conditions and definitions associated with those NWPs. Through this action, the Corps did not reissue or modify the remaining 40 existing NWPs, which will remain in effect until March 18, 2022.

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