Environmental Appeals Board Tees Up Carbon Dioxide Issue to Obama Administration

Posted on December 4, 2008 by Stephen M. Bruckner

In a decision that will have far-reaching implications for coal-fired power plants, EPA's Environmental Appeals Board ("EAB") ruled on November 14, 2008 that EPA's Region 8 must reconsider whether carbon dioxide ("CO2") is a regulated air pollutant covered by the Clear Air Act's Prevention of Significant Deterioration ("PSD") permitting program. Because there is so little time left for EPA to finalize its decision, the EAB's ruling effectively drops this hot button issue squarely on the doorstep of the incoming Obama administration.

 

            The procedural posture of this case is a bit unusual. Deseret Power Electric Cooperative ("Deseret") operates a coal-fired power plant, the Bonanza Power Plant, on the Uintah and Ourah Indian Reservation in Utah. Deseret wants to build a new waste-coal-fired plant at the same location. The new plant needs a "PSD permit" to regulate its emissions under the Clean Air Act. A PSD permit requires the installation of "Best Available Control Technology", or "BACT", for regulated pollutants.

 

            Most PSD permits are issued by state environmental agencies. However, because Deseret's power plant is located on an Indian reservation, EPA's Region 8 is the permitting authority. EPA issued the PSD permit to Deseret on August 30, 2007. The Sierra Club, which had submitted comments to EPA on the proposed permit, appealed the permitting decision to the Environmental Appeals Board. Sierra Club argued that the permit violated the Clean Air Act because the Act requires BACT for each pollutant "subject to regulation" under the Act. [Clean Air Act §§ 165(a)(4), 168(3); 42 U.S.C. §§ 7475(a)(4), 7478(3)].

 

            The EAB rejected the Sierra Club's argument. The EAB carefully reviewed the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), which held that CO2 is within the Clean Air Act's definition of "air pollutant". The EAB noted that the Massachusetts decision did not address whether carbon dioxide is a pollutant "subject to regulation" under the Clean Air Act. The EAB therefore rejected the Sierra Club's argument that the phrase "subject to regulation" has a plain meaning that requires Region 8 to establish a CO2 limit in Deseret's permit.

 

            But that was pretty much the end of the good news for EPA and Deseret. In making its permit decision on CO2, EPA Region 8 relied on prior EPA interpretations addressing when a pollutant is considered to be "regulated". The EAB ruled that the reasons cited by Region 8 for its decision were not sufficient. The EAB then sent the case back to Region 8 to 'reconsider whether or not to impose a CO2 BACT limit in light of the Agency's discretion to interpret, consistent with the CAA [Clean Air Act], what constitutes a "pollutant subject to regulation under the Act."' [Deseret decision at p. 63]. Recognizing the potential impact of its ruling and of Region 8's further consideration, the EAB observed that because the issue "has implications far beyond this individual permitting proceeding", Region 8 should decide whether it would be better to address the matter in "an action of nationwide scope". [Deseret decision, pp. 63-64].

 

            Clearly, then, the Sierra Club was denied the clear victory it sought; namely, to require BACT for carbon dioxide in all coal-fired power plant PSD permits. On the other hand, Deseret and other electric utilities seeking PSD permits are left hanging as to whether CO2 will be a regulated pollutant under the PSD program. Although EPA probably wants to resolve this case before the expiration of President Bush's term, as a practical matter, it simply cannot get it done in little more than a month. Thus, the incoming Administration must squarely confront an issue that could shape the climate change debate and, ultimately, energy policy in this country. EPA most likely will take the hint from the EAB and handle the matter through "an action of nationwide scope". How it turns out is anyone's guess, but it is fair to say that the new EPA will have more climate change hawks in policy positions than the current Agency.

Environmental Appeals Board Tees Up Carbon Dioxide Issue to Obama Administration

Posted on December 4, 2008 by Stephen M. Bruckner

In a decision that will have far-reaching implications for coal-fired power plants, EPA's Environmental Appeals Board ("EAB") ruled on November 14, 2008 that EPA's Region 8 must reconsider whether carbon dioxide ("CO2") is a regulated air pollutant covered by the Clear Air Act's Prevention of Significant Deterioration ("PSD") permitting program. Because there is so little time left for EPA to finalize its decision, the EAB's ruling effectively drops this hot button issue squarely on the doorstep of the incoming Obama administration.

 

            The procedural posture of this case is a bit unusual. Deseret Power Electric Cooperative ("Deseret") operates a coal-fired power plant, the Bonanza Power Plant, on the Uintah and Ourah Indian Reservation in Utah. Deseret wants to build a new waste-coal-fired plant at the same location. The new plant needs a "PSD permit" to regulate its emissions under the Clean Air Act. A PSD permit requires the installation of "Best Available Control Technology", or "BACT", for regulated pollutants.

 

            Most PSD permits are issued by state environmental agencies. However, because Deseret's power plant is located on an Indian reservation, EPA's Region 8 is the permitting authority. EPA issued the PSD permit to Deseret on August 30, 2007. The Sierra Club, which had submitted comments to EPA on the proposed permit, appealed the permitting decision to the Environmental Appeals Board. Sierra Club argued that the permit violated the Clean Air Act because the Act requires BACT for each pollutant "subject to regulation" under the Act. [Clean Air Act §§ 165(a)(4), 168(3); 42 U.S.C. §§ 7475(a)(4), 7478(3)].

 

            The EAB rejected the Sierra Club's argument. The EAB carefully reviewed the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), which held that CO2 is within the Clean Air Act's definition of "air pollutant". The EAB noted that the Massachusetts decision did not address whether carbon dioxide is a pollutant "subject to regulation" under the Clean Air Act. The EAB therefore rejected the Sierra Club's argument that the phrase "subject to regulation" has a plain meaning that requires Region 8 to establish a CO2 limit in Deseret's permit.

 

            But that was pretty much the end of the good news for EPA and Deseret. In making its permit decision on CO2, EPA Region 8 relied on prior EPA interpretations addressing when a pollutant is considered to be "regulated". The EAB ruled that the reasons cited by Region 8 for its decision were not sufficient. The EAB then sent the case back to Region 8 to 'reconsider whether or not to impose a CO2 BACT limit in light of the Agency's discretion to interpret, consistent with the CAA [Clean Air Act], what constitutes a "pollutant subject to regulation under the Act."' [Deseret decision at p. 63]. Recognizing the potential impact of its ruling and of Region 8's further consideration, the EAB observed that because the issue "has implications far beyond this individual permitting proceeding", Region 8 should decide whether it would be better to address the matter in "an action of nationwide scope". [Deseret decision, pp. 63-64].

 

            Clearly, then, the Sierra Club was denied the clear victory it sought; namely, to require BACT for carbon dioxide in all coal-fired power plant PSD permits. On the other hand, Deseret and other electric utilities seeking PSD permits are left hanging as to whether CO2 will be a regulated pollutant under the PSD program. Although EPA probably wants to resolve this case before the expiration of President Bush's term, as a practical matter, it simply cannot get it done in little more than a month. Thus, the incoming Administration must squarely confront an issue that could shape the climate change debate and, ultimately, energy policy in this country. EPA most likely will take the hint from the EAB and handle the matter through "an action of nationwide scope". How it turns out is anyone's guess, but it is fair to say that the new EPA will have more climate change hawks in policy positions than the current Agency.

Wind Power Project Permitting: Demonstrating a Need for Clean Power and Evaluating the Economic and Wildlife Impacts of Wind Farms

Posted on November 30, 2008 by Jeff Thaler

Al Gore wins the Nobel Peace Prize. “Climate Change” and “Global Warming” are now topics of daily news articles, web debates, and dinnertime conversations. Many states are not waiting for the federal government, and instead are undertaking initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The most efficient and available clean energy source across the U.S. at this time – wind power – is drawing the attention not only of American energy companies and developers, but also from those around the world who seek to build wind farms in the U.S. Yet proposed wind projects, including one represented by this article’s author, still often face fierce local opposition from certain environmental groups claiming unreasonable biological, economic, or scenic impacts.            As with climate change, there has been a growing volume of objective empirical data over the past few years assessing not only the need for clean renewable energy, but also the economic and environmental benefits of such energy sources as wind power. This article can only briefly touch on some of the results, and guide the way for the reader to find additional detailed information and reports.

Model Wind Power Framework and the Need for Wind Power in 

Maine and New England

           In May 2007 Maine Governor John Baldacci created a Task Force on Wind Power Development in Maine to completely review and overhaul the regulatory process for review of proposed wind power projects. Although Maine has one of the largest on-and-off-shore wind resources in United States, it has very little installed wind capacity—only one wind farm with 42 MW of installed capacity from 28 turbines.[1]  The Task Force and interested parties have been compiling data and studies from across the country about all aspects of wind power development, and conducting hearings on the topics.[2]  Several consulting firms were retained by some environmental groups to prepare and recently present a model wind power framework for Maine and New England, including analysis of such data as regional renewable energy demand targets, on- and off-shore wind potential, a regional supply curve, and the likely or necessary quantities and locations of future wind power development over the next 20 years.[3]

            Presently, wind projects proposed in Maine’s rural areas (the “unorganized territories”) must demonstrate a need for the project in the community, area, and state.  Since the July 2006 developer hearing presentations coordinated by the author, proof of such need generally has focused upon not only the traditional benefits of tax payments and jobs, but also such factors as: (a) decreasing the state’s over-reliance on fossil fuels, thus reducing the cost and price volatility of electricity; (b) assisting the state in meeting its environmental targets to increase its renewable energy portfolio and reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and (c) providing health benefits to local and state residents by decreasing air pollution. Maine has the largest renewable portfolio standard in the country, and a recent law requiring an additional 10 percent of its energy to be generated from renewable energy sources by 2017.

Climate Change and Greenhouse Gas Initiatives

           Like many states, Maine has a Climate Action Plan. Maine has also implemented a greenhouse gas initiative by legislation and by entry into the Northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which involves all states from Maine south to Maryland with the exception of Pennsylvania. The RGGI is a market-based cap and trade program designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from electric power plants. It will be fully launched on January 1, 2009, affecting electric plants generating more than 25 megawatts that were on-line before 1/1/05 and whose fuel inputs are 50 percent or more from coal, natural gas, or oil; for post-1/1/05 plants, RGGI applies if fossil fuel makes up 5 percent or more of the annual heat input. The RGGI goal is that by 2018, each state’s emissions budget will be 10 percent below its initial CO2 emissions. Reduced emissions

(through using clean, renewable energy like wind) help states meet their RGGI goals.[4]

            On a more global basis, Al Gore’s 2007 co-Nobel Laureate was the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has been busy issuing a number of detailed reports for several years. In November 2007 the IPCC issued its “Synthesis Report,” intended to create for policymakers a single unified picture of the science, impacts, and mitigation of climate change. The report reaffirms that global warming is a scientific fact; that it is largely caused by human activities; that without immediate intervention measures over this century, there will be many serious changes including more droughts and intense storms, sea level rise, and habitat loss; and that developing many more clean, renewable energy sources is a necessary step in the effort to avoid ecological catastrophes for our children’s and grandchildren’s generations.[5]

                                     

Climate Change Impacts on Maine and the Northeast

            Application of the IPCC’s research to Maine and the Northeast was recently completed in the form of The Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment (NECIA), a collaborative effort between the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and a team of independent experts.[6]  Their peer-reviewed studies and predictions focused both on the region itself as a whole and on the individual Northeastern States, and warned of dramatic and damaging changes to our weather patterns, coastlines, forests, wildlife, public health, and lifestyles. As Maine’s DEP Commissioner said in response to the report: “Global warming is the largest threat facing our environment today. The ecological and human health impacts are potentially devastating to Maine’s character and quality of life.” The same could be said for the region, the country, and the world.

            The NECIA report on impacts on Maine’s forests, wildlife, and economy[7]

mirrors predictions made nine years earlier by the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Climate Change and Maine”.[8]  Sea level rise, changes in forest, bird, and pest species, and resultant economic dislocations to the forest products and other business sectors were predicted in 1998 and again in 2007—only now, the pace of climate change has been moving more rapidly than anyone expected.

Economic Impacts of Wind Farms

Although some opponents of wind power claim that turbine visibility will harm local tourism and property values, recent studies show neutral to positive impacts on tourism and no adverse effects on real estate markets. For example, a 2004-5 federal government report reviewed more than a dozen wind projects across the United States, from New England to the West Coast, and found that wind power has a positive effect on rural economies.[9] 

Likewise, many studies focusing on property values have shown no adverse effects on property values from wind farm development. For example:

  •  
    • A January 2007 report by a certified real estate appraisal firm focusing on property sales from 1998 to 2006 near two utility-sized Wisconsin wind farms found they caused no measurable differences to home values.[10]
    • An April 2006 Bard College study of a 20-turbine wind project in Madison County, New York analyzed 280 single-family residential sales from 1996 to 2005 within five miles of the turbines. There were “no measurable effects of windfarm visibility on property transaction values…even when concentrating on homes within a mile of the facility.”[11]

A 2003 study by the Renewable Energy Policy Project of 25,000 property sales within view of ten wind farms in seven states, including states in New England, concluded that “the statistical analysis does not support a contention that sales within the view shed of wind developments suffer or perform poorer than in a comparable region. For the great majority of projects in all three of the cases studied, the property values in the view shed actually go up faster than values in the comparable region.”[12]

Key Wildlife Impacts of Wind Farms

            In order to address concerns of regulatory agencies and wind power critics, many studies have been conducted on actual and potential impacts of wind farms on wildlife  (particularly migratory birds) and, more recently, bats. A summary of known avian collisions with wind turbines outside of California (which had older, more poorly-designed turbines) indicates a fatality rate of 1.83 per turbine per year.[13]   More recently, a study at the Maple Ridge Wind Farm in New York estimated fatalities of between 3-9 birds/turbine/season (season being about 125-152 days). [14]

            To compare approximately 2-4 birds/turbine/year with fatality events reported at other types of tall structures, such as tall communication towers and buildings, one can look at the following table to see that mortality at wind energy projects is many orders

of magnitude lower than mortality from these and other sources:[15]


Structure/Cause

Total Bird Fatalities

Vehicles

60-80 million

Buildings and windows

98-980 million

Power lines

10,000 – 174 million

Communications Towers

4-50 million

Agricultural Pesticides

67 million

Housecats

100 million

Wind Generation Facilities

10,000 – 40,000

There have been few studies on bat mortality. Most have focused on Virginia and West Virginia where there are more caves as well as largely deciduous forest habitats. Outside of a study at Searsburg, Vermont (P. Kerlinger 2002), which failed to document any bird or bat mortality, there are currently no published studies of bat mortality for wind power facilities in New England. For facilities located on temperate forest ridges in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, fatality rates range from 15.3 to 41.1 bats per megawatt (MW) of installed power, per year.[16]    Bat fatalities appeared to be greater at turbines nearer to wetlands (Jain et al 2007). Wind turbines on higher, more windy and sub-alpine ridgelines are expected to have far fewer bat fatalities.

The primary reason for very low rates of bird and bat mortality is that they migrate at altitudes wellabove the rotor-swept area. All post-2004, published (59) and unpublished (72) studies to date have consistently documented that birds and bats fly well above (i.e., 1000 to 2000 feet above) the turbine blades during migration periods.

Conclusions

Not only environmental lawyers, but all concerned decision-makers and citizens must confront the largest threat to our public’s environment, health, and property in decade: climate change from global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions. This century’s realities require prompt and decisive action on many fronts, only one of which is the expedited permitting and construction of clean, renewable, and indigenous sources of power for our homes and businesses. It is critical that we help advocate not only for individual projects, but also for modernized policy- and decision-making that balances traditional environmental wildlife concerns with the new threats to wildlife, forest,  coastal habitats, and our way of life. The need is urgent. The time is now.


[1] As of December 2007 there are three proposed wind farms that have received some regulatory review, totaling 243 MW. Studies suggest there is significantly more wind capacity developable in Maine, and of course many more times that across the United States.

[2]   The Task Force web site has a wealth of information, including a number of presentations, and is at: http://www.maine.gov/doc/mfs/windpower/summaries.shtml

[3] The October 30, 2007 presentation can be found at: http://www.maine.gov/doc/mfs/windpower/meeting_summaries/103007_summary_files/Grace_Wind_Task_Force_103007.pdf

[4] A recent presentation by Maine DEP Commissioner David Littell summarizing wind power and its

greenhouse gas and air quality benefits is at: ttp://www.maine.gov/doc/lurc/minutes/080107/Littellpresentation.pdf

[5] The general IPCC website is at:     http:www.ipcc.ch/   A summary of the Synthesis Report can be found at: http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/syr/ar4_syr_spm.pdf     

[6]   For the NECIA report see:  

http://www.climatechoices.org/assets/documents/climatechoices/confronting-climate-change-in-the-u-s-northeast.pdf    For the NECIA link to specific reports in individual states, go to:   http://www.climatechoices.org/ne/resources_ne/nereport.html

[7] http://www.climatechoices.org/assets/documents/climatechoices/maine_necia.pdf   

[8] http://www.earthscape.org/r1/r1/epa06/MAINE.PDF

[9] “Analysis: Economic Impacts of Wind Applications in Rural Communities”, National Renewable Energy Laboratory and M. Pedden

[10] Poletti and Associates, Inc. Real Estate Study

[11] http://www.aceny.org/pdfs/misc/effects_windmill_vis_on_prop_values_hoen2006.pdf.

12http://www.crest.org/articles/static/1/binaries/wind_online_final.pdf)

 

[13] Erickson, W.P. et al, “Avian Collisions with Wind Turbines”, 2001.

[14] This study, by Jain et al., can be found at:

www.mapleridgewind.com/documents/06-25-07_MapleRidgeAnnualReport2006.pdf

[15] National Research Council, 2007, “Environmental Impacts of Wind Energy”, based upon Mid-Atlantic Highlands region, http://books.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11935#toc; also see generally Erickson et al. 2001; Klem 1991; Pimental and Acquay 1992; Coleman and Temple 1993;

[16] Kunz et al. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment Issue 6, Vol. 5: August 2007.

The IOGCC Issues Its Model Program For The Geologic Sequestration of CO2

Posted on November 27, 2008 by David Flannery

 On September 25, 2007, the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) issued its model program for the storage of carbon dioxide in geologic formations. The full text of the model program can be found here.

          OVERVIEW - Even though USEPA has announced that it will undertake the development of regulatory program for such activities under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the IOGCC model program is premised on the belief that the regulation of CO2 geological storage should be left to regulation by the states, rather than USEPA. Equally significant is the IOGCC view that the storage of CO2 in geological formations should be viewed as the storage of a commodity - not waste disposal. While the IOGCC proposes its CCS program in anticipation of a national program that would constrain the emission of CO2 to the atmosphere, the IOGCC avoids making recommendations about how CO2 should be constrained.

          PROPERTY RIGHTS - The model program provides that an applicant for any such project should acquire the property rights to use pore space in the geologic formation for storage. While much of the IOGCC’s model program addresses the need to acquire property rights through negotiation, eminent domain or unitization of oil and gas rights, the model program specifically states that the IOGCC is less concerned about what mechanism is used to acquire those rights and is more concerned that all necessary property rights be acquired by valid, subsisting and applicable state law. The IOGCC goes on to recognize that states might develop alternative mechanisms to acquire property rights, such as adapting the concept of the forced unitization of oil and gas industry rights to other property interests. An applicant must demonstrate that a good-faith effort has been made to obtain the consent of a major of owners "having property interest affected by the storage facility." The program provides for an applicant to have the power of eminent domain and provides that an applicant will be deemed to have necessary property rights to the extent that the applicant has initiated unitization or eminent domain proceedings and have thereby gained the right a of access to the property.

          COVERED FACILITIES - The definition of "storage facility", includes the reservoir, wells and related surface facilities but apparently not pipelines used to transport carbon dioxide from capture facilities to the storage and injection site. The IOGCC has stated its intent to consider over the next year, how its model program might best be expanded to include pipelines.

          LIABILITY RELEASE - Following completion of the project an operator would be obligated to monitor the project to assure its integrity. At the completion of that period, title to the facility would be transferred to the state and the operator and all generators of CO2 injected would be released for all regulatory liability and any posted performance bonds would also be released. Over the next year, the IOGCC has stated that it will consider the possibility of expanding the liability release to include common law tort liability. As part of the inducement for a state to allow liability transfer, the program establishes a trust fund which would assess a fee on each ton of CO2 injected. The trust fund provides the financial resources for the state to take title to project at the end of its operating life.

          COOPERATIVE AGREEMENTS - Cooperative agreements are authorized for use in connection with projects that extend beyond state boundaries.

          EOR PROJECTS - Enhanced Oil Recovery projects are not covered by the model program, although agencies are encouraged to develop rules on how enhanced recovery operations would be converted to carbon dioxide storage projects.

          PERMIT REQUIREMENTS - The program provides detailed requirements for completing an application for approval of a CCS project. Among other things maps accompanying a permit application would be required to identify existing oil and gas and coal mining operations. Public notice is completed upon mailing. The agency shall issue a permit to drill and operate once it has completed a review of the application. The permit would expire within twelve months from the date of issuance if the permitted well had not been drilled or converted. The program also sets forth detailed well operational standards, including requirements for safety plans, leak detection, and corrosion monitoring and prevention.

This article was authored by David M. Flannery, Jackson Kelly PLLC. For more information on the author see here.

SALMON WARS IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

Posted on November 24, 2008 by Kevin Beaton

Each year thousands of salmon and steelhead protected under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) migrate up and down the Columbia River and its tributaries and into the Pacific Ocean as part of the species’ cycle of life. Seemingly, each year armies of lawyers migrate to federal court to argue whether the federal government is carrying out its obligations to protect these species under the ESA. “As part of the modern cycle of life in the Columbia River system, each year brings litigation to the federal courts of the Northwest over the operation of the Federal Columbia River System (“FRCPS”) and, in particular, the effects of system operation on the anadromous salmon and steelhead protected by the Endangered Species Act.” National Wildlife Federation v. National Marine Fisheries Service, 422 F.3d 782 (9th Cir. 2005).

            2008 is no exception as the National Wildlife Federation, the state of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe have again filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court of Oregon against the federal government for allegedly failing to carry out their obligations under the ESA in the operation of the FRCPS. The precipitating event for the 2008 lawsuit, is a 2008 Biological Opinion authored by NOAA Fisheries pursuant to Section 7 of the ESA opining that if the action agencies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“COE”) and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (“BOR”) carry out a comprehensive reasonable and prudent alternative (“RPA”) then jeopardy to the listed species and adverse modification to critical habitat will be avoided.

 

The portion of the FRCPS that is at issue in the 2008 litigation is a series of fourteen (14) federal hydropower dams authorized by Congress on the Columbia and Lower Snake Rivers which are operated by the COE and BOR. Congress has directed that the dams are for multiple uses including providing power to the Northwest, irrigation, transportation, recreation, flood control and protection of fish. The stakes are high in the litigation, if some of the dams are substantially modified, or breached as some Plaintiffs are advocating, industries, rate-payers and communities reliant upon the multiple uses of the FRCPS will be significantly affected. Thirteen separate salmon and steelhead species that live out a portion of their life cycle in the Columbia River and its tributaries have been listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA.

            The federal government’s attempt to operate the FRCPS in compliance with ESA has been mired in litigation for some 15 years. The science and the law surrounding the FRCPS’ compliance with the ESA is complex. Like 2008, the precipitating event for past litigation has been a § 7 consultation between NOAA fisheries and the COE and BOR and a Biological Opinion (BiOp) and Incidental Take Statement. In recent litigation the federal government has not fared well. For example the 2000 BiOp found that the FRCPS operation did jeopardize certain listed species but that jeopardy could be avoided if off-site mitigation and hatchery initiatives were implemented. The court found the 2000 BiOp was invalid as NOAA could not rely upon off-site and non-federal actions that were not reasonably certain to occur as an RPA. See NWF v. NMFS, 254 F.Supp. 2d 1196 (D.Or 2003).

            The federal government tried again with a 2004 BiOP which found no jeopardy to listed species and no adverse modification to critical habitat. The 2004 BiOp was different from prior BiOps in so far as NOAA Fisheries attempted to segregate the effects of the existence of the 14 dams from the operation of the dams claiming that only the operation of the dams was discretionary and subject to Section 7 consultation. The lower Court struck down the 2004 BiOp on a variety of grounds finding that NOAA improperly separated the existence and operation of the dams in their § 7 consultation, NOAA did not properly take into consideration how the operation of the dams would affect recovery of the listed species and their critical habitat and that the actions relied upon were too uncertain to occur. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower Court decision in its entirety. See National Wildlife Federation v. National Marine Fisheries Service, 524 F.3d 917 (9th Cir. 2008). The Ninth Circuit did note that in considering the affect of the agency action on the potential recovery of the species in connection with a Section 7 consultation, NOAA Fisheries did not have to first develop a recovery plan consistent with the requirements of Section 4(f) of the ESA.

            While the appeal was pending before the Ninth Circuit, NOAA Fisheries under some prodding from the lower Court embarked upon an unprecedented collaboration with the four affected states (Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana) and eight Indian tribes to reach consensus on the appropriate methodologies to evaluate the effects of the FRCPS on listed species, operational modifications focusing on each of the listed species and hundreds of millions of dollars in funding commitments to the Tribes to carry out mitigation. In developing the 2008 BiOp and RPA, NOAA Fisheries also adopted a “trending to recovery standard” in order to fulfill the directive from the Court concerning the evaluation of survival and “recovery” in a Section 7 consultation. The 2008 BiOp finds that operation of the FRCPS for the next ten (10) years with implementation of the comprehensive RPA will avoid jeopardy to the thirteen species, avoid adverse modification to critical habitat and future recovery of the protected species will not be compromised by implementation of the RPA.

            The Plaintiffs quickly challenged the 2008 BiOp arguing it is legally and technically flawed and more of the same. The federal defendants, a trade association, three states (Washington, Idaho and Montana) and one Tribe argue that based on Court directives the 2008 BiOp got it right this time. The Defendants argue that Plaintiffs challenge is nothing more than a disagreement on the science and that the court should defer to NOAA Fisheries on these issues. Of interest to Clean Water Act attorneys, one of the Plaintiffs (“NWF”) argues that the incidental take statement (“ITS”) issued as part of the 2008 BiOp is equivalent to a “permit” under § 401 of the Clean Water Act and therefore requires water quality certification from the states. If the Plaintiff prevails on this novel theory, it means that potentially four states and three Tribes would need to issue a 401 certification that the ITS will comply with state and tribal water quality standards before the ITS would go into effect.

            A preliminary injunction and summary judgment hearings are set in January 2009. If the Court finds that the disputes surrounding 2008 BiOp are basically scientific disputes a recent Ninth Circuit case could be beneficial to the federal defendants. See, Lands Council v. McNair, 537 F.2d 981 (9th Cir. 2008). In Lands Council, the court noted that federal courts should defer to the scientific judgments of a federal agency when reviewing agency action under the Administrative Act Procedures. Stay tuned to the outcome of this litigation to see if the “cycle of life” of litigation in FRCPS continues or takes a breather to give the federal government, the states and tribes a breather to implement the 2008 BiOp.

EMERGING CLIMATE CHANGE ISSUES: Impacts on Disclosure Obligations of U.S. Public Companies

Posted on November 14, 2008 by Patricia Barmeyer

 Public companies are feeling pressure to make disclosure of the risks posed by climate change. The SEC has to date declined to issue any climate change-specific guidance, but existing SEC regulations are broad enough to require disclosure, if the information would be important to the “reasonable investor.” Investors and shareholders are increasingly vocal about their desire to have that information.

            In the absence of SEC action, New York Attorney General Cuomo has used state law to obtain settlements from Xcel Energy and Dynegy that require specific disclosures regarding the financial risks from probable climate change regulation and from the physical impacts of climate change. Even more significant is the pressure coming from major purchasers. Wal-Mart, for example, is requiring all its suppliers to report on their GHG emissions and their strategies to reduce their carbon footprints. 

            The timing, scope and details of the anticipated national program to regulate GHG emissions are still unknown, making it difficult to predict the risks and implications of climate change and its regulation for any individual company, However, even in the face of these uncertainties, disclosure is increasingly the norm, rather than the exception. All public companies need to be analyzing the risks posed by climate change and, depending on the business, should be considering disclosure of those risks in their public filings.

To read the article in its entirety, please click here.

A FIRST GLIMPSE OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL AGENDA OF THE OBAMA PRESIDENCY

Posted on November 10, 2008 by Larry Ausherman

It has been a long time since an environmental issue attracted some serious attention in a presidential campaign. This is the year, and climate change is the issue. From his campaign to his election night reference to a "planet in peril", President-Elect Obama has focused on climate change. There are a few other environmental issues to watch as well.

 

Climate Change

            The issue of climate change overshadowed other environmental issues in this election, in part because it is directly linked to other high priorities of the new administration. Goals of creating 5 million green-collar jobs and a focus on renewable energy and energy conservation enlarge the profile of climate change initiatives. For example, on the Obama-Biden website, the topics of environment and energy are grouped together as one, and the initiatives of each are related. 

 

            Green house gases reduction is an important goal for President-Elect Obama. The goal to reduce greenhouse gases has many parts, but imposing an economy-wide cap and trade system is the centerpiece of the policy. The plan would require that all credits be purchased at auction by industry. Costs to purchase credits could be enormous.

 

            In addition to domestic commitments to climate change initiatives, Obama supports "re-engaging" with the United Nations and the creation of a Global Energy Forum that includes the G8+5 Nations . The initial steps of his international policy may come soon when Obama's representatives will likely visit the climate change talks in Poznan, Poland this December.

           

            The broadening Democratic majority in Congress favors Obama's climate change agenda. In addition to Democratic gains in the House and the Senate, the League of Conservation Voters reports that seven of its 2008 "dirty dozen" legislators were defeated in the 2008 election. Among environmental groups, hopes are high for the new presidency.

 

            But because Obama's objectives require heavy investment in renewable energy, regulatory compliance, and clean technology, they face difficult hurdles. High deficits and the global financial crisis challenge the ability of the federal government to spend, the capacity of private markets to invest, and the resilience of the U.S. economy and industry to weather increased costs of regulation. Great investment would be required for meeting goals for clean coal technology, biofuel development, renewable energy, and energy efficiency.

 

Other Environmental Issues

            Here are some of the other environmental issues to watch.

 

            CERCLA issues have not received great attention so far. However, Obama has suggested reinstitution of the tax on industry to pay for orphaned sites and has emphasized the concept of "polluter pays".

 

            For many years, changes to the General Mining Law of 1872 to impose royalty and/or additional regulation have been proposed and defeated. Although mining law reform has not been a significant part of the presidential campaign, the chances for its passage in the more Democratic congress has increased.

           

            Obama's past opposition to offshore drilling weakened a bit this year in the Senate as a result of a compromised effort. Obama would support offshore exploration in areas already set aside for it, but his opposition to ANWAR remains firm.

 

            It is unclear what priority the Obama administration will place on biodiversity and the Endangered Species Act. Biodiversity has received little attention in the campaign, but the campaign has opposed lessening of ESA consultation requirements.

Cut the Sprawl, Cut the Warming

Posted on October 7, 2008 by Jeff Thaler

For years, while Washington slept, most of the serious work on climate change has occurred in the states, and no state has worked harder than California. The latest example of California’s originality is a new law — the nation’s first — intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by curbing urban sprawl and cutting back the time people have to spend in their automobiles.

Passenger vehicles are the biggest single source of carbon dioxide in California, producing nearly one-third of the total. Meanwhile, the number of miles driven in California has increased 50 percent faster than the rate of population growth, largely because people have to drive greater distances in their daily lives.

The new law has many moving parts, but the basic sequence is straightforward. The state’s Air Resources Board will determine the level of emissions produced by cars and light trucks, including S.U.V.’s, in each of California’s 17 metropolitan planning areas. Emissions-reduction goals for 2020 and 2035 would be assigned to each area. Local governments would then devise strategies for housing development, road-building and other land uses to shorten travel distances, reduce driving and meet the new targets.

One obvious solution would be to change zoning laws so developers can build new housing closer to where people work. Another is to improve mass transit — in woefully short supply in California — so commuters don’t have to rely so much on cars.

The bill contains significant incentives, including the promise of substantial federal and state money to regions whose plans pass muster. In addition, and with the consent of the environmental community, the state will relax various environmental rules to allow “infill” — higher-density land use in or near cities and towns.

The bill’s architect, State Senator Darrell Steinberg, worked closely with developers and environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council. The measure is the latest in a string of initiatives from the California Legislature, including a 2002 law that would greatly reduce carbon emissions from automobiles, and a 2006 law requiring that one-fifth of California’s energy come from wind and other renewable sources.

Given California’s size, these and other initiatives will help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Even more progress would be made if others follow. New York and 15 other states have already said they will adopt California’s automobile emissions standards when the federal government gives them the green light — which the Bush administration has stubbornly refused to do.

There is, of course, no substitute for federal action or for American global leadership on climate change, both of which the next president will have to deliver.

Cut the Sprawl, Cut the Warming

Posted on October 7, 2008 by Jeff Thaler

For years, while Washington slept, most of the serious work on climate change has occurred in the states, and no state has worked harder than California. The latest example of California’s originality is a new law — the nation’s first — intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by curbing urban sprawl and cutting back the time people have to spend in their automobiles.

Passenger vehicles are the biggest single source of carbon dioxide in California, producing nearly one-third of the total. Meanwhile, the number of miles driven in California has increased 50 percent faster than the rate of population growth, largely because people have to drive greater distances in their daily lives.

The new law has many moving parts, but the basic sequence is straightforward. The state’s Air Resources Board will determine the level of emissions produced by cars and light trucks, including S.U.V.’s, in each of California’s 17 metropolitan planning areas. Emissions-reduction goals for 2020 and 2035 would be assigned to each area. Local governments would then devise strategies for housing development, road-building and other land uses to shorten travel distances, reduce driving and meet the new targets.

One obvious solution would be to change zoning laws so developers can build new housing closer to where people work. Another is to improve mass transit — in woefully short supply in California — so commuters don’t have to rely so much on cars.

The bill contains significant incentives, including the promise of substantial federal and state money to regions whose plans pass muster. In addition, and with the consent of the environmental community, the state will relax various environmental rules to allow “infill” — higher-density land use in or near cities and towns.

The bill’s architect, State Senator Darrell Steinberg, worked closely with developers and environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council. The measure is the latest in a string of initiatives from the California Legislature, including a 2002 law that would greatly reduce carbon emissions from automobiles, and a 2006 law requiring that one-fifth of California’s energy come from wind and other renewable sources.

Given California’s size, these and other initiatives will help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Even more progress would be made if others follow. New York and 15 other states have already said they will adopt California’s automobile emissions standards when the federal government gives them the green light — which the Bush administration has stubbornly refused to do.

There is, of course, no substitute for federal action or for American global leadership on climate change, both of which the next president will have to deliver.

Supreme Court to Open its 2009 Term

Posted on October 2, 2008 by Theodore Garrett

As is its custom, the Supreme Court will open its 2009 Term next Monday, the first Monday in October. In anticipation of that event, the Court held its first conference of the Term this Monday, and yesterday issued orders from that conference. The court granted two certs of note.

Nos. 07-1601, Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. United States and 07-1607, Shell Oil Co. v. United States, present the question of whether owners of land subject to environmental cleanup may be held jointly and severally liable under CERCLA.

No. 07-1410, United States v. Navajo Nation, involves the government's fiduciary responsibility to Indian tribes relating to mining rights on tribal land. In 2003, the Court held that there were no enforceable fiduciary duties under federal statutes relating to mineral leasing. But on remand, the Federal Circuit held that the government breached duties under the common law of trust and the Indian Tucker Act. The Supreme Court will consider whether its prior ruling foreclosed the court of appeals' decision, and if not, whether the court was correct to hold the government liable as a matter of law for $600 million to the tribes under those sources of law.

First Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Auction Results: Massachusetts Gets $13.3 Million

Posted on September 30, 2008 by Seth Jaffe

The operators of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI Inc., announced yesterday that all of the 12,565,387 CO2 allowances offered for sale in the first RGGI auction on September 25, 2008 were purchased at $3.07 per allowance. This is above the auction reserve price of $1.86 per allowance, and below recent prices on the Chicago Climate Futures Exchange. See RGGI Inc.'s press release here.

RGGI did not announce the names of the winning bidders, but noted that there were 59 participants in the auction, all from the "energy, financial and environmental sectors." In total, the bidders sought to purchase more than 51 million allowances, or approximately four times as many as were offered. The auction was administered by World Energy Solutions, Inc., and RGGI also retained an independent market monitor, Potomac Economics, to oversee the auction. Potomac Economics stated that most of the allowances were purchased by "compliance entities or their affiliates." See the Potomac Economics release here.

Massachusetts' share of the RGGI allowance proceeds came to approximately $13.3 million. In a press release issued yesterday, Governor Patrick confirmed the commitment in the Green Communities Act to use the RGGI funds for energy efficiency programs that will help individuals and municipalities address energy challenges.

Specifically, the $13.3 million in proceeds from the first auction will be allocated in the following ways:

  • $3.5 million for utility-administered energy efficiency programs, primarily funding the DPU's $7 million program to work with electric and natural gas utilities to expand their consumer energy efficiency programs
  • $5 million for start-up of the Green Communities Program, created by the Green Communities Act
  • $4.3 million for additional energy efficiency efforts this winter, subject to the report of the Winter Energy Costs Task Force which is due in early October
  • $500,000 for administrative and vendor costs associated with Massachusetts' participation in RGGI and the allowance auctions

The next auction is currently scheduled to be held on December 17, 2008.

Offshore Wind Farm in the Mid-Atlantic - Will Delaware Be the First State of Offshore Wind?

Posted on September 29, 2008 by Robert Whetzel

The nation’s first offshore wind farm may soon be built off the coast of Delaware. Although climate change and clean energy issues were part of the debate over this project, the Delaware wind farm project finds its origins in energy reliability and price stability legislation. 

In 2006, consumer energy prices in Delaware increased dramatically, following the State’s deregulation of electricity generation. As part of the deregulation process, a three year freeze had been placed on energy rate increases in Delaware. When the freeze expired, energy prices across the United States were spiraling upward and rates in Delaware were adjusted to market prices. The result was a significant increase in consumer electricity prices, with the attendant public outcry and legislative demand for reform.

 

 In an attempt to stabilize prices, the Delaware General Assembly enacted the Electric Utility Retail Customer Supply Act of 2006. The Act established a bidding process for long-term purchase power agreements, and directed Delmarva Power & Light Company (“Delmarva Power”), the State’s largest electricity service territory provider, to solicit bids for such an agreement. The legislation also mandated an integrated resource planning process in order to ensure the availability of sufficient and reliable resources over time to meet customers' needs at a minimal cost. 

 

The Delaware legislation required Delmarva Power to issue a request for proposals ("RFP") for the construction of new generation resources within Delaware along with a proposed output contract for a term of no less than 10 years and no more than 25 years. The Delaware Public Service Commission (the “PSC”) and the Delaware Energy Office were tasked with ensuring that the RFP elicited and recognized the value of proposals that: (a) utilized new or innovative baseload technologies; (b) provided long-term environmental benefits to the state; (c) had existing fuel and transmission infrastructure; (d) promoted fuel diversity; (e) supported or improved reliability; and (f) utilized existing brownfield or industrial sites. The PSC, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Controller General, and the Energy Office (the "State Agencies") were tasked with evaluating the bids and determining whether to approve one or more of them. 

Three bids were submitted in response to the RFP: one for an offshore wind farm, one for a combined cycle gas turbine, and one for a coal-fired integrated gasification combined cycle ("IGCC") unit. After evaluation of the bids, both Delmarva Power and an independent consultant concluded that none of the bids met the evaluation criteria because, among other things, each of them proposed prices that were projected to be above market when the new generation facilities went on-line. The State Agencies, however, fashioned a hybrid energy supply approach, and directed Delmarva Power to negotiate for a long-term agreement for wind power with Bluewater Wind, LLC (“Bluewater”) and, concurrently, for an agreement with another generator to provide back-up power. These negotiations were to take place under the oversight of an independent third-party, who would be responsible for reporting to the State Agencies on the parties’ efforts to negotiate the agreements. 

Delmarva Power and the bidders were unable to negotiate concurrent agreements for the wind farm and the “backup” generation source. The State Agencies next directed Delmarva Power and Bluewater to negotiate a final agreement for the wind farm. When the deadline for a this agreement was reached in December 2007, the parties had not agreed upon many important terms, relating to the capacity, price, and risk for the project. After reviewing the status of negotiations, the PSC staff recommended approval of the proposed terms with the condition that the cost of the wind farm be spread over all of Delmarva Power’s customer base. The PSC staff also recommended that legislation be pursued that allocated the costs of the wind farm across all energy consumers in Delaware. At that point, the State Agencies tabled the matter because there was not a consensus to approve the agreement. 

The Delaware legislature then became involved in considering the wind farm power agreement, and conducted legislative hearings regarding the agreement and alternative energy technology and market trends. A legislative committee ultimately concluded that, while wind generation should be a significant component of the State’s electricity supply portfolio, Delaware citizens should not assume the large risk or pay the large premium contemplated in the (then) proposed wind farm agreement. This conclusion was not without opposition in the legislature.

During May and June, 2008, renewed negotiations took place between Delmarva Power and Bluewater, under the ever-present threat of further regulatory or legislative action. Ultimately an agreement was reached for the purchase of power and renewable energy credits (“RECs”) from the wind farm by Delmarva Power. This agreement coincided with legislation in the State that enabled the cost of the wind farm to be spread across all of Delmarva Power’s customer base, not just residential consumers and small businesses, and that substantially increased the value attached to the RECs for the wind farm. Under the agreement, Delmarva Power will purchase energy from the wind farm equal to the amount generated by a 200 MW nameplate facility (approximately 50 percent less than in the proposed December 2007 agreement.) The wind farm, however, may produce three times this capacity (i.e., up to 600 MW), and may secure additional customers for its power. The final agreement also provides termination rights to Bluewater, including termination based upon the content of final regulations to be promulgated by the Department of the Interior with respect to the permitting and siting of offshore wind farms. 

The Department of the Interior proposed regulations on July 9, 2008, and comments were due by September 8, 2008. The American Wind Energy Association, of which Bluewater is a member, submitted comments arguing against a provision that would require developers to pay 2 percent of their operating revenue to the government. Bluewater has stated that such a provision will not be a “deal killer” for the Delaware project, but has also recognized as problematic the impending expiration of federal renewable energy subsidies.

EPA IN THE DC CIRCUIT - WHERE HAS ALL THE DEFERENCE GONE?

Posted on September 23, 2008 by Linda Bochert
  • June 2007: DC Circuit Hands EPA and Industry Two Defeats:  Court Rejects EPA MACT Air Rules for Commercial and Industrial Boilers and Plywood and Composite Wood Products
  • February and July 2008: DC Circuit to EPA: Multi-Pollutant Strategy for Interstate Clean Air Fails to Meet Clean Air Act Requirements

Several recent cases have raised the following question in my mind: can EPA win an air case in the DC Circuit?

They teach us in law school that governmental agencies can expect a reasonable degree of deference from a reviewing court when exercising statutory authority to develop regulations to implement Congressional directives. States and entities subject to EPA’s regulations need something to rely on, and expect EPA and the Courts to provide some degree of predictability and certainty in the application of the regulations. Yet deference is nowhere to be found in the DC Circuit’s recent reviews of several EPA regulations implementing the Clean Air Act (CAA). And in each of the cases discussed below, the Court opted for the most dramatic remedy – vacatur of the offending rule.

These decisions can be sliced and diced from a variety of perspectives. At the least I think they raise vexing concerns about deference and choice of remedy. What do you think – are these the trend or the anomalies? Is this a real concern or much ado about nothing?

 

Here are my examples:

 1. June 2007: Commercial and Industrial Boiler MACT Rules

On June 8, 2007, in Natural Resources Defense Council v. EPA, No. 04-1385 (D.C. Cir. June 8, 2007) (NRDC I) the DC Circuit struck down two EPA rules setting air toxics limitations for commercial and industrial boilers and solid waste incinerators: National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Industrial, Commercial, and Institutional Boilers and Process Heaters (Boilers Rule) and Standards of Performance for New Stationary Sources and Emission Guidelines for Existing Sources: Commercial and Industrial Solid Waste Incineration Units (CISWI Definitions Rule).

At issue were the emission standards for hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) emitted from commercial and industrial solid waste incinerators and industrial boilers and the appropriate setting of the Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standard.

The challenge was brought by environmental petitioners Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and the Environmental Integrity Project. The Court agreed with them that EPA had impermissibly narrowed the definition of “commercial or industrial waste” in the CISWI Definitions Rule in violation of the plain language of section 129 of the Clean Air Act. Because the Boilers Rule was dependent on that same definition, both rules were rejected by the Court. EPA and industry representatives, including the Coalition for Responsible Waste Incineration, Utility Air Regulatory Group, and Utility Solid Waste Activities Group, contended that EPA’s definition was within the agency’s discretion, but the Court was not persuaded.

 

2. June 2007: Plywood and Composite Wood Products MACT Rules

On June 19, 2007, the DC Circuit dealt a second blow in a challenge to EPA’s rules to regulate HAPs from processing plywood and composite wood products (PCWP). Also named Natural Resources Defense Council v. EPA, No. 04-1323 (D.C. Cir. June 19, 2007) (NRDC II), this case was also brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and the Environmental Integrity Project against EPA. EPA was supported by industry groups, including the American Forest and Paper Association.

The two rules involved in this case were the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants: Plywood and Composite Wood Products (2004 Rule) and the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants: Plywood and Composite Wood Products; List of Hazardous Air Pollutants, Lesser Quantity Designations, Source Category List (2006 Rule), with the primary challenge to the 2006 Rule. Example of operations regulated by these rules include sawmills with lumber kilns, hardwood and softwood plywood and veneer plants, particleboard/fibreboard and other reconstituted wood product plants, and engineered wood product plants.

Once again, the issue was the appropriate MACT standard. In this case the pivotal elements were EPA’s decisions in the 2004 Rule to create a “low-risk subcategory” and in the 2006 Rule to extend the compliance deadline from October 2007 to October 2008.

 

3. February 2008: Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR)

On February 8, 2008, the DC Circuit struck down CAMR in New Jersey v. EPA, No. 05-1097 (D.C. Cir. Feb. 8, 2008). CAMR was the result of EPA’s decision to remove oil and coal-fired electric utility steam generating units (EGUs) from the list of sources of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) and instead regulate mercury emissions from these EGUs through a cap-and-trade program similar to the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR).

In response, New Jersey, and several other states, municipal governments and environmental groups, challenged CAMR claiming that EPA had no authority to delist the EGUs without providing a “specific finding” under section 112(c)(9) of the CAA. Because EPA did not make this specific finding, the Petitioners claimed that not only was the delisting invalid, but CAMR was also flawed because it was based upon this delisting decision. The DC Circuit agreed with the Petitioners, vacating both the delisting rule and CAMR.

 

4. July 2008: Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR)

On July 11, 2008, the D.C. Circuit vacated CAIR in North Carolina v. EPA, No. 05-1244 (D.C. Cir. July 11, 2008).

The multi-party challenge to CAIR was brought by the state of North Carolina, several electric utilities (SO2 Petitioners), specific electric utilities in Texas, Florida and Minnesota, one municipality, and the Florida Association of Electric Utilities (FAEU). The electric utilities in Texas, Florida and Minnesota challenged CAIR’s applicability to them because of their location and emissions amounts. North Carolina, the SO2 Petitioners, and FAEU brought substantive challenges to the regulation, claiming that EPA did not have the discretion to act as it did, or it did so unreasonably.

The Court agreed with North Carolina and the SO2 Petitioners, holding that CAIR failed to meet the requirements of the CAA and finding “EPA’s approach – regionwide caps with no state-specific quantitative contribution determinations or emissions requirements – is fundamentally flawed.”

 Is vacatur the best remedy?

 In all four of these cases, the Court chose to vacate rather than remand the rules. The dissent in the CISWI/Boilers Rules case unsuccessfully argued that remand without vacating the rules was preferable“[b]ecause the rules would ensure greater protection to public health and the environment during the time EPA will need to develop and promulgate new rules.” The majority was unpersuaded and preferred no rules at all. Is that really the best option for the environment?

And the language the Court uses implies more than a lack of deference. In vacating CAIR, a decision described as “unexpected” by both proponents and opponents, the Court described the rule as “fundamentally flawed” and directed EPA to “redo its analysis from the ground up.” In vacating CAMR, the Court characterized EPA as “deploy[ing] the logic of the Queen of Hearts.” What’s going on here?

EPA IN THE DC CIRCUIT - WHERE HAS ALL THE DEFERENCE GONE?

Posted on September 23, 2008 by Linda Bochert
  • June 2007: DC Circuit Hands EPA and Industry Two Defeats:  Court Rejects EPA MACT Air Rules for Commercial and Industrial Boilers and Plywood and Composite Wood Products
  • February and July 2008: DC Circuit to EPA: Multi-Pollutant Strategy for Interstate Clean Air Fails to Meet Clean Air Act Requirements

Several recent cases have raised the following question in my mind: can EPA win an air case in the DC Circuit?

They teach us in law school that governmental agencies can expect a reasonable degree of deference from a reviewing court when exercising statutory authority to develop regulations to implement Congressional directives. States and entities subject to EPA’s regulations need something to rely on, and expect EPA and the Courts to provide some degree of predictability and certainty in the application of the regulations. Yet deference is nowhere to be found in the DC Circuit’s recent reviews of several EPA regulations implementing the Clean Air Act (CAA). And in each of the cases discussed below, the Court opted for the most dramatic remedy – vacatur of the offending rule.

These decisions can be sliced and diced from a variety of perspectives. At the least I think they raise vexing concerns about deference and choice of remedy. What do you think – are these the trend or the anomalies? Is this a real concern or much ado about nothing?

 

Here are my examples:

 1. June 2007: Commercial and Industrial Boiler MACT Rules

On June 8, 2007, in Natural Resources Defense Council v. EPA, No. 04-1385 (D.C. Cir. June 8, 2007) (NRDC I) the DC Circuit struck down two EPA rules setting air toxics limitations for commercial and industrial boilers and solid waste incinerators: National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Industrial, Commercial, and Institutional Boilers and Process Heaters (Boilers Rule) and Standards of Performance for New Stationary Sources and Emission Guidelines for Existing Sources: Commercial and Industrial Solid Waste Incineration Units (CISWI Definitions Rule).

At issue were the emission standards for hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) emitted from commercial and industrial solid waste incinerators and industrial boilers and the appropriate setting of the Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standard.

The challenge was brought by environmental petitioners Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and the Environmental Integrity Project. The Court agreed with them that EPA had impermissibly narrowed the definition of “commercial or industrial waste” in the CISWI Definitions Rule in violation of the plain language of section 129 of the Clean Air Act. Because the Boilers Rule was dependent on that same definition, both rules were rejected by the Court. EPA and industry representatives, including the Coalition for Responsible Waste Incineration, Utility Air Regulatory Group, and Utility Solid Waste Activities Group, contended that EPA’s definition was within the agency’s discretion, but the Court was not persuaded.

 

2. June 2007: Plywood and Composite Wood Products MACT Rules

On June 19, 2007, the DC Circuit dealt a second blow in a challenge to EPA’s rules to regulate HAPs from processing plywood and composite wood products (PCWP). Also named Natural Resources Defense Council v. EPA, No. 04-1323 (D.C. Cir. June 19, 2007) (NRDC II), this case was also brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and the Environmental Integrity Project against EPA. EPA was supported by industry groups, including the American Forest and Paper Association.

The two rules involved in this case were the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants: Plywood and Composite Wood Products (2004 Rule) and the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants: Plywood and Composite Wood Products; List of Hazardous Air Pollutants, Lesser Quantity Designations, Source Category List (2006 Rule), with the primary challenge to the 2006 Rule. Example of operations regulated by these rules include sawmills with lumber kilns, hardwood and softwood plywood and veneer plants, particleboard/fibreboard and other reconstituted wood product plants, and engineered wood product plants.

Once again, the issue was the appropriate MACT standard. In this case the pivotal elements were EPA’s decisions in the 2004 Rule to create a “low-risk subcategory” and in the 2006 Rule to extend the compliance deadline from October 2007 to October 2008.

 

3. February 2008: Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR)

On February 8, 2008, the DC Circuit struck down CAMR in New Jersey v. EPA, No. 05-1097 (D.C. Cir. Feb. 8, 2008). CAMR was the result of EPA’s decision to remove oil and coal-fired electric utility steam generating units (EGUs) from the list of sources of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) and instead regulate mercury emissions from these EGUs through a cap-and-trade program similar to the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR).

In response, New Jersey, and several other states, municipal governments and environmental groups, challenged CAMR claiming that EPA had no authority to delist the EGUs without providing a “specific finding” under section 112(c)(9) of the CAA. Because EPA did not make this specific finding, the Petitioners claimed that not only was the delisting invalid, but CAMR was also flawed because it was based upon this delisting decision. The DC Circuit agreed with the Petitioners, vacating both the delisting rule and CAMR.

 

4. July 2008: Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR)

On July 11, 2008, the D.C. Circuit vacated CAIR in North Carolina v. EPA, No. 05-1244 (D.C. Cir. July 11, 2008).

The multi-party challenge to CAIR was brought by the state of North Carolina, several electric utilities (SO2 Petitioners), specific electric utilities in Texas, Florida and Minnesota, one municipality, and the Florida Association of Electric Utilities (FAEU). The electric utilities in Texas, Florida and Minnesota challenged CAIR’s applicability to them because of their location and emissions amounts. North Carolina, the SO2 Petitioners, and FAEU brought substantive challenges to the regulation, claiming that EPA did not have the discretion to act as it did, or it did so unreasonably.

The Court agreed with North Carolina and the SO2 Petitioners, holding that CAIR failed to meet the requirements of the CAA and finding “EPA’s approach – regionwide caps with no state-specific quantitative contribution determinations or emissions requirements – is fundamentally flawed.”

 Is vacatur the best remedy?

 In all four of these cases, the Court chose to vacate rather than remand the rules. The dissent in the CISWI/Boilers Rules case unsuccessfully argued that remand without vacating the rules was preferable“[b]ecause the rules would ensure greater protection to public health and the environment during the time EPA will need to develop and promulgate new rules.” The majority was unpersuaded and preferred no rules at all. Is that really the best option for the environment?

And the language the Court uses implies more than a lack of deference. In vacating CAIR, a decision described as “unexpected” by both proponents and opponents, the Court described the rule as “fundamentally flawed” and directed EPA to “redo its analysis from the ground up.” In vacating CAMR, the Court characterized EPA as “deploy[ing] the logic of the Queen of Hearts.” What’s going on here?

Global Warming Litigation Heating up - Village of Kivalina Lawsuit

Posted on August 21, 2008 by Mark Walker

As the debate regarding the contribution of anthropogenic greenhouse gases to global warming continues, some parties are taking their concerns directly to the courts. Perhaps the latest in the growing number of global warming lawsuits is the Native Village of Kivalina, Alaska v. ExxonMobil, et al., Case No. CV-08-1138, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, San Francisco Division.

THE VILLAGE OF KIVALINA

The Village of Kivalina is located in northwest Alaska about 120 miles from the Arctic circle. The Village is comprised of roughly 1.9 square miles of land which lies on the tip of a barrier island which separates the Chukchi Sea and a lagoon on the mainland side. There are 399 residents of Kivalina, 97% of whom are Native Alaskans referred to as "Inupiat" Eskimos, meaning "the people."

THE PROBLEM

With claims presaged by Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth", Kivalina claims that global warming has caused the melting of Arctic sea ice which formerly protected the Village from winter storms. Without the protective ice, the Village claims that storms have caused massive erosion, leaving "houses and buildings in imminent danger of falling into the sea." The Village contends that, "if the entire village is not relocated soon, the village will be destroyed." Governmental estimates of the cost to relocate run as high as $400 million –roughly $1 million per resident.

THE DEFENDANTS

The defendants are 9 oil and gas companies, 14 electric generation companies and 1 coal company. Kivalina contends that the defendants are among the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the United States, and that the defendants "are responsible for a substantial portion of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that have caused global warming." The Village is pursuing a public nuisance theory.

CONSPIRACY CLAIMS

With allegations that are indeed carbon copied from the "Science Fraud" chapter in "An Inconvenient Truth", Kivalina claims that eight of the defendants have engaged in a civil conspiracy to generate misinformation and propaganda to create doubt as to whether global warming is occurring and, if so, whether man-made emissions are to blame. The Village claims that the alleged co-conspirators have used "front groups, fake citizens organizations, and bogus scientific bodies" to generate the alleged misinformation and doubt.

MOTIONS TO DISMISS

The Kivalina lawsuit is in its early stages, however, the defendants have filed motions to dismiss claiming, inter alia, that (1) the plaintiffs cannot pursue a federal common law nuisance claim because such claim is available only to States seeking injunctive relief and because the Clean Air Act displaces the authority of the courts to regulate nationwide greenhouse gas emissions and global warming; and (2) the plaintiffs' conspiracy claims are not independent torts, but are derivative of their underlying nuisance claims and should fail along with the nuisance claims. 

POLITICAL QUESTION DOCTRINE

Similar lawsuits have previously been dismissed on the grounds of lack of standing and non-justiciability under the political question doctrine. See Comer, et al. v. Murphy Oil, et al., Case No. 1:05-cv-00436-LTS-RHW, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, dismissal currently on appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (Appeal No. 07-60756); State of California v. General Motors, et al., Case No. C-06-05755-MJJ, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, dismissal currently on appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Appeal No. 07-16908). In Comer the plaintiffs blamed Hurricane Katrina on global warming and on 8 oil companies, 31 coal companies and 4 chemical companies that allegedly contributed to global warming. 

So far, the courts appear to be of the view that the responsibility for developing a comprehensive global warming policy which balances the interests of reducing air pollution and its social costs with the corresponding harm to economic development and its attendant social costs is a political question which is reserved for the political branches of government, and that such policies should not be developed on an ad hoc basis by the courts. Kivalina is once again testing the resolve of the courts to stay out of the global warming debate until Congress and/or the EPA establish clear policies regarding man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

To view a copy of the Kivalina Complaint, click here.

For more information on the author, click here.

EPA PROPOSES CO2 STORAGE RULES

Posted on July 22, 2008 by Rick Glick

On July 15, EPA announced new rules for underground injection of carbon dioxide (CO2). The rules are intended to provide a measure of regulatory certainty for carbon capture and storage (CCS) implementation.  CO2  STORAGE RULES. CCS is the technology for capturing CO2 as it is released from coal-fired power plants, oil refineries or other large scale sources of CO2 emissions, and then transporting the gas for injection into a suitable underground geologic formation. EPA estimates that CCS could account for as much as 30% of CO2 emissions by 2050, which has obvious implications for climate change.

NEW CLASS OF UIC WELLS

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA administers the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program. The program is designed to protect drinking water aquifers from industrial injection of fluids into deep geologic formations for purposes such as enhanced oil or gas recovery. CO2  storage presents special challenges as it is buoyant, can be corrosive and would be spread over a large area and held indefinitely. Therefore, EPA proposes a new Class VI well specific to storage. 

NO PRESCRIPTIVE STANDARDS

EPA proposes performance-based standards, as opposed to prescriptive requirements. In general, an injection and operations plan must be included with the application that demonstrates drinking water would be protected. Permit holder would have to monitor and periodically report back to EPA to ensure that model predictions as to the size of the CO2  plume and injection pressures prove true. Permittees would be required to demonstrate financial responsibility for post-injection site care for 50 years; that time period could be shorter or longer, depending on the residual risk to drinking water aquifers based on monitoring data.

PLENTY OF ROOM FOR STATE REGULATION

Note that the rules do not address the capture and transportation of CO2. Further, the new rules do not address property rights, liability or other siting regulatory concerns, so we can expect the states to assert jurisdiction. 

For more information, see full article here.

ALABAMA JOINS OTHER STATES IN ENACTING UNIFORM ENVIRONMENTAL COVENANTS ACT

Posted on July 18, 2008 by Jarred O. Taylor, II

Alabama joined a number of other states dealing with environmental covenants when it enacted the Alabama Uniform Environmental Covenants Act, effective January 1, 2008. Ala. Code§35-19-1 et seq. (“Act”).The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (“ADEM”) has been working on implementing regulations, which are expected to mimic the Act and be released in the next few months. ADEM will also charge a fee for implementation and oversight of the program and covenants.

For those not familiar with the concept, in many situations environmental contamination cannot be completely addressed by total removal (clean closure) of the offending soil or remediation of the groundwater to a level allowed for unrestricted use.  Some amount or concentration of contamination must be left behind. In those situations, EPA and ADEM will require additional measures, such as land use controls or continuing monitoring and maintenance. The idea is that if property has contamination on it unsuitable for a residential housing development or the construction of a school, those interested in buying or developing the property are put on notice of the limit of the property to commercial or industrial use.  These controls and obligations are often embodied in deed restrictions or recorded declarations which could be terminated by various common law mechanisms; therefore, the Uniform Environmental Covenants Act was created to provide a mechanism by which environmental covenants and land use restrictions survive the potential fatal operations of the common law. States were encouraged to adopt the uniform act, and Alabama has now done so.

An “Environmental Covenant” is defined as “[a] servitude arising under an environmental response project that imposes activity and use limitations.” Ala. Code § 35-19-2(5). Such “environmental response projects” can arise under state or federal hazardous waste cleanup laws, such as CERCLA, RCRA, or Alabama’s version of brownfields.

Before the Act was passed, ADEM still required a restrictive covenant or deed of some kind when contaminants were being left behind, but it was never sure what might happen to the restriction upon a subsequent sale of the property because it had no enforcement authority. If the property changed hands several times, there was no manner by which ADEM could require the Seller and the Buyer to maintain that restriction as a part of the sale. With the Act, there is a “holder” of the covenant which can enforce the covenant, and ADEM has enforcement power even if it is not a holder. A holder can be any person, a governmental agency (such as ADEM), an environmental group, or a unit of local government. The interest of a holder is considered to be an interest in real property; however, the Department’s interest in a covenant, unless it becomes a holder, will not be considered to be an interest in real property. There are certain elements that each covenant must meet in order to be effective, and those are clearly set out in the Act. Importantly, each environmental covenant requires at least one holder, and a holder can be the fee simple owner and/or the grantor of the covenant.

If, at the time an environmental covenant is recorded or registered, the Act does not abrogate the common-law doctrine of “first in time, first in right” as it relates to prior and valid property interests. If there are other interests in the subject real property with priority over the covenant, unless the prior interest in the property is made subordinate to the covenant by the owner of such interest, then the prior interest is not affected.

The grantor of an environmental covenant has a statutory responsibility to notify certain persons or entities of the covenant. Specifically, the grantor must provide a copy of the covenant to (i) each person signing the covenant; (ii) each person with a “recorded interest” in the subject property; (iii) each tenant or person in possession of the subject property; and (iv) each county or municipality in which the real property is located (normally the county or municipal office where deeds are recorded, such as the probate office). You also have the option of filing the covenant with ADEM (it keeps a registry), and then filing a notice with the county probate office in lieu of the entire covenant.

Environmental covenants are perpetual although there are exceptions set out in the Act, such as if the covenant itself has a specified length of time, a condition allowing termination is satisfied, or a court is petitioned for its modification. Of course, one always has the option of conducting additional remediation of the property to reach unrestricted use standards, which would then allow for termination of the covenant.

The author wishes to acknowledge the contributions made to this article by Bryan Nichols of Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C.

Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection Submits RGGI Regulations for Legislative Approval

Posted on June 9, 2008 by Gregory Sharp

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) has submitted for legislative approval regulations to control carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and establish a CO2 emissions credit program.[i] The controversial regulations are designed to fulfill Connecticut’s commitment to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (“RGGI”), which establishes a CO2 emissions cap and trade program for power plants in nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states.[ii] RGGI is designed to be a model for a broader, national market-driven program to establish a market value for greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions to provide incentives for reducing GHG emissions over the long term.

Carbon dioxide is the most significant GHG by volume. Unlike many other pollutants emitted by the combustion of fossil fuels, there are no commercially available control technologies to limit CO2 emissions. Therefore, programs to reduce GHG emissions focus on improving energy efficiency, reducing the use of fossil fuels through conservation efforts, and using renewable and alternative fuels.



[i]               Proposed Conn. Agencies Regs. § 22a-174-31 and 31a.

[ii]               Information about RGGI can be found at http://rggi.org.

The regulations impose a tonnage cap on CO2 emissions from large fossil fuel-fired electricity generating units in Connecticut. The initial tonnage cap is 10.7 million tons. The regulations seek to stabilize CO2 emissions from these units in 2009-2014, then reduce those emissions by 2.5% per year in 2015-2018 from the electric utility sector. The regulations allow allocation of emissions offsets to be used for compliance where real reduction of greenhouse gases are achieved outside the regulated utility sector. They require auctioning of CO2 allowances and the use of auction proceeds for consumer benefit or strategic energy purposes as required by Conn. Gen. Stat. § 22a-200c.Finally, the regulations require a demonstration of compliance every three years.

The regulations must be approved by the Legislative Regulations Review Committee of the General Assembly before they can become effective. Significant controversy surrounds several of the key provisions which have been opposed by companies with electric generating facilities in the state.

One concern is that the CO2 allowance costs will push the price of electricity up for consumers, despite industry investments in energy efficiency. Critics of the regulation advocate direct per kilowatt-hour rate relief, which is not provided in the proposed regulations.

A second problem for the electric generating companies is the Department’s refusal to limit auction participation to RGGI regulated sources – the owners and operators of fossil-fueled electric generating facilities. DEP fears that closed auctions might result in lower prices for carbon allowances, due to lessened competition. However, with no cap on auction allowance prices, the regulated entities fear that financial speculators may drive up the price of this new commodity. There is also a significant concern that environmental organizations could purchase these allowances and “retire” them by taking them off the market, driving up the price of the remaining carbon allowances and possibly creating a shortage. Historical data suggests that generators in Connecticut may need 94% of the available allowances in 2009 in order to operate at levels expected to meet demand.

Another significant issue is that the proposed Connecticut regulations provide no cap or ceiling on the auction price for the CO2 allowances. DEP estimates that the allowance price in 2009 will be approximately $2 per ton, increasing to $5 per ton in 2024. The allowance price will have a direct impact on electric rates.

The anticipated rate impact prompted Maine, New Hampshire, and New Jersey to establish cap mechanisms to protect consumers. Maine established a limit of $5 per ton, the highest price estimated by Connecticut DEP, beyond which auction proceeds would be applied to kilowatt-hour rebates to ratepayers. New Hampshire is establishing a $6 per ton rate cap, above which funds would be rebated to consumers, similar to the Maine auction provisions. New Jersey has mandated that if two consecutive regional auctions result in allowance prices above $7 per ton, an action plan must be developed for ratepayer relief.

Finally, the regulations provide that DEP will retain 7.5% of the funds realized from the auctions for administrative costs and programs to mitigate the impacts of climate change, despite the fact that the agency concedes that it only needs a quarter of this retainage to cover the administrative costs of the program.

The proposed regulations were submitted to the Regulations Review Committee on June 6, 2008. The Committee has 65 days to approve, recommend modifications, or reject the proposed regulations. Whether the regulations will be in place before the first RGGI auction scheduled in September remains to be seen. 

Gregory A. Sharp

Murtha Cullina LLP

Delaware Environmental Law Update

Posted on May 23, 2008 by Robert Whetzel

On May 15, 2008, Delaware enacted legislation that will affect the transfer or closing of facilities in Delaware where chemical or hazardous substances have been or are located. The legislation establishes three principal requirements for affected facilities. First, prior to the transfer of a facility, the parties to the transaction must conduct "All Appropriate Inquiry" as defined in Delaware's Hazardous Substances Cleanup Act, and all documents prepared or identified pursuant to such inquiry must be submitted to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC). Second, if an affected facility terminates its operations or files for bankruptcy, certain requirements must be completed no later than 90 days after termination of all business or activities at the facility, including certification of the removal of the chemicals or hazardous substances from the facility. Third, financial assurance will be required for transferred facilities or new facilities, in an amount to ensure that, upon termination, abandonment or liquidation of activities at the facility, all appropriate means will be taken to stabilize and secure the facility.

The legislation will become effective upon the promulgation by DNREC of facility transfer regulations. DNREC will begin the development of regulations to implement this legislation in late summer or early fall and is expected to promulgate regulations in early 2009.

 

If you have any questions about this Delaware Corporate Update , or other legal issues, please contact a Richards, Layton & Finger attorney.

WHOA THERE

Posted on May 8, 2008 by Brian Rosenthal

Broad statement of underlying support cannot sustain EPA regulatory definition of navigable waters [1]

 EPA’s broad regulatory reach on navigable waters is rejected by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. 

Setting aside the EPA’s regulatory definition of navigable waters, the D.C. Circuit Court  found the EPA’s definition was inadequately explained in light of recent United States Supreme Court cases. Oil producing facilities that add pollutants to navigable waters were required to develop spill prevention, control and counter measure plans under a Clean Water Act regulation that broadly defined navigable waters. Affected industry participants and associations successfully challenged the regulation.  

The question became whether in promulgating a regulation in an area where there has been recent Supreme Court activity whether the EPA considered all the relevant factors. If it did not, plaintiffs argued the EPA’s decisions were arbitrary and capricious or a clear error of judgment. The EPA argued while concise, its explanation was adequate. Its explanation came in a response to a comment and provided in part: “The case law supports a broad definition of navigable waters, such as the one published today, and that definition does not necessarily depend on navigability in fact.”[2]

The court could not reconcile, however, recent cases, that do not define navigable waters as broadly as in the EPA’s expansive rule. Noting recent courts have reined in the reach of the definition of navigable waters to not reach the fullest extent of the commerce clause, the court found inadequate EPA’s brief comment statement. Thus, the court agreed the EPA rule was not the product of reasoned decision making and struck it.



[1] American Petroleum Ind. v. Johnson, No. 02-2247 (D.D.C. March 31, 2008) (LEXIS 24963). 

[2] 2002 SPCC Rule, 67 Fed. Reg. at 47,075.

Acknowledging under an EPA review, the agency’s explanation must only be concise and general, the court noted that an explanation still must be provided showing that the relevant factors are considered. The EPA’s broad statement regarding case law support offered few clues as to which cases were used for reliance; thus, while the EPA’s statement was concise and general it did not provide sufficient support for the regulation. 

While expert agencies deserve deference and a “law review article” basis is not required for support, the court found the particular issues in this case provided a “unique burden” based on the recent Supreme Court case law that addressed the very issue.[1] 

At the very least, the court found recent case law established the Clean Water Act jurisdiction is not as broad as the limits of the Commerce Clause. In essence, the court concluded while the EPA may have taken a look at the factors, it could not conclude the look was reasoned enough to sustain the regulation. 

Therefore, the regulatory definition of navigable waters was set aside and vacated as arbitrary and capricious. 

The case has a nice overview of organizational and individual standing and ripeness. It also contains an interesting analysis of available remedies, discusses the reopening doctrine and the administrative review standard for cases in the D.C. Circuit. 



[1] Rapanos v. United States, 547 U.S. 715, 126 S. Ct. 2208 (2006); Solid Waste Agency of N. Cook County v. U.S. Army Corp of Engr’s, 531 U.S. 159, 121 S. Ct. 675 (2001).

Is Massachusetts Showing the Way Towards a Comprehensive Environmental Law?

Posted on April 25, 2008 by Seth Jaffe

I.          Introduction

In Massachusetts, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) recently announced two significant new initiatives. In October 2007, Massachusetts became one of the first states in the nation to require assessment of greenhouse gas emissions as part of an environmental policy act review process, issuing its final MEPA Greenhouse Gas Emissions Policy and Protocol (“GHG Policy”). The policy requires proponents of projects subject to the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act, or MEPA, M.G.L. ch. 30, §§ 61-62I, to assess the greenhouse gas impacts of such developments. The requirement applies not only to direct impacts, such as stack emissions, but also to indirect impacts, such as electricity demand and traffic generation.

Second, In January 2008, EEA issued a draft guidance for public comment on “Integrated MEPA/Permitting Review.”  The purpose of the Integrated Review Guidance is to make the MEPA process the true focus of a comprehensive review of project permitting, in order to avoid the more haphazard coordination between MEPA and permitting agencies that has been the rule in the past. 

Both of these developments are important in their own right for anyone practicing environmental law or doing development in Massachusetts. However, they are significant for another reason as well -- in both of these efforts, one can detect a glimmer of an effort by EEA to craft one comprehensive environmental protection statute for Massachusetts.

II.         Background; the Current Balkanized World of Environmental Protection

Any environmental attorney who practices across the full alphabet soup of environmental statutes -- RCRA, CWA, CAA, TSCA, CERCLA, FIFRA (not to mention their state counterparts) -- has experienced the frustration of finding that a cost-effective solution to an environmental problem is precluded by a provision of some other environmental statute. Clients, who don’t see the world as a random amalgamation of statutes, but through the prism of a specific facility or operating unit, experience this problem acutely. Unfortunately, that is not the way legislators see the world; legislators address one problem at a time, as such problems are brought to their attention by constituents or the news media. Love Canal leads to CERCLA. Acid rain leads to SO2 regulation under the Clean Air Act. PCB problems lead to TSCA. Now, concerns over global climate change may lead to regulation of greenhouse gases. Unfortunately, never the twain shall meet; or they meet, but not in a way that anyone could consider logical.

The closest that any statutes come to the promise of a comprehensive environmental statute is the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321-4370(f), and NEPA’s state analogues, such as MEPA. These statutes are intended to require examination of overall project impacts. However, NEPA has significant limitations as a comprehensive environmental statute. First, its jurisdiction is limited to ”major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment…”. NEPA, § 102(2)(C), 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(c). Second, it applies only to proposed future projects; it cannot be used to assess the impacts of existing facilities. Finally, and most importantly, NEPA has very limited substantive teeth. It is a purely informational statute. While an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that reveals significant potential impacts with no attempt by the proponent to mitigate those impacts may lead a permitting agency to deny necessary approvals, the substantive authority over a project remains with the permitting agencies.

Under NEPA, the agency proposing the action subject to NEPA prepares the EIS and then moves forward with the project, based on the conclusions of the EIS. A project opponent dissatisfied with the adequacy of the EIR must go to court, hoping that a federal judge will find the EIS inadequate. However, in Massachusetts, the project proponent must submit the Environmental Impact Report (we have to be different in Massachusetts; we have EIRs, not EISs) to EEA. EEA, after public comment, makes a formal determination whether the EIR complies with MEPA. EEA’s role in assessing the adequacy of the EIR -- including the statements in the EIR concerning how any adverse environmental impacts will be mitigated -- gives it a hook to use in requiring truly comprehensive review of new projects. 

Ultimate permitting decisions in Massachusetts are still made by other agencies given such jurisdiction by the various substantive environmental laws. Historically, participation by permitting agencies in the MEPA process has sometimes been fitful at best. The question environmental practioners are now trying to answer is whether these policies are simply the first steps by EEA to position the MEPA process as the focus of comprehensive environmental protection review in Massachusetts.

III.        The Details of the New Policies

If a project is subject to the GHG Policy, the project’s proponent must quantify the potential annual GHG emissions from the project in the EIR. Specifically, project proponents must assess potential GHG emissions from three different sources:

·                     Direct Emissions from Stationary Sources. Stationary sources include boilers, heaters, ovens, or furnaces (including periodic sources, such as emergency generators). 

·                     Indirect Emissions from Energy Consumption. Indirect emissions result from heating, cooling, electricity, and/or steam used at a project site. 

·                     Indirect Emissions from Transportation. Transportation-related emissions include emissions from employees, vendors, and customers. 

In other words, this policy is not applicable only to power plants, and it does not require assessment only of the direct GHG impacts of a project. Instead, it requires a comprehensive assessment of indirect impacts as well, including GHG emissions from travel to and from the project and indirect energy use associated with the project.

What About Mitigation?

Although the cost to prepare the required analyses will not be trivial, EEA has worked hard with the real estate industry and other stakeholders to try to craft approaches to assessing GHG impacts that will be manageable for project proponents. EEA has also put one other significant carrot before project proponents. If a proponent offers to implement “exceptional measures” to limit GHG emissions, EEA may allow the proponent to opt out of the GHG quantification analysis. However, at this point, it is not clear what would constitute such “exceptional measures.” Would electricity from a renewable source qualify? How about agreeing to design a building to a certain level of LEED certification?

Given EEA’s apparently real flexibility regarding the assessment side of the equation, the rubber will really meet the road for the GHG Policy in how EEA approaches mitigation. The GHG Policy is clear that it is not intended merely as a data gathering device. EEA repeatedly emphasizes that proponents will have to assess potential mitigation measures and must “explain which alternatives were rejected, and the reasons for the rejection.”

The GHG Policy could be seen as merely a tweak -- if a significant one -- to MEPA in order to address the significant threat posed by global climate change. However, the comprehensive nature of the policy, and EEA’s separate statements regarding the links between energy and environment (note the new name of the agency) and the importance of embedding concerns about climate change into all of its decisions suggest that EEA has greater hopes for the GHG Policy than as a mere tweak to MEPA.

The view that EEA is seeking to make MEPA a comprehensive environmental statute was made more concrete by EEA’s issuance of the draft policy on “Integrated MEPA/Permitting Review.” The purpose of the Integrated Review Guidance is indeed to fulfill the promise of MEPA as a comprehensive environmental protection statute. Although the Integrated Review Guidance is only draft, and will be utilized solely as a pilot project initially, the intent is clearly to make the MEPA process the true focus of environmental review for new development in Massachusetts, rather than simply as a tool to be utilized by the various permitting agencies, each operating in their own silos. The policy itself states that its purpose is “to make MEPA an integral part of permitting, rather than a separate process that precedes permitting.” 

IV.        Conclusions

It is too soon to predict the outcome of EEA’s apparent efforts to make MEPA a comprehensive environmental protection statute. First, only time will tell how committed EEA is to the project. Second, EEA remains limited by the jurisdictional authority it has been granted under MEPA. Third, as with NEPA, ultimate permitting decisions are still made by each agency pursuant to the authority granted the agency by the substantive statute requiring a permit. EEA has to date resisted efforts to mandate that agencies under EEA authority issue permits within a certain time period following completion of the review under the Integrated Review Guidance. Those agencies must comply with each statute they implement and good intentions will not justify in court an agency decision to ignore the provisions of one environmental statute in order to achieve a broader environmental benefit.

The real test of EEA’s current efforts will be whether it can find a way to assess cross-media environmental impacts, make a decision regarding whether a project is a net environmental benefit, and have that decision override narrower environmental statutes that would otherwise preclude a win-win outcome. What happens, for example, when the state Clean Water Act appears to require some treatment technology to mitigate an apparently small harm to the environment resulting from a water discharge, at a substantial cost in air emissions or decreased energy efficiency? There are also practical concerns regarding how agency personnel operate. What happens if the state Clean Water Act gives the Department of Environmental Protection sufficient authority to waive the discharge requirement, but the individual DEP employee reviewing the permit, who has worked on NPDES permits for her entire career, sees only the trees and not the forest? Persuading agency employees to pull in the same direction could be as significant an obstacle as negotiating the formal legal hurdles.

Until EEA figures out a way to reach the right environmental result across all media, the promise of a comprehensive environmental protection law will remain illusory. Stay tuned.

_________________________________________

Seth Jaffe is recognized by Chambers USA, The Best Lawyers in America and Massachusetts SuperLawyers as a leading practitioner in environmental compliance and related litigation. He works on a wide range of environmental law issues, representing clients in the permitting/licensing of new facilities and offering ongoing guidance on permitting and enforcement related matters under federal and state Clean Air Acts, Clean Water Acts, RCRA, and TSCA. He also advises on wetlands and waterways regulation. Seth’s clients include electric and telecommunications utilities, companies in the printing and chemical industries, and education and health care institutions.

Foley Hoag provides comprehensive legal services to clients throughout the United States and around the world. We serve a wide range of industries, including biopharma, energy and utilities, financial services, manufacturing, and technology. With 250 lawyers located in Boston, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C. and our Emerging Enterprise Center in Waltham, Massachusetts, we provide creative solutions and results-oriented advice in the areas of bankruptcy, restructuring and workouts; corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, and IPOs; labor and employment; litigation; environmental issues and land use; government strategies; intellectual property; tax, trusts and estates; and white collar and business crimes. For more information, visit foleyhoag.com.

Evans v. Walter Industries, Inc. - The Heightened Pleading Standards Announced In Bell Atlantic v. Twombly Apply To Toxic Tort Cases

Posted on March 19, 2008 by Jack Shumate

I.          Introduction

On May 21, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955; 167 L.Ed. 2d 929, announced a new standard for testing the sufficiency of pleadings in the face of a motion to dismiss. The Court set aside the rule in Conley v. Gibson, 355 US 41; 78 S.Ct. 99; 2 L.Ed. 80 (1957), which held that a complaint should not be dismissed unless it could be shown that it was not possible, pursuant to the pleadings, to demonstrate any set of facts which would support recovery; instead, the Court said that the appropriate test was whether the allegations of the complaint, if taken as true, would support the conclusion that recovery was “plausible.” In overruling Conley, the Court said, of the “possible” standard, “*** after puzzling the profession for 50 years, this famous observation has earned its retirement. The phrase is best forgotten as an incomplete, negative gloss on an accepted pleading standard ****.” 

Bell Atlantic was an anti-trust case based on the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Many commentators suggested that the Bell Atlantic standard would only apply to matters (such as anti-trust) where the requirements of a statute dictated specific pleading requirements, that the Court had not intended to completely change the standards for testing the sufficiency of complaints.

Shortly after the Bell Atlantic decision, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama was faced with the question in Evans v. Walter Industries, case no. 1:05-CV-01017-KOB. The Alabama court held the “plausible” standard applicable to a putative class action toxic tort case and it dismissed the case, with prejudice, against one of the Defendants.

As noted below, this decision could have significant implications in other Superfund cases if the federal courts, generally, reach the same conclusion.

II          BACKGROUND FACTS

This case arises from the extensive environmental concerns in Anniston, Alabama, a city of approximately 27,000 in northeastern Alabama. Anniston was the site where PCBs were first produced in 1927, and continued to be manufactured until 1972. In addition, in the first half of the 20th century the city was home to numerous iron pipe foundries; indeed, it was once known as the “sewer pipe capitol” of the world. The foundries produced thousands of tons, per day, of waste foundry sand allegedly contaminated with lead and a variety of other heavy metals, solvents, and PCBs. 

Much of Anniston is low lying and swampy, traversed by numerous creeks and open drains, many of which have become contaminated with PCBs. Foundry sand has been extensively used as fill material and top soil in residential yards throughout the city and adjoining communities. This has all led to Anniston becoming the location of two Superfund sites, one for remediation of PCBs and the other a removal action to clean lead from residential yards, extensive contribution actions, and a series of class actions by local residents who claim a variety of injuries as a result of local contamination. 

The concern of the local residents has been exacerbated by the fact that Anniston is immediately adjacent to Fort McClellan, an Army post which was for many decades the headquarters of the Army’s Chemical, Biological, and Radiological Warfare Corps and the Army is now in the process of destroying various toxins stored at the post which have become unstable with the passage of time.

III.        PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiffs, reportedly representing a plaintiff class of 12,000 to 14,000 people, filed a complaint in state court in 2005 asserting very broad, vague claims of personal injury, trespass, nuisance, and diminution of property value against foundry operators and a number of other, non-foundry companies. The case was removed to federal court pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act and remains there.

Considerable skirmishing, involving Defendants’ motions attacking what were styled as “shotgun” allegations, and subsequent dismissals without prejudice eventually resulted in the filing of a second amended revised complaint in 2007. Defendants again attacked the complaint as the type of “shotgun” pleading which had attracted much negative comment by the Eleventh Circuit. A few days before argument on those motions, the Supreme Court released the Bell Atlantic decision. Defendants cited that decision as supplemental authority, arguing that the Court now had authority to dismiss the “shotgun” pleading with prejudice.

The Plaintiffs had alleged, and argued, that the foundries had produced thousands of tons of contaminated sand which ended up in Plaintiffs’ yards; further, that all of the Defendants may have released sand, PCBs, and other contaminants in sand that was used to clean up spills, stormwater, and air emissions. The Court was critical of these allegations because they did not specify what each Defendant had allegedly done, but, rather, seemed to treat all releases as a group action. The Plaintiffs argued that they could not be required to specify what each Defendant had done until they were permitted to pursue discovery. They argued that the Conley standard should apply and that their allegations should be found to be sufficient because it was “possible” that, in discovery, they could find specific facts to support their allegations. The Plaintiffs also argued that Bell Atlantic did not apply because the allegations were not made pursuant to a statute which required the averment of specific facts.

The Court rejected the Plaintiffs’ arguments and applied the Bell Atlantic standards. Its decision was based on three considerations. First, it noted that Conley was not an anti-trust case; therefore, even though the Supreme Court struck down the Conley test in an anti-trust case, its ruling was not limited to specific statutory actions.

Next, the Court held that adequate pleadings were necessary to advise not only the Defendants, but also the courts, of the allegations of the case so that discovery could be administered and could proceed in an appropriate manner. The Court styled this as a requirement to advise Defendants and the court of “*** who, what, when, where ***” the actions resulting in the damage complained of occurred. 

Next, the Court focused on the Supreme Court’s discussion, in Bell Atlantic, of the high cost of discovery and the increasing practice of plaintiffs in putative class actions to file suit with vague allegations and then use the high cost of discovery to pressure defendants into settling. 

Based on all these considerations, the Court dismissed the complaints as to all parties, but agreed to give Plaintiffs “one last chance” to file an adequate complaint against the foundry defendants. With respect to the non-foundry defendants, the Court observed that the allegations that there “may” have been discharges of contaminants in sand used to clean up spills and in stormwater and air emissions were entirely too vague and that, if the Plaintiffs could not produce much more specific allegations, those claims would be dismissed with prejudice.

Subsequently, Huron Valley Steel Corporation, a Defendant which is a recycler of non-ferrous scrap metals, moved for dismissal with prejudice and for entry of an immediate final judgment. The Court agreed that, from the face of the complaint, it appeared that this was a foundry sand case, that Huron Valley Steel Corporation had never produced or disposed of foundry sand, and that there were no other allegations against it that were not impermissibly vague. Therefore, the court dismissed the matter with prejudice as to Huron Valley Steel Corporation and entered final judgment for that Defendant. 

The court has yet to rule on the motions to dismiss of the remaining Defendants.

IV.       POTENTIAL IMPLICATIONS OF THIS DECISION

If other federal courts follow the line of reasoning of the Alabama court it could remove a number of complications in the future in Superfund matters. Most important, it may do away with, or at least significantly reduce, the practice of filing vague, broadly worded complaints against PRPs by groups of residents who live in the vicinity of Superfund sites, then seeking to pressure defendants to quickly settle. It could also simplify the task of planning and sequencing remediation activities and documenting Administrative Records to protect against such lawsuits. This could provide an important cost saving for PRPs in many cases.

For further information, contact Jack D. Shumate at shumate@butzel.com or (248) 258-1405.

Jack Shumate is Senior Environmental Counsel in the law firm Butzel Long, Professional Corporation. Mr. Shumate holds a BS degree in Chemical Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and received his JD from the Salmon P. Chase College of Law of Northern Kentucky University in 1962. He is listed in the Best Lawyers in America and is a Founding Regent and Charter Fellow of the American College of Environmental Lawyers.

Butzel Long is a full-service law firm headquartered in Detroit, Michigan with offices throughout Michigan and in Florida, New York City, and Washington DC and alliance offices in China and Mexico.

Kansas Agency Denies Air Quality Construction Permit for Coal-Fired Generating Units Based Solely on Projected CO2 Emissions

Posted on February 19, 2008 by Charles Efflandt

On October 18, 2007, the head of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), Secretary Roderick Bremby, denied an air quality permit application for two proposed 700-megawatt coal-fired generating units to be constructed in Holcomb, Kansas. The application was submitted by Sunflower Electric Power Company as part of a planned $3.6 billion expansion of an existing facility. The Secretary’s decision to deny the permit was based solely on the projected carbon dioxide emissions from these units and the impact of such emissions on climate change. Carbon dioxide is not specifically regulated as an air pollutant in Kansas.

In announcing his decision, which rejected the recommendation of agency staff that the permit be granted, the Secretary stated “I believe it would be irresponsible to ignore emerging information about the contribution of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to climate change and the potential harm to our environment and health if we do nothing.” The expanded facility was projected to release an estimated 11 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. The Secretary did not indicate at what level projected carbon dioxide emissions would, in his opinion, threaten human health and the environment. Thus, the Secretary left open the question of how other CO2 emitting facilities would be regulated in Kansas in the future. Although a number of states have entered into regional initiatives or enacted legislation designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time, it is believed that KDHE’s outright denial of an air quality permit based solely on perceived “excessive” emissions of an unregulated greenhouse gas is a first in the nation.

The cited legal support for the decision is an opinion of the Kansas Attorney General that, notwithstanding specific statutes or rules regulating air emissions, K.S.A. 65-3012 gives KDHE the broad authority to take any permitting or other action deemed necessary should the Secretary make a factual determination that a particular emission constitutes an air pollutant and that such emissions threaten health or the environment. The “factual determination” supporting the Secretary’s conclusion that carbon dioxide is an air pollutant and that this particular facility’s projected carbon dioxide emissions would constitute a threat to health and the environment is not apparent from the permit denial decision.

On November 16, 2007, Sunflower Electric Power Corporation filed two lawsuits seeking to overturn KDHE’s permit denial decision challenging the legal authority for the agency’s decision.

Not surprisingly, the KDHE’s permit denial decision has generated substantial controversy. A media campaign was immediately launched by those opposing the KDHE’s decision. The theme of that campaign is that the Secretary’s claimed authority could logically be extended to other facilities and potentially other unregulated emissions to the general detriment of the state and its ability to attract and retain business.

In a subsequent action perceived as an attempt to diffuse this criticism, the Secretary announced the decision to approve an air quality permit for an ethanol plant, notwithstanding the facility’s carbon dioxide emissions. Although the projected CO2 emissions from the ethanol facility are substantially less than those of the proposed coal-fired generating plant, the KDHE’s approval of the ethanol plant permit did not elaborate on the specific factual and scientific bases for distinguishing the facilities. Thus, it remains unclear in Kansas what quantity of projected carbon dioxide emissions may exceed the unspecified level deemed by KDHE to constitute an unacceptable global warming threat.

State law-makers in both chambers of the legislature are presently considering several bills directed at the Secretary’s permit denial decision. Provisions of the various bills include legislation specifically “over-turning” the Secretary’s decision, the enactment of phased-in limitations on CO2 emissions with a “carbon tax” penalty for violators, and a variety of alternative energy incentives and requirements. Most of the bills being considered are being opposed by the governor and environmental groups as being hastily conceived and inadequate to meet the future health and regulatory challenges of greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

For more information please contact Charles Efflandt, practice group leader of the Environmental and Natural Resources team, Foulston Siefkin L.L.P., Wichita, Kansas http://www.foulston.com.