On August 21, 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a prepublication copy of its proposed Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule. If adopted, the rule would (1) establish emission guidelines for greenhouse gas emissions from existing electric utility generating units (EGUs); (2) revise the regulations governing how states implement the emission guidelines; and (3) revise the New Source Review (NSR) program to allow modification to existing EGUs without triggering permitting requirements.

The Clean Power Plan regulations adopted by the Obama administration would have limited GHG emissions by directing states to reduce emissions by applying a combination of three “building blocks” as the best system of emission reduction (BSER), which consisted of:

1)    Improving heat rate at affected coal-fired steam generating units;

2)    Substituting increased generation from lower-emitting natural gas combined cycle units for decreased generation from higher-emitting affected steam generating units; and

3)    Substituting increased generation from new zero-emitting renewable energy generating capacity for decreased generation from affected fossil fuel-fired generating units.

Continue Reading EPA’s Affordable Clean Energy Rule Would Limit Emissions Through Heat Rate Improvements at Existing Power Plants

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s January 25 change to its “once in always in” policy will allow facilities that have historically been regulated as “major sources” of hazardous air pollutants to be reclassified as “area” sources if they have reduced their potential to emit to below major source thresholds. This is important because companies that are no longer regulated as major sources could see significant cost savings. Husch Blackwell has prepared a list of questions to help facilities evaluate possible benefits from this policy change, as well as other resources including a summary of affected emission standards and a look back at the regulatory language EPA previously proposed to implement a similar change in policy. Review the complete materials on Husch Blackwell’s website.

On January 22, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that challenges to the 2015 Waters of the United States Rule (the “WOTUS Rule” or “Rule”) belong in district court rather than the appellate court. The WOTUS Rule was developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) to clarify which waters and wetlands fall under federal jurisdiction. Numerous parties challenged the Rule in both federal district courts and circuit courts of appeals. The circuit court actions were consolidated in the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In 2016, the Sixth Circuit held that it had jurisdiction to hear petitions related to the legality of the Rule and issued a nationwide stay. This decision was appealed to the Supreme Court by industry groups who argued that, under the plain text of the Clean Water Act, the district courts were the proper jurisdiction.

In an opinion authored by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Court noted that the Clean Water Act lists seven specific categories of EPA actions that federal courts of appeals have the exclusive power to review and the Rule did not fall into a category on the list. The Court determined that it had “no basis to depart from the [Clean Water Act]’s plain language” despite arguments by the U.S. government (forwarded by both the Obama and Trump Administrations) that the Rule was “functionally related” to categories on the list and that efficiency, national uniformity, and other policy arguments weighed in favor of making the circuit courts of appeals the appropriate jurisdiction. The Court reversed and remanded the case to the Sixth Circuit, directing the court to dismiss the petitions for review that had been filed.

Because the Supreme Court’s decision was related to jurisdiction and not the merits of the Rule, what does this mean for the Rule’s future? Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court Sends Waters of the US Rule to District Courts; Nationwide Stay in Question

The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin has sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) over the proposed Aquila Resources Back Forty Mine, arguing that EPA and Corps have failed to take responsibility for reviewing wetland permits for the project. The lawsuit was expected since the Tribe filed a notice of intent to sue in November 2017.

Aquila Resources has proposed an open pit mine, deemed the “Back Forty Mine,” to extract gold, zinc, and other metals. The mine would be located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and adjacent to the Menominee River, which forms the boundary between Wisconsin and Michigan. The river flows into Lake Michigan. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (“MDEQ”) is the permitting authority and has issued three of the four permits required for the project, including a Nonferrous Metallic Mineral Mining Permit, a Michigan Air Use Permit to Install, and a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. A permit for wetland impacts is still required and is under review by MDEQ. Given the location of the wetlands near a commercially navigable interstate waterway, normally the Corps and EPA would have wetland permitting authority and permitting would also trigger an obligation for the federal agencies to consult with the Tribe under the National Historic Preservation Act. However, MDEQ is one of two state agencies which has been delegated additional permitting authority under the Clean Water Act by EPA for permitting of wetlands under federal jurisdiction, and MDEQ is not required to consult with the Tribe.

The Tribe is alleging that the federal government has deprived it of treaty rights that are supposed to protect its cultural and historical sites. The Tribe’s sacred place of origin is within its 1836 treaty territory at the mouth of the Menominee River and there are numerous sacred sites and burial mounds located along the river, including in the area of the proposed mine. The Tribe is also concerned about the potential impact of acid mine drainage from the mine on the water and fishery resources in the area and Great Lakes ecosystem. According to the Tribe, it has been trying to meet and consult with the Corps and EPA for months, but the agencies have not responded in a meaningful way. The Tribe has asked the court to order EPA and the Corps to take over the wetland permitting process.

Watch this blog for additional updates.

On December 18, 2017, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt signed an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (“ANPRM”) to solicit input regarding the emissions guidelines limiting greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions from existing electric utility generating units (“EGUs”) that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“USEPA”) is considering proposing.

The Clean Power Plan regulations adopted by the Obama administration would have limited GHG emissions by substituting generation from lower-emitting existing natural gas combined cycle units and zero-emitting renewable energy generating capacity. Continue Reading EPA Solicits Input on Greenhouse Gas Emissions Limits for Existing Electric Utility Generating Units

Since 2001, Wisconsin law has required a permit to discharge fill into wetlands that do not fall under federal jurisdiction (“nonfederal wetlands”). Of the approximately five million acres of wetlands in Wisconsin, an estimated 10 to 30 percent are nonfederal wetlands.

State lawmakers held hearings on December 21 on proposed legislation, AB547/SB600, which would exempt nonfederal and artificial wetlands from the state wetland permitting requirements administered by the Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”). The bill would still require a developer to mitigate the nonfederal wetland loss by creating a minimum of 1.2 acres of wetlands for every acre filled, but a permit would no longer be required.

The proposed bill also authorizes the DNR to apply to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for delegation of permitting authority for federal wetlands within Wisconsin. If EPA approves the application, the DNR become the permitting authority for fill in federal wetlands instead of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Proponents of the legislation argue that the existing nonfederal wetland permit program often protects low-value wetlands and stands in the way of development projects. Opponents argue that the existing program is necessary given the uncertainty of the definition of federal wetlands; that nonfederal and artificial wetlands provide valuable ecosystem services such as flood control and water quality protection; and that mitigation attempts often fail or do not create the same benefits as the fill wetland.

Legislative action on the bill is expected when the legislature returns to session in January 2018.

The U.S. EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have proposed to delay the effective date of the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule which clarifies which waters and wetlands fall under federal jurisdiction. According to the agencies, the delay is necessary to help avoid confusion among home builders, contractors, and miners.

The 2015 WOTUS rule has an effective date of August 28, 2015, but Continue Reading EPA and Army Corp Propose to Delay Effective Date of WOTUS Rule

This week, United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a directive to end the Obama-era “sue and settle” practice of the agency.  Under the existing practice, environmental and special interest groups sue EPA to try to force the agency to take certain actions, and the agency typically settles those lawsuits by entering into private settlement agreements and public consent decrees.  Those settlements often lead to the promulgation of environmental regulations, what Pruitt calls “the results of collusion with outside groups” that, according to him, takes place behind closed doors and excludes intervenors, interested stakeholders, and affected states from the process.  Pruitt wants to put a stop to the Continue Reading Pruitt Directive Puts a Stop to EPA’s Sue and Settle Practice

As anticipated, on October 10 the EPA signed a proposed rule to repeal the Clean Power Plan rules for existing stationary sources. The proposed rule concludes that the Clean Power Plan exceeds EPA’s authority under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act by regulating emissions by (among other approaches) substituting generation from lower-emitting existing natural gas combined cycle units and zero-emitting renewable energy generating capacity.

Rather, EPA has now determined that Continue Reading Update on the Proposed Repeal of the Clean Power Plan

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has announced his intention to act today to sign a proposed rule that would “withdraw the so-called Clean Power Plan of the past administration.” This move by the agency is no surprise, given President Trump’s campaign promises to bring back coal and Pruitt’s lawsuit challenging the rule filed in his capacity as the Oklahoma Attorney General.

The goal of the Clean Power Plan rules is to significantly limit Continue Reading EPA’s Regulatory Process to Withdraw Clean Power Plan Rules Starts Today