Applying Clean Air Act Permit Requirements to Stationary Sources of Greenhouse Gases

Posted on October 27, 2009 by Chester Babst

I.          Introduction

 

            On September 15, 2009, EPA announced a proposed rule to regulate greenhouse gases (“GHG”) from light-duty vehicles. EPA estimates that the light-duty vehicle GHG regulation could become final as early as the first quarter of 2010, at which time carbon dioxide and the other specified GHG would become air pollutants “subject to regulation” under the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (“PSD”) and Title V permit programs.

 

            The Clean Air Act (“CAA”) “major source” applicability threshold for both permit programs is 100 or 250 tons per year (“tpy”) of any regulated pollutant, depending upon the type of facility. EPA recognized that applying these traditional thresholds to GHG could “overwhelm” permitting authorities and subject the newly expanded regulated community to increased uncertainty, delay, and costs.

 

            In response to these concerns, EPA issued a proposed rule on September 30, 2009 to address how CAA permitting requirements will be applied to stationary sources of GHG emissions. The “Tailoring Rule” would provide temporary relief for some sources, but ultimately leaves the regulated community with the same degree of uncertainty while creating additional legal issues.

 

II.         Litigation Risks

 

            Although EPA acknowledges the significant legal issues associated with agency action to change the statutory “major source” thresholds from 100/250 tpy to 25,000 tpy, it relies on a principle that administration agencies must interpret statutes in a way that avoids absurd results and a principle that administrative necessity can sometimes justify an agency’s plan to implement a statute. Having to rely on these principles as a source of its authority seems only to strengthen the argument that the CAA was not enacted to address GHG, but that is another issue that will be “teed up” by the Tailoring Rule.

 

            Because of the uncertainty regarding EPA’s authority to change the statutory thresholds, the regulated community faces the potential for citizen suits to challenge proposed projects and leaves uncertain the issues of permitting, timing, and cost. As environmental practitioners, we must be sure clients understand these uncertainties as they evaluate any plan to construct or modify their facilities.

 

III.       Permit Delay

 

            Although the Tailoring Rule would dramatically reduce the number of sources initially impacted by application of the PSD and Title V programs to stationary sources of GHG, EPA estimates that PSD permit applications will increase by approximately 100 applications per year, and sources subject to Title V will increase by 3,000. On a percentage basis, these estimates represent significant increases and will further burden permitting authorities at a time when many state agencies are facing or will face meaningful budget reductions (e.g., Pennsylvania’s recently announced 27% budget cut for the Department of Environmental Protection). At a minimum, these added permitting burdens will increase delays in obtaining necessary permits and thereby create additional uncertainty for businesses wishing to grow or modernize their facilities.

 

IV.       Best Available Control Technology for Stationary Sources of GHG

 

            Stationary sources of GHG subject to PSD will be required to install best available control technology (“BACT”). BACT for sources of currently regulated pollutants has developed over the years, so the regulated community, in most cases, has an ability to estimate the potential cost of controls. To the contrary, BACT for stationary sources of GHG is a complete unknown. While some have argued that efficiency improvements should qualify for BACT, others have insisted that traditional add-on emissions control technology is required. Once again, this debate results in cost uncertainty for any project affected by the PSD program and further frustrates business planning.

 

V.        Conclusion

 

            The Tailoring Rule does little to address significant problems and issues that will flow from the application of the PSD and Title V permit programs to stationary sources of GHG. The significant uncertainties created by EPA’s path to regulate GHG under the CAA will likely affect the timing and cost of future permitting. Environmental practitioners must be prepared to communicate these consequences to clients as they plan for the future.

Connecticut v. AEP Decision Supports Public Nuisance Actions Aimed at GHGs

Posted on October 23, 2009 by Gregory Sharp

In Connecticut v. AEP, the Second Circuit upheld the right of state and municipal governments and private land preservation groups to pursue public nuisance claims against electric generating facilities with significant greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), including those operated by TVA,. The plaintiffs alleged that facilities operated by five of the six defendants were the largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the country and among the largest in the world.

 

A recent ACOEL blog by Bob Wyman and Mike Romey touched on the decision in the context of the similar issues raised in the Fifth Circuit’s Comer decision and the Northern District of California’s decision in Kivalina. This blog will focus on some of the specific issues raised in the AEP decision.

 

 

 

The 139 page opinion exhaustively analyzes the numerous issues raised in the appeal, which was taken by the plaintiffs from a dismissal of their complaints by the District Court. The trial court held that the claims were non-justiciable as raising political questions.

The Second Circuit held that the district court erred in dismissing the complaints on political question grounds, that all of the plaintiffs have standing , that the federal common law of nuisance governs their claims, that plaintiffs have stated claims under the federal common law of nuisance, that the claims have not been displaced by Congressional action, and that the TVA’s alternate grounds for dismissal were without merit.

 

The decision turns in large part on the Supreme Court’s landmark “one man, one vote” decision in Baker v. Carr in 1962, which laid out six factors for determining when a complaint raises a non-justiciable political question based on the separation of powers doctrine.

 

One of the central issues was whether the federal common law was inapplicable because Congress had displaced common law rights through legislative action. On the displacement issue, the Second Circuit relied in part on Milwaukee I&II, noting that if Congress does not adopt statutes which cover a plaintiff’s claims and provide a remedy for them, then the plaintiff is free to bring its claims under the federal common law of nuisance. The Second Circuit concluded that Congress had not done so with respect to GHGs.

 

The Court concluded that all plaintiffs satisfied the injury in fact test for federal standing. The states alleged current injury from an increase in carbon dioxide levels that has caused rising temperatures and climate change resulting in reduced snowpack and related harms. The states also alleged future catastrophic injuries from continued increases in temperature, including a catastrophic change in climate when a tipping point is reached.

 

The land trusts alleged no current injury, but alleged future injuries and increased risk of harm. The Court found these injuries constitute “special injuries” to the land trust plaintiffs’ property interests, which are different in kind from injuries sustained by the general public.

In its conclusion, the Court found that, as to air pollution, and GHGs in particular, this case fits the same niche occupied by Milwaukee I with respect to water pollution. Paraphrasing the concluding words of Milwaukee I, the opinion notes: “’It may happen that new federal laws and new federal regulations may in time pre-empt the field of federal common law of nuisance. But until that comes to pass, federal courts will be empowered to appraise the equities of the suits alleging creation of a public nuisance’ by greenhouse gases.”

 

In an interesting footnote, the decision notes that Justice Sonia Sotomayor was originally a member of the panel, but was elevated to the Supreme Court in August, so the appeal was determined by the remaining two members of the panel.

 

As with the recent 5th Circuit decision in Comer, the decision can be expected to increase pressure on Congress to act to develop a comprehensive greenhouse gas emission regulatory program, unless the Supreme Court reverses before Congress acts.

TWO NEW GHG NUISANCE CASES GO DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS

Posted on October 20, 2009 by Robert Wyman

Following on last month's Second Circuit decision in Connecticut v. AEP, two recent climate change decisions show that the federal courts continue to grapple with whether to allow nuisance suits against emitters of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs). It will likely take some time -- and a trip to the Supreme Court -- before this area of the law is settled. 

 Just last week in Comer v. Murphy Oil, the Fifth Circuit gave the green light to a class action brought by property owners along the Mississippi Gulf Coast against oil and chemical companies and utilities. Plaintiffs' alleged that GHG emissions from the defendants' operations contributed to global warming, heated the oceans, raised sea levels and made Hurricane Katrina stronger than it would have been. The court held that the plaintiffs had Article III standing to assert state law nuisance and trespass claims for the resulting damage to their property and that the political question doctrine did not apply to this "ordinary tort suit."

 

On September 30 the Northern California district court hearing Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil went the other way and granted the defendants' motion to dismiss. The court found that the Eskimo village who brought the suit could not establish that the threat to its existence from rising sea levels was "fairly traceable"

to the defendants' GHG emissions and thus lacked standing. The court also found that the plaintiffs' federal common law nuisance suit intruded on the separate political branches as it "seeks to impose liability and damages on a scale unlike any prior environmental pollution case . . . ."

Both cases cited AEP, where the Court rejected similar standing and political question challenges and allowed the plaintiffs, including eight states, to sue a group of electric power companies. The Fifth circuit lauded AEP's "careful analysis" of the political question doctrine and sharply criticized the AEP trial court's "serious error of law." Judge Saundra Brown Anderson's decision in Kivalina, on the other hand, found little to like in the AEP decision: "neither Plaintiffs nor AEP offers any guidance as to precisely what judicially discoverable and manageable standards are to be employed in resolving the claims at issue."

So what can we take away from this trio of cases?

The appellate courts are clearly more comfortable with taking these cases than the trial courts. In each of these three cases, the District courts dismissed the suits. Odds are good that the Ninth Circuit in Kivalina will agree with her sister circuits making it a clean sweep.

Cases like Comer which assert state common law claims in diversity and seek only damages for past conduct are bound to run into less trouble than cases like AEP and Kivalina which assert federal common law claims and seek to enjoin future emissions OR ALLEGE potential future injury.

The latter cases more directly call into question the limits of the power of the federal judiciary to make common law, the traceability of the harm to the defendants' emissions and the prerogatives of the legislative and federal branches and their ability to displace federal common law. On the other hand, state common law claims seeking damages for past injury are, as the Comer court said, just "'ordinary tort suits." The court applies easily discernable state law and is not asked to promulgate emissions standards.

It is worth remembering that the issues the courts in AEP, Comer and Kivalina grappled with are issues that are specific to the federal courts -- federal common law, Article III standing, and federal separation of powers. It remains to be seen whether plaintiffs will assert these same cases in the state courts and avoid the uncertainty that will continue to exist in the federal system for some time.

However interesting the procedural issues presented by these cases might be, they are nothing in comparison to the complex and difficult issues presented by the merits of these cases. Liability, causation and damages still must be proven.

Finally, the green light given to the federal judiciary by the Second and Fifth Circuits, combined with the EPA's recent steps to regulate GHGs under the Clean Air Act, will place additional pressure on Congress and the relevant stakeholders to pass a comprehensive climate change law. If not, federal courts (and juries) could soon be in the business of climate change regulation.

 

Authored by: Robert Wyman and Michael Romey of Latham & Watkins, LLP

EPA Issues a New Policy on Superfund Negotiations: Time For Another Rant?

Posted on October 19, 2009 by Seth Jaffe

Late last week, Elliott Gilberg, Acting Director of EPA’s Office of Site Remediation Enforcement (OSRE) issued an Interim Policy on Managing the Duration of Remedial Design/Remedial Action Negotiations. Members of the regulated community may not be surprised by the contents of the memo, but they certainly will not be pleased. In brief, the memorandum fundamentally makes two points:

EPA wants to shorten the duration of RD/RA negotiation

EPA is going to use the heavy hammer of unilateral administrative orders, or UAOs, to keep PRPs’ feet to the fire and ensure that negotiations move quickly.

PRPs will likely agree that shortening the duration of negotiations would be a good outcome in the abstract – but achieving it by greater use of UAOs? I don’t think so.

I can only wonder if EPA has even considered the impact of the Burlington Northern decision here. Is this a perverse reaction from EPA? A metaphorical throwing down the gauntlet to PRPs? It certainly feels that way.

I have a different suggestion, if EPA truly wants to shorten negotiations. First, acknowledge Burlington Northern and compromise on the merits in those great majority of cases where there are legitimate divisibility arguments. Second, stop acting like the last bastion of command and control regulation. Set cleanup standards and then, to the maximum extent permitted by existing law, let PRPs clean up to those standards, without micromanaging every detail of the cleanup process.

Essential Ingredients For Risk Transfer on Display in N.J.

Posted on October 15, 2009 by George von Stamwitz

Last month, Missouri based Environmental Liability Transfer (ELT) purchased a heavily contaminated site from Asarco in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Due to bankruptcy court deadlines, the transaction was put together and closed in less than 90 days. The 70-acre site was a challenging candidate for risk transfer due to the perpetual nature of the risk. However, the transaction had the following essential components of a successful environmental risk transfer:

  1. a buyer (ELT) that was willing to take long term risk, beyond the term of environmental insurance;
  2.  a sophisticated seller that was facing an unattractive monetization of the remediation risk, in this instance an estimation proceeding in bankruptcy court. Monetization is a often also caused by regulatory financial assurance requirements and in the context of mergers and acquisitions;
  3. an active remedy of modest duration (in this instance stabilization of residuals and containment) that is defined with sufficient technical and regulatory certainty that partial collateralization of ELT's indemnity by "cost cap" insurance (in this case by Zurich) is practicable.

            As mergers and acquisitions return from hibernation and financial assurance requirements become more stringent after the demise of several major corporations, interest in risk transfer is sure to grow. Not every deal is a good candidate, but those transactions that have the factors described above are worth considering to achieve a favorable, short term monetization of environmental risk.

GHG Regulation under the Existing CAA: Coming Soon to a [Large] Stationary Source Near You

Posted on October 7, 2009 by Seth Jaffe

On Thursday, EPA issued its long-awaited proposed rule describing how thresholds would be set for regulation of GHG sources under the existing Clean Air Act PSD authority. Having waded through the 416-page proposal, I’m torn between the appropriate Shakespeare quotes to describe it: “Much ado about nothing” or “Methinks thou dost protest too much.”

First, notwithstanding its length, the proposal is quite limited in scope. In essence, it has three parts:

Establishment of an applicability threshold for PSD and Title V purposes of 25,000 tons per year of CO2e.

Establishment of a PSD significance level of from 10,000 tpy CO2e and 25,000 CO2e.

Development over the next five years of means to streamline GHG regulation of sources greater than the current statutory levels of 100-250 tpy.

Basically, EPA’s position is that, once it begins to regulate GHGs as a pollutant by promulgating its mobile source rule – expected next spring – stationary source regulation under the PSD and Title V programs follow automatically. Thus, the issue for EPA at this point is not whether to regulate stationary sources, but how to do so without the entire program grinding to a halt.

Here’s where the protestation comes in. Most of the proposal is devoted to explaining EPA’s reliance of the doctrines of “absurd results” and “administrative necessity” to justify exclusion of sources that would seem to be categorically included by the explicit language of the statute. Members of the regulated community will understand the irony in EPA’s extensive discussion regarding how the purpose of the PSD program is to achieve environmental protection and economic development – and that this latter purpose would be jeopardized by regulation of sources at the 100/250 tpy threshold. I don’t think we will ever again see EPA devote this many pages to a description of its concern about economic growth.

I’m not going to predict here whether EPA will win any challenge to the higher thresholds. Certainly, the absurd results doctrine argument is the stronger of the two. It is noteworthy that the four leading environmental cases EPA cites in support of its administrative necessity argument, while acknowledging the existence of the doctrine, all went against EPA.

More relevant still is the question of who would in fact challenge this regulation and what would be the result even if the challenge succeeded. Following the debacle that resulted from vacation of the CAIR rule, what is the likelihood that a successful challenge would result in vacation of the rule in its entirety? Isn’t it more likely that the rule would stay in effect as to the large sources, with the remanding the case to EPA to promulgate rules governing smaller sources? In fact, that’s what EPA is already doing, which is probably EPA’s strongest practical argument in support of the rule.

Public comments will be due 60 days from Federal Register promulgation and there are some issues that the regulated community should consider. These include the significance threshold, and suggestions regarding how to streamline the program for smaller sources. EPA has proposed some interesting ideas, including presumptive BACT determinations and general permits. 

Bottom line? Large sources better get ready to comply. Smaller sources, take a deep breath and count your blessings – for now. 

GHG Regulation under the Existing CAA: Coming Soon to a [Large] Stationary Source Near You

Posted on October 7, 2009 by Seth Jaffe

On Thursday, EPA issued its long-awaited proposed rule describing how thresholds would be set for regulation of GHG sources under the existing Clean Air Act PSD authority. Having waded through the 416-page proposal, I’m torn between the appropriate Shakespeare quotes to describe it: “Much ado about nothing” or “Methinks thou dost protest too much.”

First, notwithstanding its length, the proposal is quite limited in scope. In essence, it has three parts:

Establishment of an applicability threshold for PSD and Title V purposes of 25,000 tons per year of CO2e.

Establishment of a PSD significance level of from 10,000 tpy CO2e and 25,000 CO2e.

Development over the next five years of means to streamline GHG regulation of sources greater than the current statutory levels of 100-250 tpy.

Basically, EPA’s position is that, once it begins to regulate GHGs as a pollutant by promulgating its mobile source rule – expected next spring – stationary source regulation under the PSD and Title V programs follow automatically. Thus, the issue for EPA at this point is not whether to regulate stationary sources, but how to do so without the entire program grinding to a halt.

Here’s where the protestation comes in. Most of the proposal is devoted to explaining EPA’s reliance of the doctrines of “absurd results” and “administrative necessity” to justify exclusion of sources that would seem to be categorically included by the explicit language of the statute. Members of the regulated community will understand the irony in EPA’s extensive discussion regarding how the purpose of the PSD program is to achieve environmental protection and economic development – and that this latter purpose would be jeopardized by regulation of sources at the 100/250 tpy threshold. I don’t think we will ever again see EPA devote this many pages to a description of its concern about economic growth.

I’m not going to predict here whether EPA will win any challenge to the higher thresholds. Certainly, the absurd results doctrine argument is the stronger of the two. It is noteworthy that the four leading environmental cases EPA cites in support of its administrative necessity argument, while acknowledging the existence of the doctrine, all went against EPA.

More relevant still is the question of who would in fact challenge this regulation and what would be the result even if the challenge succeeded. Following the debacle that resulted from vacation of the CAIR rule, what is the likelihood that a successful challenge would result in vacation of the rule in its entirety? Isn’t it more likely that the rule would stay in effect as to the large sources, with the remanding the case to EPA to promulgate rules governing smaller sources? In fact, that’s what EPA is already doing, which is probably EPA’s strongest practical argument in support of the rule.

Public comments will be due 60 days from Federal Register promulgation and there are some issues that the regulated community should consider. These include the significance threshold, and suggestions regarding how to streamline the program for smaller sources. EPA has proposed some interesting ideas, including presumptive BACT determinations and general permits. 

Bottom line? Large sources better get ready to comply. Smaller sources, take a deep breath and count your blessings – for now. 

GHG Regulation under the Existing CAA: Coming Soon to a [Large] Stationary Source Near You

Posted on October 7, 2009 by Seth Jaffe

On Thursday, EPA issued its long-awaited proposed rule describing how thresholds would be set for regulation of GHG sources under the existing Clean Air Act PSD authority. Having waded through the 416-page proposal, I’m torn between the appropriate Shakespeare quotes to describe it: “Much ado about nothing” or “Methinks thou dost protest too much.”

First, notwithstanding its length, the proposal is quite limited in scope. In essence, it has three parts:

Establishment of an applicability threshold for PSD and Title V purposes of 25,000 tons per year of CO2e.

Establishment of a PSD significance level of from 10,000 tpy CO2e and 25,000 CO2e.

Development over the next five years of means to streamline GHG regulation of sources greater than the current statutory levels of 100-250 tpy.

Basically, EPA’s position is that, once it begins to regulate GHGs as a pollutant by promulgating its mobile source rule – expected next spring – stationary source regulation under the PSD and Title V programs follow automatically. Thus, the issue for EPA at this point is not whether to regulate stationary sources, but how to do so without the entire program grinding to a halt.

Here’s where the protestation comes in. Most of the proposal is devoted to explaining EPA’s reliance of the doctrines of “absurd results” and “administrative necessity” to justify exclusion of sources that would seem to be categorically included by the explicit language of the statute. Members of the regulated community will understand the irony in EPA’s extensive discussion regarding how the purpose of the PSD program is to achieve environmental protection and economic development – and that this latter purpose would be jeopardized by regulation of sources at the 100/250 tpy threshold. I don’t think we will ever again see EPA devote this many pages to a description of its concern about economic growth.

I’m not going to predict here whether EPA will win any challenge to the higher thresholds. Certainly, the absurd results doctrine argument is the stronger of the two. It is noteworthy that the four leading environmental cases EPA cites in support of its administrative necessity argument, while acknowledging the existence of the doctrine, all went against EPA.

More relevant still is the question of who would in fact challenge this regulation and what would be the result even if the challenge succeeded. Following the debacle that resulted from vacation of the CAIR rule, what is the likelihood that a successful challenge would result in vacation of the rule in its entirety? Isn’t it more likely that the rule would stay in effect as to the large sources, with the remanding the case to EPA to promulgate rules governing smaller sources? In fact, that’s what EPA is already doing, which is probably EPA’s strongest practical argument in support of the rule.

Public comments will be due 60 days from Federal Register promulgation and there are some issues that the regulated community should consider. These include the significance threshold, and suggestions regarding how to streamline the program for smaller sources. EPA has proposed some interesting ideas, including presumptive BACT determinations and general permits. 

Bottom line? Large sources better get ready to comply. Smaller sources, take a deep breath and count your blessings – for now. 

Power Point Presentations from the 2009 Annual Meeting in Maine

Posted on October 6, 2009 by Rachael Bunday

Climate Change Update

Panelists: Michael Gerrard, Jeffrey Thaler, Linda Bullen, John Cruden

Moderator: Karen Crawford

 

Climate Change Legislation and Regulation

Panelists: Carol Dinkins, Bradley Marten, Stephen Ramsey

Moderator: David Farer

Power Point Presentations from the 2009 Annual Meeting in Maine

Posted on October 6, 2009 by Rachael Bunday

Climate Change Update

Panelists: Michael Gerrard, Jeffrey Thaler, Linda Bullen, John Cruden

Moderator: Karen Crawford

 

Climate Change Legislation and Regulation

Panelists: Carol Dinkins, Bradley Marten, Stephen Ramsey

Moderator: David Farer