Energy & Environmental Law Blog

Energy & Environmental Law Blog

Analyzing the critical energy and environmental issues of the day

Clean Power Plan Formally Published – Full Steam Ahead for Challengers!

Posted in Climate Change, Federal, Rulemakings

The U.S. EPA formally published the final version of the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan on Friday, October 23, an action which starts a 60 day period within which to challenge the rule.  On the same day, 26 challenges were filed, asking the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to invalidate the rule.  Several of those petitions asked the Court to stay the rule while the challenges are heard.  The plaintiffs include more than two dozen states and a number of energy-generating entities that rely on fossil fuels. Read More

Curiouser and Curiouser: Sixth Circuit Not Sure of Jurisdiction but Stays WOTUS Rule Anyway

Posted in EPA, Rulemakings, Water Law

Does this make sense to you?  Eighteen states petitioned the Sixth Circuit to challenge the new rule adopted by EPA and the Corps of Engineers defining “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act.  Then the petitioners move the court to dismiss their own petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, but at the same time request a stay of the rule.  And then, the court acknowledges it may not have jurisdiction but issues the stay anyway!  That is exactly what Sixth Circuit did in the case published today.

This case is among many seeking to block the rule.  The Clean Water Act confers original jurisdiction upon the circuit courts for challenges to “effluent limitations or other limitations.”  But as reported earlier in this space, thirteen states convinced a federal district judge in North Dakota that he had jurisdiction because the WOTUS rule is merely definitional, and neither an effluent nor other limitation.

The court concluded that petitioners have a good chance at prevailing on the merits, that the rule exceeds “guidance” given by the Supreme Court in extending CWA jurisdiction too broadly.  The court also indicated that the final rule may have strayed too far from the notice given in the proposed rule in its definitions of jurisdictional waters.

The majority was not troubled by the fact the parties are still briefing subject matter jurisdiction, finding that it had plenty of authority to preserve the status quo pending a jurisdictional determination.  The dissent took the view that the proper sequence is to first decide jurisdiction, then decide on a national stay of a rule years in the making.  Pants first, then shoes.

Did the majority consider the situation an emergency that required immediate action?  No, the court found that petitioners were not persuasive that irreparable harm would occur without a stay, but neither could the court find any harm with freezing implementation of the rule.  The reasoning seems to be that we’ve muddled through so far, let’s take a step back and consider all the implications before implementation.

Why do the states prefer to go after the rule in the district courts instead of the circuit courts of appeal?  Maybe they believe they can forum shop to find conservative judges and build a favorable body of case law before appealing.  Or maybe they believe they can more directly attack the science underlying the rule or otherwise augment the administrative record.  Whatever the reasons, the ultimate return of this issue to the Supreme Court will be delayed and the law dealing with regulation of wetland fills will remain as confused as ever.

BP has settled its Clean Water Act penalty claims, but important questions remain to be decided

Posted in Environmental Quality, Health and Safety, Litigation

The United States and BP lodged their proposed settlement of the remaining claims by the US in connection with the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill with the US District Court today. Comments to the Justice Department are due by Friday, December 4, 2015.  The details of the proposed settlement, which includes the largest Clean Water Act penalty in US history, had been earlier announced in the press, and are summarized on the Proposed Consent Decree Fact SheetRead More

Senate Bill 350 Calls for Higher Renewables Portfolio Standard, Higher Energy Efficiency Targets, an Expanded System Operator, but No Petroleum Reduction Targets

Posted in California, Climate Change, Renewables

As most of you know by now, Senate Bill (“SB”) 350, the much-chronicled and debated Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015, passed out of the California Legislature and is currently awaiting signature by Governor Brown.  The bill currently includes the following significant changes to California’s energy and climate goals: Read More

Corporate Wrongdoing: More Civil and Criminal Liability for Individuals?

Posted in Federal

The US Department of Justice has issued a memorandum to all of its prosecuting Divisions, directing changes to the principles applied by DOJ in prosecuting civilly or criminally individuals who engage in corporate misconduct. Press attention to the memorandum has focused on the application of those principles to Wall Street investment and banking firms, due to the absence of individual prosecutions despite several massive settlements with large banks over serious financial misconduct.  However, the principles apply broadly to all DOJ enforcement activities, including environmental enforcement.  Their application may affect a company’s ability to obtain favorable treatment for voluntary disclosure, and may also impact how companies handle separate representation for their employees. Read More

EPA’s Audit Policy eDisclosure: Electronic Self-Reporting for Environmental Violations

Posted in EPA, Rulemakings

Reporting uner EPA’s audit policy, which has provided relief from gravity-based penalties to those who self-report, is about to become much easier.  This fall, EPA expects to launch a centralized web-based “eDisclosure” portal that will make self-disclosure just a mouse click away.  The requirements of the audit policy remain unchanged (e.g., violations must be disclosed within 21 days, corrected within 60 days of discovery, etc.) but reporting will be done electronically.  In addition, for certain Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know (EPCRA) violations that are self-reported, EPA will issue an electronic Notice of Determination (eNOD) and resolve the violations with no assessment of civil penalties.

For more information on EPA’s audit policy and on the eDisclosure system, go to


Migratory Bird Treaty Act Narrowly Interpreted: the Fifth Circuit Joins the Eighth and Ninth Circuits

Posted in Federal, Litigation, Natural Resources, Rulemakings

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court decision holding CITGO liable for three misdemeanors under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) for bird deaths (the opinion lists 35 birds, including “twenty (regular old) ducks”) resulting from uncovered equalization tanks at its Corpus Christi refinery. The court also reversed two Clean Air Act (CAA) convictions for failure to cover the tanks.  Read More

First Blood: North Dakota Federal Court Strikes WOTUS Rule

Posted in EPA, Rulemakings

With so many challenges filed in so many venues to EPA’s Waters of the United States or WOTUS rule, it seemed inevitable that some plaintiffs somewhere would find a sympathetic court.  And so it is that thirteen states found U. S. District Judge Ralph R. Erickson to preliminarily enjoin the “exceptionally expansive view” of the government’s reach under the Clean Water Act.

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California PUC Set to Address Handling of Confidential Records

Posted in California

On August 14, 2015 California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Rafael Lirag extended the deadline for public comment in the CPUC Confidentiality/Public Records Act rulemaking proceeding. This proceeding will have a major impact on record submitters (utilities), public advocates, and news agencies alike by dictating how, and which, documents will remain confidential when submitted in CPUC proceedings. Read More

Windfarm Industry Suffers Setback as Court Rejects 30 Year Eagle Permit Rule

Posted in NEPA, Renewables, Rulemakings

On August 11, 2015, a district court in Silicon Valley remanded a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) rule issued in 2013 that had extended the potential term of incidental take permits under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Eagle Protection Act) from 5 years to 30 years.  Bird protection groups challenged FWS issuance of the rule extending the potential permit length without first conducting an environmental assessment, which the court held was fatal to the action’s validity. The extension had been promulgated by FWS to assist wind power companies in obtaining financing of facilities that typically were expected to operate for 20-30 years.

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