Articles Posted in Environmental Law

by
Coal residuals, “one of the largest industrial waste streams,” contain myriad carcinogens and neurotoxins. Power plants generally store it on site in aging piles or pools, risking protracted leakage and catastrophic structural failure. Regulations implementing the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), 42 U.S.C. 6901, were long delayed. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), facing public outrage over catastrophic failures at toxic coal residual sites, and directed by a federal court to comply with its obligations under RCRA, promulgated its first Final Rule regulating coal residuals in 2015, 80 Fed. Reg. 21,302. Opponents challenged that Rule under the Administrative Procedure Act and RCRA, which requires EPA to promulgate criteria distinguishing permissible “sanitary landfills” from prohibited “open dumps.” Each claim relates to how coal residuals disposal sites qualify as sanitary landfills. EPA announced its intent to reconsider the Rule. The D.C. Circuit denied the EPA’s abeyance motion; remanded as to pile-size and beneficial-use issues; vacated 40 C.F.R. 257.101, which allows for the continued operation of unlined impoundments and a provision that treats “clay-lined” units as if they were lined; found the Rule’s “legacy ponds” exemption unreasoned and arbitrary; rejected claims by industry members that EPA may regulate only active impoundments; found that EPA provided sufficient notice of its intention to apply aquifer location criteria to existing impoundments; and held that EPA did not arbitrarily issue location requirements based on seismic impact zones nor arbitrarily impose temporary closure procedures. View "Utility Solid Waste Activities v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

by
At issue in this appeal was whether the EPA had authority under Sections 307(d)(7)(B) and 112(r)(7) of the Clean Air Act (CAA) to delay the effective date of the Chemical Disaster Rule of January 13, 2017, for twenty months for the purpose of reconsideration, and, if so, whether it properly exercised that authority. The DC Circuit held that, where EPA has exercised its Section 7607(d)(7)(B) authority to delay the effectiveness of a final rule, it cannot avoid that statute's express limitations by invoking general rulemaking authority under a different statutory provision. The court also held that, in any event, EPA's promulgation of the Delay Rule was arbitrary and capricious where EPA's explanations for its changed position on the appropriate effective and compliance dates were inadequate. Therefore, the court granted the petitions for review and vacated the Delay Rule. View "Air Alliance Houston v. EPA" on Justia Law

by
Petitioners challenged FERC's approval of an application from Algonquin to undertake an upgrade to its natural gas pipeline system. The DC Circuit dismissed the Delegation's petition for review for lack of jurisdiction because the Delegation failed to establish that it had standing to seek review of the Commission's decision where its individual members did not suffer an injury in fact from the pipeline project. The court held that the remaining petitioners adequately demonstrated standing and thus reached the merits of their petitions. On the merits, the court held that the Commission did not act arbitrarily and capriciously in declining to consider Algonquin's three projects in a single environmental impact statement. The court explained that, for purposes of the AIM Project, the Commission adequately considered the cumulative impacts of the other two projects based on the information then available to the agency. The court also held that the Commission gave adequate consideration to the cumulative environmental impacts of the three upgrade projects. View "City of Boston Delegation v. FERC" on Justia Law

by
Once the NRC determines there is a significant deficiency in its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance, it may not permit a project to continue in a manner that puts at risk the values NEPA protects simply because no intervenor can show irreparable harm.The DC Circuit granted a petition for review in part of the Commission's grant of a license to Powertech to construct a uranium mining project in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The court held that the Commission's decision violated NEPA where the Commission conditioned enforcement of NEPA on a showing of irreparable harm by the Tribe, but lacked an adequate environmental analysis when it first issued the license and the significant NEPA deficiencies identified by the Board remained unaddressed at the time of the Commission's decision. The court further held that it did not have jurisdiction to review the bulk of the rulings challenged by the Tribe because the Commission's order did not end the agency proceedings as to all issues. View "Oglala Sioux Tribe v. NRC" on Justia Law

by
Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club challenge and EPA rule used to determine whether an event caused by recurring activity was "natural," and thus "exceptional," or "caused by human activity," and thus not exceptional. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA protects air quality by enforcing state and local limits on the amount of pollution. EPA need not count against those limits pollution caused by "exceptional events." The DC Circuit denied the petition for review and held that the 2016 Rule preserves the Act's distinct treatment of natural events. The court reasoned that the Act's exceptional-event provision permits EPA to attribute emissions to natural causes when they were also caused by regulated human activity. View "Natural Resources Defense Council v. EPA" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law

by
The DC Circuit denied Big Bend's petitions for review of FERC's two orders authorizing facilities to export natural gas from the United States to Mexico. The court held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider Big Bend's argument that the Trans-Pecos Pipeline is an export facility because Big Bend failed to present this argument to FERC on rehearing. The court also held that substantial evidence supported FERC's finding that the Trans-Pecos Pipeline was a non-jurisdictional intrastate pipeline subject to regulation by the State of Texas; the Trans-Pecos Pipeline was not subject to federal jurisdiction; and the court declined to adopt the theory that FERC's involvement in authorizing the Export Facility was enough to federalize the pipeline. View "Big Bend Conservation Alliance v. FERC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law

by
In 2015, PennEast Pipeline sought a certificate to build a natural gas pipeline running through Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Riverkeeper intervened to oppose the project. In 2016, while the Commission was still reviewing the proposal, Riverkeeper filed suit seeking declaratory relief against the Commission and its members, alleging that FERC's funding structure creates structural bias, in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, by incentivizing the Commission to approve new pipelines in order to secure additional sources for its future funding. Riverkeeper also challenged the Commission's use of tolling orders to satisfy its 30-day deadline for acting on rehearing applications. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. The DC Circuit held that Riverkeeper properly filed this case in the district court; Riverkeeper established Article III standing; and Riverkeeper had a viable cause of action. On the merits, the court held that the Environmental Rights Amendment did not create federally protected liberty or property interests, much less ones that FERC could infringe; and regardless of whether any protected liberty or property interests were implicated, the Commission was not a structurally biased adjudicator, and its use of tolling orders was not facially unconstitutional. View "Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. FERC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law

by
The DC Circuit denied Delaware's petition for review of the EPA's grant of an extension for a multistate region to comply with national ozone standards. After determining that Delaware may petition the court for review of the EPA's decision, the court held on the merits that the EPA had authority under 42 U.S.C. 7511(a)(5) to grant three states' requests to extend the Philadelphia Area's attainment date, even though Delaware was not among them. The court also held that the EPA did not act arbitrarily or capriciously when requiring New Jersey to comply only with its EPA-approved state implementation plans (SIP). Finally, the court rejected Delaware's contention that Maryland and Pennsylvania could not submit certifications of compliance with their SIPs without evidence to substantiate the certifications. View "Delaware Department of Natural Resources v. EPA" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law

by
Petitioners challenged FERC's grant of a 30 year license to continue power generation on a portion of the Coosa River. The DC Circuit held that the Commission's environmental review and a biological opinion it relied on were unreasoned and unsupported by substantial evidence, and thus its issuance of the license was arbitrary and capricious. In this case, a review of the licensed project's impact on the environment and endangered species documented that the project would cause a 100% take of multiple endangered species; the Commission concluded that licensing the generation project would have no substantial impact on either the River's ecological condition or endangered species; and thus the Commission declined to factor in the decades of environmental damage already wrought by exploitation of the waterway for power generation and that damage's continuing ecological effects. The court dismissed the first petition, granted the second petition, vacated the licensing decision, and remanded for further proceedings. View "American Rivers and Alabama Rivers Alliance v. FERC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law

by
Petitioners challenged the EPA's final rule entitled "NESHAP for Brick and Structural Clay Products Manufacturing; and NESHAP for Clay Ceramics Manufacturing" and the EPA's partial denial of reconsideration of the rule. Environmental petitioners contended that the EPA erred in its use of health-based standards for acid gas emissions, failed to properly explain its methodology in setting maximum achievable control technology-based (MACT) standards, and improperly allowed brick plants to meet alternative emissions floors. Industry petitioners contended that the EPA made multiple errors in its methodology in the rule. The DC Circuit denied the industry petitioners' petitions for review and granted the environmental petitioners' petition for review as to the EPA's use of a health threshold to set the emissions limit for acid gases; the EPA's ad hoc adjustments of upper prediction limit calculations; and the EPA's provision of alternative MACT floors for brick plants. The court denied the environmental petitioners' petition for review as to the general application of the upper prediction limit to limited datasets as defined by the EPA. The court remanded the rule for further proceedings. View "Sierra Club v. EPA" on Justia Law