Historically, the emissions standards for mobile sources promulgated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been viewed as more ambitious than European Union (EU) standards. The United States’ stringent enforcement of mobile source emission standards may result in significant financial penalties; extensive injunctive relief, such as recalls and high-cost mitigation projects; corporate compliance requirements; and in some cases, criminal indictment.
On the other side of the Atlantic, in the EU, mobile emissions compliance regulations are becoming more robust. In particular, the EU appears to be adopting a stricter approach on emissions through a growing body of case law on the interpretation and application of existing emissions compliance regulations. In a judgment on 17 December 2020, in CLCV and Others, the Court of Justice of the European Union (Court) adopted a potentially broad interpretation on the definition of defeat devices and appeared to limit the scope of exceptions for their use in vehicles sold, registered, or put into service in the EU.1 This judgment is likely to set the benchmark for other proceedings on the admissibility of defeat devices in the EU.
Notably, there are at least six cases pending before the Court on mobile source emissions and the concept of defeat devices for light-duty passenger and commercial vehicles under Regulation (EC) No 715/2007 (Regulation).2
On February 18, 2021, the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) reopened the comment period for its Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on the Certification of New Interstate Natural Gas Facilities. FERC applies its current policy, issued in 1999, to assess whether to issue interstate natural gas transportation facilities a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN), a foundational permit required for their construction and operation. FERC must abide with its obligations under the Natural Gas Act and National Environmental Policy Act when considering pipeline certificate applications. FERC initially issued the NOI in April 2018, seeking comment on whether, and if so how, it should revise its approach to evaluating CPCN applications. The docket has been pending for nearly three years.
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.
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.
On November 2, 2020, several environmental interest groups including the Sierra Club and Earthjustice filed suits in the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Fourth and D.C. circuits challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent Steam Electric Reconsideration Rule (SERR), which rolled back certain Obama-era effluent discharge limitations on coal-fired power plants. (more…)
On August 25, 2020, U.S. Senate Democrats released a “climate roadmap” detailing their legislative goals if the November elections give the party a majority in the Senate. The report, provided by the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis, sets out goals to achieve net-zero carbon emissions, globally, by 2050, such as promoting the use of renewable generation, electrified vehicles, and low-emission cement and steel. (more…)
On June 30, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (D.C. Circuit) ruled en banc 10-1 in Allegheny Defense Project v. FERC to invalidate the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) common practice of issuing tolling orders to extend the time for deciding rehearing requests under the Natural Gas Act (NGA) beyond the 30-day deadline set forth in the statute. The court found that a tolling order, in which FERC “grants rehearing” for the limited purpose of affording it additional time to act on a rehearing request, does not constitute “action” upon the rehearing request as required by the NGA. The decision reversed the approximately 50-year old D.C. Circuit precedent upholding the tolling order practice as permissible. The court derided the practice as an unauthorized way for FERC to stall for time while precluding parties aggrieved by FERC orders from seeking judicial review.
Earlier this week President Trump issued an executive order aimed at bolstering economic recovery as businesses reopen. This has potential for marked effects on environmental enforcement in light of how the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice have already been adapting environmental priorities in the face of the pandemic. (more…)