On June 25, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to rescind a Trump-era methane rule using its Congressional Review Act (CRA) authority, which includes special procedures that allow Congress and the President to rescind certain rules promulgated during a prior administration, within defined time limits. The Senate passed the CRA resolution disapproving the rule on April 28, 2021. The measure garnered bipartisan support in both chambers. Congress presented the resolution to President Biden, who signed it on June 30, 2021.
On June 21, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia dismissed a lawsuit by environmental groups challenging a Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) July 2020 rule changing how agencies undertake National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews. Filed in June 2020, Wild Virginia et al. v. Council on Environmental Quality et al. alleged that CEQ’s rule violated NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and asked that the rule be vacated. Because other federal agencies have not yet drafted the procedures implementing the rule and might never do so under the Biden administration, the court concluded that the challenge was not ripe.
On May 25, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion in a case addressing whether a settlement agreement resolving Clean Water Act (CWA) liability can ripen a cause of action for contribution action under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund). For companies crafting settlement language related to environmental contamination or preparing to file contribution claims, Guam v. United States provides an important consideration regarding what potential liabilities to include or leave out.
On April 29, 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it plans to add certain chemicals to companies’ annual release reporting requirements. The Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) established the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) to track releases of certain chemicals that EPA deemed a threat to human health and the environment. EPCRA requires certain facilities to issue annual reports showing their releases of chemicals so that such releases can be included on the TRI.
On April 30, 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Assistant Administrator for Enforcement, Lawrence Starfield, issued a memorandum outlining agency enforcement plans in communities with environmental justice concerns. Given the Biden administration’s focus on environmental justice both during the campaign and since the inauguration, this memorandum is not a surprise. The memorandum follows on Administrator Michael Regan’s message to EPA employees regarding the agency’s commitment to environmental justice, which was discussed on this blog on April 13.
On March 11, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a decision approving of Grant County, Washington’s, special power rate for cryptocurrency miners. In Cytline, LLC, et al. v. Public Utility District No. 2 of Grant County Washington, a group of cryptocurrency companies sued after a Grant County utility district created a special energy rate applicable only to cryptocurrency miners. The companies had moved to Grant County because the county had some of the lowest rates for electricity in the country. (more…)
On March 10, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected a challenge to an opinion by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) allowing a South Texas liquified natural gas (LNG) pipeline project to proceed. Sierra Club, et al. v. U.S. Department of Interior, et al. involved a proposed LNG pipeline that would pass through Cameron, Willacy, Kenedy, and Kleburg counties in south Texas. (more…)
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.
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.