D.C. Circuit Upholds USEPA Decision to Not Require Financial Assurance Under CERCLA for Hardrock Mining

We have previously blogged (in June 2019 and 2017) on a proposed rule released during the final days of the Obama Administration which required hardrock mines to provide financial assurance demonstrating they are able to fund the costs associated with the future cleanup of the mines under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), the federal statute designed to address releases of hazardous substances and the cleanup of hazardous waste sites nationwide. In December 2017, the USEPA stated its intention not to issue the final rule, finding that there was no need for any CERCLA financial assurance mechanism for operating hardrock mines based on existing federal and state programs as well as modern mining practices. Several environmental organizations filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, challenging the USEPA’s decision not to issue the rule.
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As discussed in prior blog posts, the Federal Circuits became split (Part 1) in 2018 on whether the Clean Water Act (“CWA” or the “Act”) regulates discharges of pollutants from point sources that reach navigable waters through nonpoint sources, such as groundwater. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in one of those Circuit decisions (Part 2), and the case is still in front of the Supreme Court. While U.S. EPA had requested comments on this and other issues (Part 3), the agency’s current position was unknown until recently. On April 15, 2019, EPA released an interpretive statement and corresponding press release providing new guidance on whether the CWA permitting requirements apply to discharges directly to groundwater (78 Fed. Reg. 16810 (April 23, 2019)).

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The Trump administration announced in December 2018 its proposed replacement rule defining “waters of the United States.” Under the proposed rule, the number of wetlands that fall outside of federal jurisdiction is expected to increase.

Phillip Bower and Megan McLean weigh in on what this means for state regulation of non-federal wetlands in the recent

yellow blue smoke from two tubes of plantPer- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS”) are synthetic chemicals used in a number of industrial processes and in the manufacturing of certain consumer goods because of their fire resistance and because they repel oil, stains, grease, and water. There are approximately 3,500 different compounds under the umbrella of PFAS. Some of these were used in firefighting foam, which in some places, including near airports, were spread over the ground to prevent forest fires. The most well-known versions, and considered to be of greatest concern, are long chain PFAS, perfluoroctanoic acid (“PFOA”) and perfluoroctane sulfonate (“PFOS”).
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As mentioned in a prior blog post, the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin (“Tribe”) sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) over the proposed Aquila Resources Back Forty Mine (“Mine”) located in Michigan, arguing that EPA and Corps have failed to take responsibility under the Clean Water Act

Husch Blackwell’s Daniel Fanning and Coty Hopinks-Baul provide interesting insights in the latest post from the CWA Series on whether or not a permit is required for discharges to groundwater under the Clean Water Act.
Read more here.

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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.


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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