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Environmental Trends

28 January 2021

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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26 January 2021

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 Instead, the Trump administration repealed the CPP and replaced it with ACE.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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17 December 2020

EPA Draft PFAS Guidance Would Subject Range of Articles to Significant New Use Rule

On December 10, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a draft guidance for imported articles that may contain long-chain perfluoroalkyl carboxylate chemical substances (LCPFAC), a subgroup of certain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), as part of a surface coating and that would be subject to its Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) if a manufacturer seeks to resume using them. (more…)

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10 December 2020

EPA Issues Clean Air Act Cost-Benefit Rule

On December 9, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized its Clean Air Act (CAA) cost-benefit rule. The procedural rule sets requirements for evaluating the benefits and costs of regulatory decisions, which EPA believes is necessary to ensure transparency and consistency in the rulemaking process. The main requirements are as follows: 1) EPA must prepare a benefit-cost analysis (BCA) for all significant proposed and final regulations under the CAA; 2) BCAs are developed in accordance with best practices from the economic, engineering, physical, and biological sciences; and 3) EPA must increase transparency in the presentation of the benefits and costs resulting from significant CAA regulations. (more…)

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08 December 2020

U.S. Department of Energy Implements Updated Regulations on National Environmental Policy Act Compliance for Natural Gas Act Authorizations

On December 4, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued a final rule updating the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) implementing regulations applicable to its review of applications to export domestically produced liquified natural gas (LNG) to non-free-trade-agreement countries under Section 3 of the Natural Gas Act. DOE has determined that these actions are categorically excluded from NEPA review because 1) DOE is required by Section 3(c) of the Natural Gas Act to authorize these exports and 2) the reasonably foreseeable environmental effects DOE must review are limited — beginning at the point of export and extending to marine transport effects only. DOE is also removing reference to the import of LNG from its NEPA implementing regulations because the Energy Policy Act of 1992 leaves DOE with no discretion in its approval of such imports.

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03 December 2020

Environmental Protection Agency Issues Interim Strategy Memorandum to Address PFAS in Federally Issued Water Permits

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Water has published a new interim strategy memorandum for addressing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits issued by EPA. The memorandum includes recommendations generated by a cross-agency workgroup, which conducted a review of existing Clean Water Act (CWA) section 402 NPDES permitting authorities to determine where and how currently unregulated contaminants like PFAS may fit into the permitting process. Under the CWA, the NPDES permit program regulates point sources that discharge pollutants into waters of the United States. Currently, there are no CWA water quality criteria or effluent guidelines for PFAS, an umbrella category of thousands of synthetic chemicals historically used in industrial manufacturing processes for their flame-resistant and nonstick properties.

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25 November 2020

Environmental Justice Features in Early Biden Transition Planning

Earlier this month, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden announced multiple picks for the transition team with an environmental justice (EJ) focus. Leading the transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is Patrice Simms, who is vice president for healthy communities at Earthjustice. Simms has advocated for environmental enforcement focused on low-income communities and communities of color, and he has critiqued the Trump administration on the same topic. The transition team also includes alumni of the Obama administration with a reported record on EJ issues.

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