California v. U.S. EPA--Fighting for the Last Word on Mobile Source Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Posted on February 19, 2008 by Lee A. DeHihns, III

Following the United States Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, deciding that greenhouse gases are a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, a federal-state skirmish has emerged in the climate change arena over mobile source emissions. The United States Government estimates that the transportation sector accounts for approximately one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Over the past months, the question of how to reduce those emissions has evolved into a dramatic political and legal battle, pitting California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger against U.S. President George Bush. 

The stage for this tussle was set long ago when Congress adopted the federal Clean Air Act and included in the law a special provision for California. Specifically, Section 209(a) of the Clean Air Act prohibits individual states from adopting emission standards for new motor vehicles. However, in recognition of California’s unique smog problems, a subsection (b) was added to enable California to adopt standards more stringent than federal standards so long as it applies for and obtains a waiver from the U.S. EPA. As one court recently explained, under Section 209(b), “Congress has essentially designated California as a proving ground for innovation in emission control regulations.” Other states are then free to adopt California’s standards pursuant to Section 177 of the Clean Air Act, so long as the standards are adopted at least two years before the model year that they regulate. 

In 2002, California invoked its unique Clean Air Act authority to address greenhouse gas emissions from mobile sources. In particular, the State passed AB 1493 requiring the California Air Resources Board to develop and adopt regulations for the greenhouse gas emissions of passenger automobiles and light duty trucks. In September of 2004, the Air Resources Board adopted standards that apply to such vehicles beginning with model year 2009. As required by the Clean Air Act, California then requested a waiver from the U.S. EPA so that the standards could enter into force. While the waiver request was pending, no less than sixteen other states lined up to adopt California’s standards—for all practical purposes, the California standards were poised to become the de facto national standard.  

Automobile manufacturers challenged those regulations in federal courts in both Vermont and California, arguing that the state automobile emission standards for greenhouse gases constituted fuel efficiency standards, and that fuel efficiency standards are exclusively regulated by the federal government under the Environmental Policy and Conservation Act (“EPCA”).[1] Both courts rejected the manufacturers’ challenges, deciding that federal law did not preempt California’s ability to affect fuel economy through the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, so long as the U.S. EPA granted a waiver under the Clean Air Act—the stage was set for a showdown between California and the U.S. EPA.

The U.S. EPA played its hand slowly. During the summer of 2007, the U.S. EPA held hearings on California’s waiver request. Perhaps foreshadowing its upcoming decision on the request, the U.S. EPA then announced in the fall that it would begin its own “Rulemaking To Address Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Motor Vehicles,” planning for the adoption of federal regulations by October 2008. Finally, the shot was fired on December 19, 2007, when Stephen Johnson, the U.S. EPA Administrator, held a press conference announcing his agency would not grant a waiver to California’s regulation. At the same time, President Bush signed a new energy bill, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, requiring a fleet average of thirty-five miles per gallon by 2020 and an annual production of thirty-six billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022.[2] In making the announcement, Johnson specifically cited Bush’s recent signing of the bill and said, “The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution, not a confusing patchwork of state rules. I believe this is a better approach than if individual states were to act alone.”

Retaliation came swiftly. Little more than two weeks after Johnson’s announcement, California, along with 15 other states and five environmental groups, petitioned the Ninth Circuit on January 2, 2008, for review of the waiver denial.  In the lawsuit, California will need to make the case that its regulation under Section 209 was necessary to “meet compelling and extraordinary conditions.”  As a coastal state with limited fresh water resources, the effect of climate change on California may indeed be severe, involving rising sea levels, a reduction in the Sierra snow pack, and higher temperatures that would exacerbate the state’s ozone nonattainment problem, which is already the worst in the nation. A recent Stanford University study added fodder to this argument when it found Californians’ health will be disproportionately affected by greenhouse gas emissions, because the state is home to six of the most polluted cities in the United States. California will also need to make the case under section 209, that its standards “will be, in the aggregate, at least as protective of public health and welfare as applicable Federal standards.” To that end, the California Air Resources Board released a January 2, 2008, assessment that concludes the federal law, even when fully implemented, will not be as effective as California’s standards at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from new vehicles. Even if California is successful, California’s regulation will have to be modified as it was to apply to 2009 model cars—models that will shortly be coming to market. 

The EPA’s first legal maneuver in response to California’s petition may be to request a transfer from the Ninth Circuit to the more agency-friendly D.C. Circuit. Most challenges of EPA regulations must be filed in the D.C. Circuit—the relevant jurisdictional trigger being whether the action has “nationwide scope or effect.”  While the issue of the waiver makes its way through the courts, the U.S. EPA’s rulemaking will also go forward. To meet its goal of final action by October 2008, the U.S. EPA will have to move quickly, with the public comment period coming by summer 2008 at the latest. 

As these battles are fought, looming on the horizon is a general election in November, and a new federal administration beginning in January of 2009. If the U.S. EPA adopts regulations in October 2008 that do not go as far as the California standards, yet another legal challenge seems almost inevitable, if for no other reason than to stall any final rule until the administration changeover. When the dust does settle, presumably in 2009, the road to mobile source emission reductions will finally be paved.

Michèle Corash is a partner in the international law firm of Morrison & Foerster LLP and a member of the firm’s environmental law practice group. She served as General Counsel of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1979 to 1982 and previously as Deputy General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Energy and Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. Ms. Corash has consistently been listed in American Lawyer’s Corporate Counsel among the “Best Lawyers in America for Environmental Law” and in numerous other publications as being at the top of her field. She represents companies on a broad range of state, national and international environmental issues and claims regarding exposure to toxic substances. With the experience of being a former General Counsel of the EPA, Ms. Corash is well versed, and has been for many years, in the evolving area of clean technology, renewable resources and climate change. She advises clients on the many issues now facing corporations as they face the challenges of new technologies, infrastructures, markets and regulatory regimes.

Contact information: mcorash@mofo.com or (415) 268-7124



[1] Adopted in 1975, EPCA provides for the establishment of national corporate average fuel economy (“CAFÉ”) standards that apply to all passenger automobiles and light duty trucks.

[2] Coincidentally, at the same time, the European Commission adopted a proposal for legislation to dramatically reduce the average carbon dioxide (“CO2”) emissions of new passenger cars by 2012. If adopted by the European Parliament, the proposal requires, by 2012, a fleet average of 130 grams of CO2 emissions per kilometer, with another 10 grams per kilometer reduction from alternative sources such as biofuels and more efficient air-conditioning. Considering Europe’s cars currently emit on average 160 grams of CO2 per kilometer, this represents an almost twenty percent reduction of CO2 emissions in four years. 

Climate and the Courts

Posted on February 4, 2008 by Lee A. DeHihns, III

The Supreme Court ruled last term that climate change can be regulated under federal law. But will the continuing lack of action by Congress, the En­vironmental Protection Agency, and most states be replaced by new litiga­tion by activist states and public inter­est organizations against government agencies and private parties? Is this an area where litigation will, or alternatively should, fill a void left by meaningful government activity? When EPA separately receives a record-breaking 100,000 comment letters on the request by California to waive the Clean Air Act’s barrier to state regulation of greenhouse gases from motor vehicles, one realizes that the public’s demand for concrete action is urgent. A legitimate fear, how­ever, is that these petitions and lawsuits could produce a patch­work response to global warm­ing where a comprehensive na­tional strategy is called for.

 

Without federal legislation setting out a clear and compre­hensive policy on GHGs, what is certain is that court cases to address alleged damages from global warming emissions will continue under authorities liti­gants claim are in the CAA or under public nuisance and oth­er common law torts. Whether seeking federal statutory pre­emption of state action or af­firmation that the claimants’ is­sues are non-justiciable political questions, cases that would bar some of those assertions are now squarely before two federal appeals courts. The stakes in those cases — which I expect will go to the Supreme Court — are high. At issue are the responsibilities and rights of both the federal government and the states in en­vironmental policymaking as well as the role that courts play in resolving the special issues, such as causation, injury, and standing, raised by global warming.

The Supreme Court’s holding in Massachusetts v. EPA, decided April 2, 2007, has already had a tre­mendous impact on climate change policy develop­ment and litigation in the United States. In Massa­chusetts, 13 states, 3 cities, 13 environmental orga­nizations, and American Samoa asked for review of EPA’s denial of a petition for rulemaking to regulate GHGs — in this case four specific gases, including carbon dioxide — from new motor vehicles under Section 202(a)(1) of the CAA. That section requires that EPA “shall by regulation prescribe . . . standards applicable to the emission of any air pollutant from any class . . . of new motor vehicles . . . which in [the administrator’s] judgment cause[s], or contribute[s] to, air pollution . . . reasonably . . . anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” The act defines air pollutant to include any physical or chemical substance emitted into the ambient air.

EPA’s denial of the petition reasoned that the CAA does not authorize it to issue mandatory regu­lations to address GHGs, especially when, as argued by the federal government, there is no science firmly linking emissions with an increase in global surface air temperatures. From a political perspective, EPA also reasoned that regulating new motor vehicles would conflict with President Bush’s comprehensive, voluntary strategy and undermine his ability to conduct foreign policy with developing countries over their emissions. EPA’s denial was not without sup­port: 10 states and 6 trade associations filed briefs against the petition.

Although the agency claimed that Massachusetts had failed to demonstrate an injury that could be tied to GHG emissions, the Court found that the state had standing to pursue review of EPA’s denial of its petition. The Court held that carbon dioxide and other GHG emissions do meet the definition of air pollutant under the CAA. The Court next held that the CAA requires EPA to regulate GHGs from new motor vehicles if it forms a judgment that such emissions under Section 202(a) “may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” Welfare under the CAA includes effects on climate. EPA can only avoid regulatory action if it is appar­ent that GHGs from new motor vehicles do not contribute to climate change. Because of the Court’s linking of GHGs with the definition of air pollutant under the CAA, future litigation and other actions to reduce emissions will be strengthened.

In reaction to Massachusetts, and the lack of any decisions on GHG regulation by the agency since the decision last April, there are a variety of efforts underway to force EPA or other federal agencies to formulate a national approach to GHG regulation. Unfortunately, such an approach has to be taken up piecemeal since there is no single authority in the Clean Air Act that is a logical target. As a result, U.S. climate policy could become a crazy-quilt of differing standards and regulations across the country.

More Unanswered Petitions

In a lawsuit pending while Massachusetts’s petition for a rulemaking was on its journey, on September 12, 2007, another New England state received a favorable response to its separate petition to regu­late GHGs from motor vehicles in a federal trial court — although the final result will depend on the outcome from yet another state petition. In Green Mountain Chrysler Plymouth Dodge Jeep v. Crombie, a case brought by a group of car dealers, manufacturers, and their associations, a U.S. district court found that the state of Vermont’s regulations adopting California’s GHG standards for new automobiles were not pre­empted by either the CAA or the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975, as amended. EPCA autho­rizes the Department of Transportation to set mileage standards for new cars and light trucks.

Section 202 of the CAA, the object of Massachusetts, requires the agency to establish standards for air pol­lutants emitted by new motor vehicles. Section 209(a) preempts a state from adopting its own motor vehicle emission standards, while Section 209(b) requires EPA to waive the preemption barrier for standards that meet certain conditions. The most important condition, of course, is that the state adopt the same regulations as California, which because it suffers from the worst air pollution in the country and was already legislating emissions reductions before the national government can receive a waiver to adopt standards stricter than federal regulations. Other states may adopt California standards for which a waiver has been granted if they do so at least two years before commencement of a new automotive model year.

California adopted GHG standards for new vehi­cles to begin in model year 2009, and asked EPA for a waiver of federal preemption in 2005, the same year as Vermont enacted its standards. It is this request that en­gendered the 100,000 comment letters, the most ever received on any regulatory petition. The federal agency is expected to act on California’s waiver request after it reviews the letters. However, California has decided not to wait on EPA to act on its request. On November 5, 2007, the state sued the agency in federal court to compel it to act on the petition. California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. said, “We have waited two years and the Supreme Court has ruled in our fa­vor. What is the EPA waiting for?” California pointed particularly to the fact that 16 other states have adopt­ed California standards or will do so soon. The ruling in Green Mountain Chrysler Plymouth allows Vermont’s petition to go forward, where it will have to await EPA’s decision on the California petition.

The Green Mountain decision draws support from Massachusetts, because the Supreme Court commented that despite the overlap between EPCA and the CAA, EPA must act to carry out its obligations without re­gard to what DOT does under EPCA. The Supreme Court held that “EPA has been charged with protect­ing the public’s health and welfare . . . a statutory obli­gation wholly independent of DOT’s mandate to pro­mote energy efficiency.” While recognizing that those emissions contribute to global warming, the district court recognized that Vermont’s attempt to regulate GHGs from cars is part of its comprehensive strategy to reduce GHG emissions statewide. Vermont is un­dertaking its motor vehicle program and other actions through its participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an agreement among nine northeastern and mid-Atlantic states to adopt a regional cap-and-trade program for GHGs associated with large station­ary sources such as power plants.

One other interesting issue raised in the Vermont case is the allegation that the state’s regulations intrude upon the foreign affairs prerogatives of the president and the Congress and that they interfere with U.S. pursuit of international agreements to reduce GHGs. Again relying on Massachusetts, the district court said that the Supreme Court had dismissed EPA’s similar contention that regulating GHGs under the CAA might impair the president’s ability to negotiate with developing nations to reduce greenhouse gas emis­sions. Based on the evidence before it, the district court concluded that there was no demonstration that Ver­mont’s regulations would have a recognizable intrusion in the field of foreign affairs. The district court weighed the burden that the automotive industry bears to show that the Vermont regulations are beyond its ability to meet, and concluded that “the court remains uncon­vinced automakers cannot meet the challenges of Ver­mont and California’s greenhouse gas regulations.”

Staying in the world of motor vehicle emissions, on November 15, 2007, the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded NHTSA’s corporate average fuel economy standards for light trucks for model years 2008–2011 issued under EPCA in Center for Biological Diversity v. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The standards were challenged by 11 states, the District of Columbia, the city of New York, and four public inter­est organizations. Emissions from light trucks make up about 8 percent of annual U.S. greenhouse gas emis­sions. NHTSA claimed it weighed all of the benefits of improved fuel savings, concluding that “there is no compelling evidence that the unmonetized benefits would alter our assessment of the level of the standard for [model year] 2011.” The appeals court found that NHTSA “assigned no value to the most significant benefit of more stringent CAFE standards: reduction in carbon emissions” and thus will have to promulgate new CAFE standards that take GHGs into account.

In yet another petition to EPA, on October 2, 2007, California Attorney General Brown joined three national environmental organizations in asking the agency to adopt strict regulations for GHGs from ocean-going vessels under the CAA — “and to begin the process immediately.” Brown said that ocean-going vessels emit more CO2 emissions than any nation in the world except for the United States, Russia, China, Japan, India, and Germany. The petition asserts that ocean-going vessels over 100 tons are estimated to emit up to 3 percent of the total world inventory of GHGs, while by comparison in Massachusetts v. EPA the Court found that the contribution of the U.S. transportation sector to the worldwide GHG total is about 6 percent. California asserts that such a large sectoral contribution to global warming is “vital to regulate.”

California has also turned to litigation and legisla­tion. Its case against the automobile manufacturers un­der federal common law and state law was dismissed on September 18 when the district court refused to entertain the federal common law claim, ruling that it comprises a nonjusticiable political issue, and then re­fused to exercise supplemental jurisdiction under state law. But the state is moving on its own: On September 27, 2007, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that establishes a comprehensive program of regu­latory and market mechanisms to achieve GHG re­ductions.

The Question of Political Questions

Another issue facing current and future liti­gants concerns a political question, as decid­ed by the Southern District of New York in Connecticut v. American Electric Power Com pany. In that case, Connecticut and seven other states, the city of New York, and environmen­tal groups sued a number of electric utilities, includ­ing American Electric Power Company, the Southern Company, TVA, Xcel Energy, and Cinergy Corpora­tion under federal common law to abate the public nuisance of global warming. The complaint alleged that the defendants were the five largest emitters of car­bon dioxide in the United States, constituting approxi­mately one fourth of the electric power sector’s carbon dioxide emissions, and that U.S. electric power plants are responsible for 10 percent of worldwide carbon di­oxide emissions from human activities.

As in the California suit against the automakers, the court held that filing nuisance suits against utilities to abate emissions that allegedly contribute to global warming raises non-justiciable political questions that are beyond the limits of a court’s jurisdiction. The court concluded that “the scope and magnitude of the relief plaintiff’s seek reveals a transcendentally legislative na­ture of this litigation. Plaintiff asks this court to cap carbon dioxide emissions and mandate annual reduc­tions of an as-yet-unspecified percentage.” The court found that a case is “justiciable in light of the separa­tion of powers ordained by the Constitution only if the duty asserted can be judicially identified and its breach judicially determined and protection for the right ju­dicially molded.” The district court then went through an analysis of the six situations recognized as indicating the existence of a non-justiciable political question, cit­ing two U.S. Supreme Court cases, Baker v. Carr, de­cided in 1962, and Vieth v. Jubelirer, decided in 2004.

Among the factors in the Vieth v. Jubelirer case, which concerned gerrymandering, is whether a court faces “the impossibility of deciding [the case] without an initial policy determination of a kind clearly for nonjudicial discretion.” In Connecticut, the district court was honestly puzzled. It struggled with a variety of policy determinations concerning whether the cost of GHGs would be borne just by the defendants, the entire electricity generating industry, or all industries. It also struggled with the economic implications of making these choices, not to mention the effect on the country’s energy policy. In the end, the court conclud­ed it is the judicial branch that decides when a political question is raised, but “looking at the past and current actions (and deliberate inactions) of Congress and the executive within the United States and globally in re­sponse to the issue of climate change merely reinforces my opinion that the questions raised by plaintiffs’ complaints are non-justiciable political questions.” The decision was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Oral argument on appeal was held before the Massachusetts decision and although the Sec­ond Circuit sought additional briefing in light of the decision, it has not yet ruled in the case.

Another court decision that addressed the non-jus­ticiable political question issue is Comer, et al. v. Mur­phy Oil USA Inc., et al., decided last August by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. This case, brought in the aftermath of Hurricane Ka­trina, was a putative class action on behalf of Mississip­pi citizens against defendants which included named oil company defendants (plus an additional 100 oil companies licensed to do business in Mississippi), in­surance firms, utilities, and chemical companies. The allegation was that these businesses emit GHGs, which changed the environment so as to cause more frequent and intense hurricanes over the past 30 years, result­ing in, among other things, Hurricane Katrina and the damages suffered by the plaintiffs.

Interestingly the plaintiffs did not ask the court to regulate global warming or change national global warming policy, but instead they sought damages for direct action by the defendants in contributing to the cause of Hurricane Katrina. The plaintiffs, similarly to those in the Connecticut v. American Electric Power Company case, said in a class action complaint, “To the extent that this complaint raises political issues, those issues are subordinate to the plaintiffs’ physical and monetary damages. Furthermore, although global warming causes tremendous damage to the environ­ment, public health, and public and private property every year, there is a dearth of meaningful political ac­tion in the United States to address global warming problems. Thus, to the extent that the political process has failed to provide people harmed by global warm­ing with means to recover for their injuries, the courts must execute their constitutional mandate embodied in Article III of the U.S. Constitution.”

Motions to dismiss were filed in the case, following arguments, similar to those made in Connecticut, that the case presented a non-justiciable political question and must be dismissed. In an opinion that received little notice, the district court found that the plaintiffs did not have standing to assert claims against any of the defendants and that their claims were nonjudiciable pursuant to the political question doctrine. An appeal has been docketed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The Special Standing of States

Another issue that has not been developed further since Massachusetts v. EPA is stand­ing to challenge government GHG inaction. As a backdrop to its decision, the Supreme Court was careful to explain that it was de­ciding whether GHGs should be regulated based on the wording of the CAA. The justices explained that “Article III of the Constitution limits federal court ju­risdiction to cases and controversies.” In other words, federal courts address “questions presented in an adver­sary context . . . capable of resolution through the judi­cial process.” The justices were also clear that “no justi­ciable controversy exists when parties seek adjudication of a political question.” In the Court’s view, “While it does not matter how many persons have been injured by the challenged action, the party bringing suit must show that the action injures him in a concrete and per­sonal way. This requirement is not just an empty for­mality. It preserves the vitality of the adversarial process by assuring both that the parties before the court have an actual, as opposed to professed, stake in the out­come, and that the legal questions presented . . . will be resolved, not in the rarefied atmosphere of a debating society, but in a concrete factual context conducive to a realistic appreciation of the consequences of judicial action.”

The Supreme Court took an additional step in rec­ognizing that the state of Massachusetts had a special position in the case. The Court said that “when a state enters the union, it surrenders certain sovereign prerogatives. Massachusetts cannot invade Rhode Is­land to force reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, it cannot negotiate an emissions treaty with China or India, and in some circumstances the exercise of its police powers to reduce in-state motor-vehicle emis­sions might well be preempted.” The Court stated that EPA had an obligation to protect all U.S. citi­zens under the CAA and the agency’s refusal to act presented a risk that Massachusetts had to sue to protect. The Court found that “the rise in sea levels associated with global warming has already harmed and will continue to harm Massachusetts. The risk of catastrophic harm, though remote, is nevertheless real. That risk would be reduced to some extent if petitioners received the relief they seek.”

The standing conclusion in Massachusetts needs to be used carefully in future cases due to the strong dissent written by Chief Justice John Roberts, who argues that the granting of special standing to a state has no precedent. He worries that the Article III stand­ing threshold has been lowered for all future litigants: “The good news is that the Court’s ‘special solicitude’ for Massachusetts limits the future applicability of the diluted standing requirements applied in this case. The bad news is that the Court’s self-professed relax­ation of those Article III requirements has caused us to transgress ‘the proper-and-properly limited-role of the courts in a democratic society.’ ”

Is Climate Change Material?

A final outgrowth of Massachusetts takes a completely different tack in reducing GHGs. Buoyed by the removal of barriers to EPA regulation of climate change, on September 18, 2007, a coalition of share­holders, environmental groups, and state officials filed a petition with the Securities and Exchange Commis­sion requesting that it issue an interpretive release clari­fying that material climate-related information must be included in corporate disclosures under existing law. The petition is notable because it calls for disclosures beyond the types of generic climate impacts that have been the subject of disclosures in the past and it alleges that the voluntary disclosures to date are insufficient. The petition seeks evaluation of the risks in three cat­egories: physical risk, financial risk, and legal proceed­ings. In citing Massachusetts v. EPA and pending federal legislation, the petition makes as its central point that “the transition to a carbon-constrained economy is underway, and public access to material information concerning the risks and opportunities that companies face, and their means of addressing those risks and op­portunities, is vital to investors.”

All of the efforts described in this article, some in and some out of courts, tell us that a chaotic path lies ahead for those seeking satisfactory solutions to global climate change. •

 

Lee A. DeHihns III, is the Chair of the American Bar Association’s Section of Environment, Energy and Resources for the 2007–2008 term, is a Partner in the Environmental and Land Use Group at Alston+Bird LLP in Atlanta, Georgia.

*This article originally appeared in The Environmental Forum January/February 2008 issue. For information regarding the Environmental Law Institute please visit their website at www.eli.org.

NRDC v. Winter -- Green Trumps the Blue and Gold -- National Security Takes a Back Seat to Natural Resources

Posted on January 22, 2008 by ACOEL Admin
 
I. INTRO
On January 3, 2008, a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California imposed substantial restrictions on the U.S. Navy’s use of mid-frequency active (MFA) sonar in waters off the California coastline.  Although details of the restrictions and their immediate impact on the Navy can readily be discerned by reviewing the judge's order, the reverberations of this order may have a much broader impact that could further enhance the role of environmental lawyers.
Until recently, few might have predicted the success of an environmental challenge to military operations -- especially given our country's current military operations abroad.  The California court's much-anticipated order is the latest word in an ongoing debate over MFA sonar operations in potentially close proximity to marine mammals, an activity decried by environmental groups and vigorously defended by the Navy.  The U.S. military has generally been able to defend questionable practices by emphasizing the overall importance of those practices to national security.  As the Supreme Court noted twenty years ago, "unless Congress specifically has provided otherwise, courts traditionally have been reluctant to intrude upon the authority of the Executive in military and national security affairs."[1]


[1] Dep’t of Navy v. Egan, 484 U.S. 518, 529 (1988).
II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
A. THE DISTRICT COURT'S FINDINGS
In March 2007, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and several other environmental groups filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against both the U.S. Navy and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), seeking to enjoin sonar operations scheduled between February 2007 and January 2009 as part of fourteen training exercises in the Southern California Operating Area (SOCAL).  The Navy defended its operations by emphasizing their importance to national security, an argument it has made with considerable success in the past, but this time the court found the national security argument less compelling than the competing concern about MFA sonar's impact on the marine environment. The court based its decision on the following findings.
1. PLAINTIFFS' PROBABILITY OF SUCCESS ON THEIR CLAIMS
   
a. NEPA
Because the Plaintiffs presented evidence sufficient to raise substantial questions about whether the proposed activities would have a significant impact, they demonstrated a probability of success on their claims that the Navy had committed several NEPA violations.  First, although the Navy prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) prior to commencing its naval exercises in the SOCAL, the court disagreed with the Navy's subsequent decision to issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI).  Based on the court's review of facts available to the Navy, the court agreed with Plaintiffs that the proposed sonar operations would likely have a significant impact, triggering NEPA's requirement that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) be prepared.  Alternatively, because the court considered the Navy's self-imposed mitigation measures to be inadequate and incapable of preventing the significant impact anticipated, the Navy had no basis for issuing the FONSI. Second, the court found that "[the Navy's] EA failed to consider reasonable alternatives or cumulative impacts."[1]  The court noted that the Navy disregarded mitigation measures recommended by the California Coastal Commission (CCC), the state agency that administers California's Coastal Management Plan (CCMP), and it also elected not to implement more restrictive mitigation measures previously used by the Navy and its allies in similar training exercises that employed MFA sonar.  Although the Navy's EA did conclude that the proposed activities "would not have any significant contribution to the cumulative effects on marine mammals,"[2] the court held that, absent detailed and quantifiable information supporting that conclusion, the statement was merely aspirational and lacked the substantive analysis traditionally required by the Ninth Circuit. 
b. CZMA
When a federal agency's proposed activity will "affect[] any coastal use or resource,"[3] the CZMA requires the federal agency to submit a Consistency Determination (CD) to the applicable state agency.  In its analysis of the Navy's alleged violations of the CZMA, the court identified two deficiencies in the CD that the Navy submitted to the CCC.  First, the Navy neglected to mention that it intended to conduct sonar operations.  The Navy defended the omission by arguing that the sonar operations would not have an effect on the coastal zone.  Just as the court disagreed with the Navy's determination that its sonar operations would not have a significant impact on the marine environment, so too did the court disagree with the Navy's similar conclusion that MFA sonar would not affect the coastal zone.  Second, the CD did not incorporate mitigation measures that the CCC required pursuant to the CCMP.  The CZMA required the Navy to ensure that its sonar operations were "consistent to the maximum extent practicable with the enforceable policies of [the CCMP],"[4] and the Navy failed to satisfy its burden of proving the inapplicability of the mitigation measures required by the CCC.
2. POSSIBILITY OF IRREPARABLE HARM TO THE ENVIRONMENT
In support of its finding that the proposed MFA sonar operations would create a possibility of irreparable harm to the environment, the court relied not only on evidence provided by Plaintiffs but also cited a Navy study that "conclude[d] that the SOCAL exercises . . . [would] cause widespread harm to nearly thirty species of marine mammals, including five species of endangered whales, and [might] cause permanent injury and death."[5]
Having identified the possibility of irreparable harm, the court then considered the appropriateness of an injunction to prevent that harm.  After weighing the competing concerns of national security and environmental protection, the court concluded 
that the balance of hardships tip[ped] in favor of granting an injunction, as the harm to the environment, Plaintiffs, and public interest outweigh[ed] the harm that Defendants would incur . . . if prevented from using MFA sonar, absent the use of effective mitigation measures, during a subset of their regular activities in one part of one state for a limited period.[6]
  
B. THE DISTRICT COURT'S INITIAL ORDER
Based on the findings above, the court issued a preliminary injunction of potentially indefinite duration on August 7, 2007, because it would have prohibited all MFA sonar use "until the Navy adopt[ed] mitigation measures that would substantially lessen the likelihood of serious injury and death to marine life."[7]  
C. APPEAL TO THE NINTH CIRCUIT
On August 31, 2007, the Ninth Circuit stayed the district court's sweeping injunction, pending an appeal by the Navy.[8] On November 13th, the Ninth Circuit adopted the district court’s findings and vacated the stay, but it remanded the matter, chastising the district court for having imposed such an overly broad preliminary injunction. The Ninth Circuit instructed the district court to narrow the scope of the injunction by using its findings to craft mitigation measures uniquely tailored to fit the Navy’s MFA sonar operations in the SOCAL.[9] 
III. MITIGATION MEASURES IMPOSED BY THE DISTRICT COURT
On January 3, 2008, the district court finally issued its much-anticipated order in which it laid out the following mitigation measures applicable to future MFA sonar operations in the SOCAL:
1. 12 Nautical Mile Coastal Exclusion Zone.  "The Navy shall maintain a 12 nautical mile exclusion zone from the California coastline at all times."[10]  Although Plaintiffs sought to enjoin MFA sonar operation within twenty-five miles of the California coastline, the court, though agreeing with Plaintiffs that a twenty-five mile exclusion zone would ensure maximum protection of marine habitat, deemed the zone unduly burdensome to the Navy.  The court noted that the Navy had previously operated under a twelve mile exclusion zone and that such a zone struck the best balance between protection of marine habitat and the Navy's need to train "to detect submarines in the very bathymetry in which submarines are likely to hide."
2. 2200 Yard MFA Sonar Shutdown.  "The Navy shall cease use of MFA sonar . . . when marine mammals are spotted within 2200 yards . . . ."[11]  Designed only to prevent the most damaging consequences of exposure to MFA sonar, the court concluded that a 2200 yard zone of protection for marine mammals imposed a minimal burden on the Navy.
3. Monitoring.  For sixty minutes prior to conducting MFA sonar operations, the Navy "shall monitor for the presence of marine mammals,"[12] using lookouts on vessels and one dedicated aircraft to monitor the entire operating area.  If a marine mammal is spotted, the Navy must suspend sonar operations until it establishes the requisite 2200 yard buffer.  Once sonar operations have begun, the Navy must continue visual monitoring efforts by posting two National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)- and NMFS-trained lookouts in addition to using one dedicated aircraft, and Navy vessels must also listen for the presence of marine mammals using passive acoustic monitoring.
4. Helicopter Dipping Sonar.  Helicopters must monitor the area for ten minutes prior to employing active dipping sonar and, after spotting a marine mammal within 2200 yards of the helicopter, must cease active dipping sonar operations until reestablishing the 2200 yard safety zone.
5. Surface Ducting Conditions.  "[W]hen surface ducting conditions are detected . . . in which sound travels further than it otherwise would due to temperature differences in adjacent layers of water . . . the Navy shall power down sonar by 6dB"[13] to minimize the sonar's greater intensity and range.
6. Choke Points and the Catalina Basin.  "[T]he Navy [shall] refrain from employing MFA sonar in the Catalina Basin,"[14] an area located between the Santa Catalina and San Clemente islands that provides habitat to a large population of marine mammals.
7. Continue National Defense Exemption (NDE) II Mitigation Measures.  Since 2002, the Navy has worked with NOAA and NMFS to ensure the compliance of its operations with all federal laws, and it has adopted various mitigation measures to achieve that goal of compliance.   The district court explained that its mitigation measures were to be implemented in addition to those measures either already adopted or currently under review by the Navy pursuant to its ongoing collaboration with NOAA and NMFS.
IV. RECENT DEVELOPMENTS
On Tuesday, January 15, 2008, President Bush signed an exemption authorizing the Navy's continued use of MFA sonar in its SOCAL exercises.  In the exemption, the President stated that the sonar exercises "[we]re in the paramount interest of the United States" and that compliance with the mitigation measures would "undermine the Navy's ability to conduct realistic training exercises that [we]re necessary to ensure the combat effectiveness of carrier and expeditionary strike groups."[15] The exemption "claim[s] that the Navy [is] exempt from the [CZMA] and . . . [NEPA],"[16] and it formed the basis of the Navy’s appeal to the Ninth Circuit late on Tuesday night. The Ninth Circuit remanded the case to the district court on Wednesday, and on Thursday, January 17th, the district court responded by temporarily lifting the requirements that the Navy maintain a 2200 yard zone of protection for marine mammals and that it power down its sonar during surface ducting conditions.[17] More developments are expected within the next several days.  
V. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF NRDC V. WINTER  TO ENVIRONMENTAL LAWYERS
NRDC v. Winter is not likely to be an isolated event in the history of environmental law.  At a minimum, the California court's January 3rd order represents an historic victory for environmental groups and a staggering blow to the U.S. military; however, the broader implications of this order will be the ones worth watching. The White House’s recent involvement in the case has ignited the controversy and captured the media’s attention, setting the stage for a dramatic showdown between proponents of national security and advocates of environmental protection. 
Though merely conjectural at this point, it seems plausible that NRDC v. Winter might spawn an explosion of environmental litigation, giving rise to an even greater abundance of work for environmental lawyers.  The case may give environmentalists renewed confidence to challenge the environmental records of their most formidable adversaries.  At the same time, it may also make many regulated entities more conscious of their own environmental vulnerability and prompt them to begin seeking the best legal representation available.  By prevailing against the U.S. Navy, the NRDC and its fellow plaintiffs have not only inspired other environmental groups around the country, but they have also issued a stern warning to the entire regulated community that no organization is immune from liability in this new era of heightened environmental awareness. 
Contact information: jim.farrell@butlersnow.com or (228) 575-3048
Jim Farrell is an associate in the law firm of Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens & Cannada, PLLC, and a member of the firm’s environmental law practice group. Mr. Farrell graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1999 and served for five years as a naval officer prior to attending law school. He received his JD from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 2007. In the summer of 2006, Mr. Farrell served as a law clerk in the U.S. EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
Butler, Snow, O'Mara, Stevens & Cannada, PLLC, is a full-service law firm with more than 150 attorneys representing regional and national clients from offices in Jackson, Miss., on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Memphis, Tenn. and Bethlehem, Penn.  For more information, visit www.butlersnow.com.


[1] Natural Res. Def. Council v. Winter, No. 8:07-cv-00335-FMC-FMOx, slip op. at 8 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 3, 2008) (order issuing preliminary injunction).
[2] Id.at 10.
[3] Id.at 11 (quoting 15 C.F.R. § 930.32(a)(1)).
[4] Id.at 10-11 (quoting 16 U.S.C. § 1456(c)(1)).
[5] Id.at 12.
[6] Id.at 12-13.
[7] Id.at 3. 
[8] See Natural Res. Def. Council v. Winter, 502 F.3d 859 (9th Cir. 2008).
[9] See Natural Res. Def. Council v. Winter, 508 F.3d 885 (9th Cir. 2008).
[10] Natural Res. Def. Council v. Winter, No. 8:07-cv-00335-FMC-FMOx, slip op. at 14 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 3, 2008) (order issuing preliminary injunction).
[11] Id.at 15.
[12] Id.
[13] Id.at 17.
[14] Id.at 17-18.
[15] Activists Vow to Push Fight Against Navy Sonar, http://www.msnbc.com/id/22683062 (last visited Jan. 21, 2008). 
[16] Daniel Hinerfield & Hamlet Paoletti, Sonar Case Remanded to District Court, http://www.nrdc.org/media/2008/080116c.asp (last visited Jan. 21, 2008).
[17] See Natural Res. Def. Council v. Winter, No. 8:07-cv-00335-FMC-FMOx, slip op. at 2 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 17, 2008) (order for temporary partial stay and setting briefing schedule).

NRDC v. Winter -- Green Trumps the Blue and Gold -- National Security Takes a Back Seat to Natural Resources

Posted on January 22, 2008 by ACOEL Admin

 

I. INTRO

On January 3, 2008, a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California imposed substantial restrictions on the U.S. Navy’s use of mid-frequency active (MFA) sonar in waters off the California coastline.  Although details of the restrictions and their immediate impact on the Navy can readily be discerned by reviewing the judge's order, the reverberations of this order may have a much broader impact that could further enhance the role of environmental lawyers.

Until recently, few might have predicted the success of an environmental challenge to military operations -- especially given our country's current military operations abroad.  The California court's much-anticipated order is the latest word in an ongoing debate over MFA sonar operations in potentially close proximity to marine mammals, an activity decried by environmental groups and vigorously defended by the Navy.  The U.S. military has generally been able to defend questionable practices by emphasizing the overall importance of those practices to national security.  As the Supreme Court noted twenty years ago, "unless Congress specifically has provided otherwise, courts traditionally have been reluctant to intrude upon the authority of the Executive in military and national security affairs."[1]



[1] Dep’t of Navy v. Egan, 484 U.S. 518, 529 (1988).

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

A. THE DISTRICT COURT'S FINDINGS

In March 2007, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and several other environmental groups filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against both the U.S. Navy and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), seeking to enjoin sonar operations scheduled between February 2007 and January 2009 as part of fourteen training exercises in the Southern California Operating Area (SOCAL).  The Navy defended its operations by emphasizing their importance to national security, an argument it has made with considerable success in the past, but this time the court found the national security argument less compelling than the competing concern about MFA sonar's impact on the marine environment. The court based its decision on the following findings.

1. PLAINTIFFS' PROBABILITY OF SUCCESS ON THEIR CLAIMS

   

a. NEPA

Because the Plaintiffs presented evidence sufficient to raise substantial questions about whether the proposed activities would have a significant impact, they demonstrated a probability of success on their claims that the Navy had committed several NEPA violations.  First, although the Navy prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) prior to commencing its naval exercises in the SOCAL, the court disagreed with the Navy's subsequent decision to issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI).  Based on the court's review of facts available to the Navy, the court agreed with Plaintiffs that the proposed sonar operations would likely have a significant impact, triggering NEPA's requirement that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) be prepared.  Alternatively, because the court considered the Navy's self-imposed mitigation measures to be inadequate and incapable of preventing the significant impact anticipated, the Navy had no basis for issuing the FONSI. Second, the court found that "[the Navy's] EA failed to consider reasonable alternatives or cumulative impacts."[1]  The court noted that the Navy disregarded mitigation measures recommended by the California Coastal Commission (CCC), the state agency that administers California's Coastal Management Plan (CCMP), and it also elected not to implement more restrictive mitigation measures previously used by the Navy and its allies in similar training exercises that employed MFA sonar.  Although the Navy's EA did conclude that the proposed activities "would not have any significant contribution to the cumulative effects on marine mammals,"[2] the court held that, absent detailed and quantifiable information supporting that conclusion, the statement was merely aspirational and lacked the substantive analysis traditionally required by the Ninth Circuit. 

b. CZMA

When a federal agency's proposed activity will "affect[] any coastal use or resource,"[3] the CZMA requires the federal agency to submit a Consistency Determination (CD) to the applicable state agency.  In its analysis of the Navy's alleged violations of the CZMA, the court identified two deficiencies in the CD that the Navy submitted to the CCC.  First, the Navy neglected to mention that it intended to conduct sonar operations.  The Navy defended the omission by arguing that the sonar operations would not have an effect on the coastal zone.  Just as the court disagreed with the Navy's determination that its sonar operations would not have a significant impact on the marine environment, so too did the court disagree with the Navy's similar conclusion that MFA sonar would not affect the coastal zone.  Second, the CD did not incorporate mitigation measures that the CCC required pursuant to the CCMP.  The CZMA required the Navy to ensure that its sonar operations were "consistent to the maximum extent practicable with the enforceable policies of [the CCMP],"[4] and the Navy failed to satisfy its burden of proving the inapplicability of the mitigation measures required by the CCC.

2. POSSIBILITY OF IRREPARABLE HARM TO THE ENVIRONMENT

In support of its finding that the proposed MFA sonar operations would create a possibility of irreparable harm to the environment, the court relied not only on evidence provided by Plaintiffs but also cited a Navy study that "conclude[d] that the SOCAL exercises . . . [would] cause widespread harm to nearly thirty species of marine mammals, including five species of endangered whales, and [might] cause permanent injury and death."[5]

Having identified the possibility of irreparable harm, the court then considered the appropriateness of an injunction to prevent that harm.  After weighing the competing concerns of national security and environmental protection, the court concluded 

that the balance of hardships tip[ped] in favor of granting an injunction, as the harm to the environment, Plaintiffs, and public interest outweigh[ed] the harm that Defendants would incur . . . if prevented from using MFA sonar, absent the use of effective mitigation measures, during a subset of their regular activities in one part of one state for a limited period.[6]

  

B. THE DISTRICT COURT'S INITIAL ORDER

Based on the findings above, the court issued a preliminary injunction of potentially indefinite duration on August 7, 2007, because it would have prohibited all MFA sonar use "until the Navy adopt[ed] mitigation measures that would substantially lessen the likelihood of serious injury and death to marine life."[7]  

C. APPEAL TO THE NINTH CIRCUIT

On August 31, 2007, the Ninth Circuit stayed the district court's sweeping injunction, pending an appeal by the Navy.[8] On November 13th, the Ninth Circuit adopted the district court’s findings and vacated the stay, but it remanded the matter, chastising the district court for having imposed such an overly broad preliminary injunction. The Ninth Circuit instructed the district court to narrow the scope of the injunction by using its findings to craft mitigation measures uniquely tailored to fit the Navy’s MFA sonar operations in the SOCAL.[9] 

III. MITIGATION MEASURES IMPOSED BY THE DISTRICT COURT

On January 3, 2008, the district court finally issued its much-anticipated order in which it laid out the following mitigation measures applicable to future MFA sonar operations in the SOCAL:

1. 12 Nautical Mile Coastal Exclusion Zone.  "The Navy shall maintain a 12 nautical mile exclusion zone from the California coastline at all times."[10]  Although Plaintiffs sought to enjoin MFA sonar operation within twenty-five miles of the California coastline, the court, though agreeing with Plaintiffs that a twenty-five mile exclusion zone would ensure maximum protection of marine habitat, deemed the zone unduly burdensome to the Navy.  The court noted that the Navy had previously operated under a twelve mile exclusion zone and that such a zone struck the best balance between protection of marine habitat and the Navy's need to train "to detect submarines in the very bathymetry in which submarines are likely to hide."

2. 2200 Yard MFA Sonar Shutdown.  "The Navy shall cease use of MFA sonar . . . when marine mammals are spotted within 2200 yards . . . ."[11]  Designed only to prevent the most damaging consequences of exposure to MFA sonar, the court concluded that a 2200 yard zone of protection for marine mammals imposed a minimal burden on the Navy.

3. Monitoring.  For sixty minutes prior to conducting MFA sonar operations, the Navy "shall monitor for the presence of marine mammals,"[12] using lookouts on vessels and one dedicated aircraft to monitor the entire operating area.  If a marine mammal is spotted, the Navy must suspend sonar operations until it establishes the requisite 2200 yard buffer.  Once sonar operations have begun, the Navy must continue visual monitoring efforts by posting two National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)- and NMFS-trained lookouts in addition to using one dedicated aircraft, and Navy vessels must also listen for the presence of marine mammals using passive acoustic monitoring.

4. Helicopter Dipping Sonar.  Helicopters must monitor the area for ten minutes prior to employing active dipping sonar and, after spotting a marine mammal within 2200 yards of the helicopter, must cease active dipping sonar operations until reestablishing the 2200 yard safety zone.

5. Surface Ducting Conditions.  "[W]hen surface ducting conditions are detected . . . in which sound travels further than it otherwise would due to temperature differences in adjacent layers of water . . . the Navy shall power down sonar by 6dB"[13] to minimize the sonar's greater intensity and range.

6. Choke Points and the Catalina Basin.  "[T]he Navy [shall] refrain from employing MFA sonar in the Catalina Basin,"[14] an area located between the Santa Catalina and San Clemente islands that provides habitat to a large population of marine mammals.

7. Continue National Defense Exemption (NDE) II Mitigation Measures.  Since 2002, the Navy has worked with NOAA and NMFS to ensure the compliance of its operations with all federal laws, and it has adopted various mitigation measures to achieve that goal of compliance.   The district court explained that its mitigation measures were to be implemented in addition to those measures either already adopted or currently under review by the Navy pursuant to its ongoing collaboration with NOAA and NMFS.

IV. RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

On Tuesday, January 15, 2008, President Bush signed an exemption authorizing the Navy's continued use of MFA sonar in its SOCAL exercises.  In the exemption, the President stated that the sonar exercises "[we]re in the paramount interest of the United States" and that compliance with the mitigation measures would "undermine the Navy's ability to conduct realistic training exercises that [we]re necessary to ensure the combat effectiveness of carrier and expeditionary strike groups."[15] The exemption "claim[s] that the Navy [is] exempt from the [CZMA] and . . . [NEPA],"[16] and it formed the basis of the Navy’s appeal to the Ninth Circuit late on Tuesday night. The Ninth Circuit remanded the case to the district court on Wednesday, and on Thursday, January 17th, the district court responded by temporarily lifting the requirements that the Navy maintain a 2200 yard zone of protection for marine mammals and that it power down its sonar during surface ducting conditions.[17] More developments are expected within the next several days.  

V. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF NRDC V. WINTER  TO ENVIRONMENTAL LAWYERS

NRDC v. Winter is not likely to be an isolated event in the history of environmental law.  At a minimum, the California court's January 3rd order represents an historic victory for environmental groups and a staggering blow to the U.S. military; however, the broader implications of this order will be the ones worth watching. The White House’s recent involvement in the case has ignited the controversy and captured the media’s attention, setting the stage for a dramatic showdown between proponents of national security and advocates of environmental protection. 

Though merely conjectural at this point, it seems plausible that NRDC v. Winter might spawn an explosion of environmental litigation, giving rise to an even greater abundance of work for environmental lawyers.  The case may give environmentalists renewed confidence to challenge the environmental records of their most formidable adversaries.  At the same time, it may also make many regulated entities more conscious of their own environmental vulnerability and prompt them to begin seeking the best legal representation available.  By prevailing against the U.S. Navy, the NRDC and its fellow plaintiffs have not only inspired other environmental groups around the country, but they have also issued a stern warning to the entire regulated community that no organization is immune from liability in this new era of heightened environmental awareness. 

Contact information: jim.farrell@butlersnow.com or (228) 575-3048

Jim Farrell is an associate in the law firm of Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens & Cannada, PLLC, and a member of the firm’s environmental law practice group. Mr. Farrell graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1999 and served for five years as a naval officer prior to attending law school. He received his JD from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 2007. In the summer of 2006, Mr. Farrell served as a law clerk in the U.S. EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

Butler, Snow, O'Mara, Stevens & Cannada, PLLC, is a full-service law firm with more than 150 attorneys representing regional and national clients from offices in Jackson, Miss., on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Memphis, Tenn. and Bethlehem, Penn.  For more information, visit www.butlersnow.com.


[1] Natural Res. Def. Council v. Winter, No. 8:07-cv-00335-FMC-FMOx, slip op. at 8 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 3, 2008) (order issuing preliminary injunction).

[2] Id.at 10.

[3] Id.at 11 (quoting 15 C.F.R. § 930.32(a)(1)).

[4] Id.at 10-11 (quoting 16 U.S.C. § 1456(c)(1)).

[5] Id.at 12.

[6] Id.at 12-13.

[7] Id.at 3. 

[8] See Natural Res. Def. Council v. Winter, 502 F.3d 859 (9th Cir. 2008).

[9] See Natural Res. Def. Council v. Winter, 508 F.3d 885 (9th Cir. 2008).

[10] Natural Res. Def. Council v. Winter, No. 8:07-cv-00335-FMC-FMOx, slip op. at 14 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 3, 2008) (order issuing preliminary injunction).

[11] Id.at 15.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.at 17.

[14] Id.at 17-18.

[15] Activists Vow to Push Fight Against Navy Sonar, http://www.msnbc.com/id/22683062 (last visited Jan. 21, 2008). 

[16] Daniel Hinerfield & Hamlet Paoletti, Sonar Case Remanded to District Court, http://www.nrdc.org/media/2008/080116c.asp (last visited Jan. 21, 2008).

[17] See Natural Res. Def. Council v. Winter, No. 8:07-cv-00335-FMC-FMOx, slip op. at 2 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 17, 2008) (order for temporary partial stay and setting briefing schedule).

California v. U.S. EPA--Fighting for the Last Word on Mobile Source Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Posted on January 8, 2008 by Michèle Corash

Following the United States Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, deciding that greenhouse gases are a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, a federal-state skirmish has emerged in the climate change arena over mobile source emissions. The United States Government estimates that the transportation sector accounts for approximately one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Over the past months, the question of how to reduce those emissions has evolved into a dramatic political and legal battle, pitting California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger against U.S. President George Bush. 

The stage for this tussle was set long ago when Congress adopted the federal Clean Air Act and included in the law a special provision for California. Specifically, Section 209(a) of the Clean Air Act prohibits individual states from adopting emission standards for new motor vehicles. However, in recognition of California’s unique smog problems, a subsection (b) was added to enable California to adopt standards more stringent than federal standards so long as it applies for and obtains a waiver from the U.S. EPA. As one court recently explained, under Section 209(b), “Congress has essentially designated California as a proving ground for innovation in emission control regulations.” Other states are then free to adopt California’s standards pursuant to Section 177 of the Clean Air Act, so long as the standards are adopted at least two years before the model year that they regulate. 

In 2002, California invoked its unique Clean Air Act authority to address greenhouse gas emissions from mobile sources. In particular, the State passed AB 1493 requiring the California Air Resources Board to develop and adopt regulations for the greenhouse gas emissions of passenger automobiles and light duty trucks. In September of 2004, the Air Resources Board adopted standards that apply to such vehicles beginning with model year 2009. As required by the Clean Air Act, California then requested a waiver from the U.S. EPA so that the standards could enter into force. While the waiver request was pending, no less than sixteen other states lined up to adopt California’s standards—for all practical purposes, the California standards were poised to become the de facto national standard.  

Automobile manufacturers challenged those regulations in federal courts in both Vermont and California, arguing that the state automobile emission standards for greenhouse gases constituted fuel efficiency standards, and that fuel efficiency standards are exclusively regulated by the federal government under the Environmental Policy and Conservation Act (“EPCA”).[1] Both courts rejected the manufacturers’ challenges, deciding that federal law did not preempt California’s ability to affect fuel economy through the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, so long as the U.S. EPA granted a waiver under the Clean Air Act—the stage was set for a showdown between California and the U.S. EPA.

The U.S. EPA played its hand slowly. During the summer of 2007, the U.S. EPA held hearings on California’s waiver request. Perhaps foreshadowing its upcoming decision on the request, the U.S. EPA then announced in the fall that it would begin its own “Rulemaking To Address Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Motor Vehicles,” planning for the adoption of federal regulations by October 2008. Finally, the shot was fired on December 19, 2007, when Stephen Johnson, the U.S. EPA Administrator, held a press conference announcing his agency would not grant a waiver to California’s regulation. At the same time, President Bush signed a new energy bill, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, requiring a fleet average of thirty-five miles per gallon by 2020 and an annual production of thirty-six billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022.[2] In making the announcement, Johnson specifically cited Bush’s recent signing of the bill and said, “The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution, not a confusing patchwork of state rules. I believe this is a better approach than if individual states were to act alone.”

Retaliation came swiftly. Little more than two weeks after Johnson’s announcement, California, along with 15 other states and five environmental groups, petitioned the Ninth Circuit on January 2, 2008, for review of the waiver denial.  In the lawsuit, California will need to make the case that its regulation under Section 209 was necessary to “meet compelling and extraordinary conditions.”  As a coastal state with limited fresh water resources, the effect of climate change on California may indeed be severe, involving rising sea levels, a reduction in the Sierra snow pack, and higher temperatures that would exacerbate the state’s ozone nonattainment problem, which is already the worst in the nation. A recent Stanford University study added fodder to this argument when it found Californians’ health will be disproportionately affected by greenhouse gas emissions, because the state is home to six of the most polluted cities in the United States. California will also need to make the case under section 209, that its standards “will be, in the aggregate, at least as protective of public health and welfare as applicable Federal standards.” To that end, the California Air Resources Board released a January 2, 2008, assessment that concludes the federal law, even when fully implemented, will not be as effective as California’s standards at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from new vehicles. Even if California is successful, California’s regulation will have to be modified as it was to apply to 2009 model cars—models that will shortly be coming to market. 

The EPA’s first legal maneuver in response to California’s petition may be to request a transfer from the Ninth Circuit to the more agency-friendly D.C. Circuit. Most challenges of EPA regulations must be filed in the D.C. Circuit—the relevant jurisdictional trigger being whether the action has “nationwide scope or effect.”  While the issue of the waiver makes its way through the courts, the U.S. EPA’s rulemaking will also go forward. To meet its goal of final action by October 2008, the U.S. EPA will have to move quickly, with the public comment period coming by summer 2008 at the latest. 

As these battles are fought, looming on the horizon is a general election in November, and a new federal administration beginning in January of 2009. If the U.S. EPA adopts regulations in October 2008 that do not go as far as the California standards, yet another legal challenge seems almost inevitable, if for no other reason than to stall any final rule until the administration changeover. When the dust does settle, presumably in 2009, the road to mobile source emission reductions will finally be paved.

Michèle Corash is a partner in the international law firm of Morrison & Foerster LLP and a member of the firm’s environmental law practice group. She served as General Counsel of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1979 to 1982 and previously as Deputy General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Energy and Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. Ms. Corash has consistently been listed in American Lawyer’s Corporate Counsel among the “Best Lawyers in America for Environmental Law” and in numerous other publications as being at the top of her field. She represents companies on a broad range of state, national and international environmental issues and claims regarding exposure to toxic substances. With the experience of being a former General Counsel of the EPA, Ms. Corash is well versed, and has been for many years, in the evolving area of clean technology, renewable resources and climate change. She advises clients on the many issues now facing corporations as they face the challenges of new technologies, infrastructures, markets and regulatory regimes.

Contact information: mcorash@mofo.com or (415) 268-7124



[1] Adopted in 1975, EPCA provides for the establishment of national corporate average fuel economy (“CAFÉ”) standards that apply to all passenger automobiles and light duty trucks.

[2] Coincidentally, at the same time, the European Commission adopted a proposal for legislation to dramatically reduce the average carbon dioxide (“CO2”) emissions of new passenger cars by 2012. If adopted by the European Parliament, the proposal requires, by 2012, a fleet average of 130 grams of CO2 emissions per kilometer, with another 10 grams per kilometer reduction from alternative sources such as biofuels and more efficient air-conditioning. Considering Europe’s cars currently emit on average 160 grams of CO2 per kilometer, this represents an almost twenty percent reduction of CO2 emissions in four years. 

California v. U.S. EPA--Fighting for the Last Word on Mobile Source Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Posted on January 8, 2008 by Michèle Corash

Following the United States Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, deciding that greenhouse gases are a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, a federal-state skirmish has emerged in the climate change arena over mobile source emissions. The United States Government estimates that the transportation sector accounts for approximately one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Over the past months, the question of how to reduce those emissions has evolved into a dramatic political and legal battle, pitting California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger against U.S. President George Bush. 

The stage for this tussle was set long ago when Congress adopted the federal Clean Air Act and included in the law a special provision for California. Specifically, Section 209(a) of the Clean Air Act prohibits individual states from adopting emission standards for new motor vehicles. However, in recognition of California’s unique smog problems, a subsection (b) was added to enable California to adopt standards more stringent than federal standards so long as it applies for and obtains a waiver from the U.S. EPA. As one court recently explained, under Section 209(b), “Congress has essentially designated California as a proving ground for innovation in emission control regulations.” Other states are then free to adopt California’s standards pursuant to Section 177 of the Clean Air Act, so long as the standards are adopted at least two years before the model year that they regulate. 

In 2002, California invoked its unique Clean Air Act authority to address greenhouse gas emissions from mobile sources. In particular, the State passed AB 1493 requiring the California Air Resources Board to develop and adopt regulations for the greenhouse gas emissions of passenger automobiles and light duty trucks. In September of 2004, the Air Resources Board adopted standards that apply to such vehicles beginning with model year 2009. As required by the Clean Air Act, California then requested a waiver from the U.S. EPA so that the standards could enter into force. While the waiver request was pending, no less than sixteen other states lined up to adopt California’s standards—for all practical purposes, the California standards were poised to become the de facto national standard.  

Automobile manufacturers challenged those regulations in federal courts in both Vermont and California, arguing that the state automobile emission standards for greenhouse gases constituted fuel efficiency standards, and that fuel efficiency standards are exclusively regulated by the federal government under the Environmental Policy and Conservation Act (“EPCA”).[1] Both courts rejected the manufacturers’ challenges, deciding that federal law did not preempt California’s ability to affect fuel economy through the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, so long as the U.S. EPA granted a waiver under the Clean Air Act—the stage was set for a showdown between California and the U.S. EPA.

The U.S. EPA played its hand slowly. During the summer of 2007, the U.S. EPA held hearings on California’s waiver request. Perhaps foreshadowing its upcoming decision on the request, the U.S. EPA then announced in the fall that it would begin its own “Rulemaking To Address Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Motor Vehicles,” planning for the adoption of federal regulations by October 2008. Finally, the shot was fired on December 19, 2007, when Stephen Johnson, the U.S. EPA Administrator, held a press conference announcing his agency would not grant a waiver to California’s regulation. At the same time, President Bush signed a new energy bill, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, requiring a fleet average of thirty-five miles per gallon by 2020 and an annual production of thirty-six billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022.[2] In making the announcement, Johnson specifically cited Bush’s recent signing of the bill and said, “The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution, not a confusing patchwork of state rules. I believe this is a better approach than if individual states were to act alone.”

Retaliation came swiftly. Little more than two weeks after Johnson’s announcement, California, along with 15 other states and five environmental groups, petitioned the Ninth Circuit on January 2, 2008, for review of the waiver denial.  In the lawsuit, California will need to make the case that its regulation under Section 209 was necessary to “meet compelling and extraordinary conditions.”  As a coastal state with limited fresh water resources, the effect of climate change on California may indeed be severe, involving rising sea levels, a reduction in the Sierra snow pack, and higher temperatures that would exacerbate the state’s ozone nonattainment problem, which is already the worst in the nation. A recent Stanford University study added fodder to this argument when it found Californians’ health will be disproportionately affected by greenhouse gas emissions, because the state is home to six of the most polluted cities in the United States. California will also need to make the case under section 209, that its standards “will be, in the aggregate, at least as protective of public health and welfare as applicable Federal standards.” To that end, the California Air Resources Board released a January 2, 2008, assessment that concludes the federal law, even when fully implemented, will not be as effective as California’s standards at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from new vehicles. Even if California is successful, California’s regulation will have to be modified as it was to apply to 2009 model cars—models that will shortly be coming to market. 

The EPA’s first legal maneuver in response to California’s petition may be to request a transfer from the Ninth Circuit to the more agency-friendly D.C. Circuit. Most challenges of EPA regulations must be filed in the D.C. Circuit—the relevant jurisdictional trigger being whether the action has “nationwide scope or effect.”  While the issue of the waiver makes its way through the courts, the U.S. EPA’s rulemaking will also go forward. To meet its goal of final action by October 2008, the U.S. EPA will have to move quickly, with the public comment period coming by summer 2008 at the latest. 

As these battles are fought, looming on the horizon is a general election in November, and a new federal administration beginning in January of 2009. If the U.S. EPA adopts regulations in October 2008 that do not go as far as the California standards, yet another legal challenge seems almost inevitable, if for no other reason than to stall any final rule until the administration changeover. When the dust does settle, presumably in 2009, the road to mobile source emission reductions will finally be paved.

Michèle Corash is a partner in the international law firm of Morrison & Foerster LLP and a member of the firm’s environmental law practice group. She served as General Counsel of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1979 to 1982 and previously as Deputy General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Energy and Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. Ms. Corash has consistently been listed in American Lawyer’s Corporate Counsel among the “Best Lawyers in America for Environmental Law” and in numerous other publications as being at the top of her field. She represents companies on a broad range of state, national and international environmental issues and claims regarding exposure to toxic substances. With the experience of being a former General Counsel of the EPA, Ms. Corash is well versed, and has been for many years, in the evolving area of clean technology, renewable resources and climate change. She advises clients on the many issues now facing corporations as they face the challenges of new technologies, infrastructures, markets and regulatory regimes.

Contact information: mcorash@mofo.com or (415) 268-7124



[1] Adopted in 1975, EPCA provides for the establishment of national corporate average fuel economy (“CAFÉ”) standards that apply to all passenger automobiles and light duty trucks.

[2] Coincidentally, at the same time, the European Commission adopted a proposal for legislation to dramatically reduce the average carbon dioxide (“CO2”) emissions of new passenger cars by 2012. If adopted by the European Parliament, the proposal requires, by 2012, a fleet average of 130 grams of CO2 emissions per kilometer, with another 10 grams per kilometer reduction from alternative sources such as biofuels and more efficient air-conditioning. Considering Europe’s cars currently emit on average 160 grams of CO2 per kilometer, this represents an almost twenty percent reduction of CO2 emissions in four years. 

Conferences and Events

Posted on December 6, 2007 by Rachael Bunday

The ACOEL group will be meeting on January 31st during the Lex Mundi North American Regional Conference in Miami. The meeting will take place at the Miami office of the law firm Akerman Senterfitt, from 12:15 - 2:45.

Minimum Streamflow in Arkansas

Posted on November 30, 2007 by Brian Rosenthal

  With some exceptions and common law developed standards, Arkansas has traditionally followed the reasonable use theory of the riparian doctrine. A riparian user must use water in a manner that is reasonable compared to others’ rights  (including as to ground water). 

            As a mid-south state, Arkansas receives a moderate amount of rain per year (approximately 49.19 inches on average since 1895 compiled from the Arkansas Natural Resource Commission’s Arkansas Ground Water Protection and Management Report for 2006). Stress on the amount, use of and quality of its underground aquifers, primarily in east and southeast Arkansas, have  resulted in increased scrutiny and planning for alternate water sources, including from conservation, recovery and surface water.        

            Arkansas has no current active system in operation for regulating water usage.  The Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, however, is directed to monitor our state’s water resources and can set minimum streamflows by rulemaking (but this step requires consultation with other state agencies). Water needs to be considered are domestic and municipal water supplies; agricultural and industrial; navigation; recreational; fish and wildlife and other ecological needs. The regulations and laws describe preferences and priorities, but are untested in practice.

            Minimum streamflows are to be set on a case by case basis, defining such stream flows as the “quantity of water required to meet the largest of the following instream flow needs as determined on a case-by-case basis:” (1) interstate compacts, (2) navigation, (3) fish and wildlife, (4) water quality, and (5) aquifer recharge. 

            After minimum flows are established, non-riparian permits may be applied for from “excess surface water.” Excess surface water means twenty-five percent (25%) of the amount of water available on an average annual basis from any watershed basin above that amount required to satisfy all of the following:

                        1.         Existing riparian rights as of June 28, 1985

                        2.         The water needs of federal water projects existing on June 28, 1985

                        3.         The firm yield of all reservoirs in existence on June 28, 1985

                        4.         Maintenance of instream flows for wish and wildlife, water quality, aquifer recharge requirements, and navigation

                        5.         Future water needs of the basis of origin as projected in the State’s Water Plan

                        6.         Additionally, in the White River Basin, permitted transfers may not exceed on a monthly basis an amount that is 50% of the monthly average.

           

Minimum streamflow is important because of its relevance to the Commission’s planning in the case of a possible shortage. Separate and apart from its use in this way, minimum streamflows are also used to determine when excess surface water is available for transfers to nonriparians.

            These standards may be reviewed in the near future to begin establishing minimum streamflows and potentially, associated protected levels, which the Commission may attempt to implement by rule under shortage conditions. The White River is scheduled as the first river to be reviewed in conjunction with the Memphis District Corps of Engineers’ Grand Prairie Area Demonstration Project.  While such irrigation projects were unusual in eastern states, another such project is on the horizon with the Corps’ November 2007 Record of Decision issued for the Bayou Meto Basin of Arkansas.    

            Thus, Arkansas’s riparian rights doctrines are yielding to state systems of oversight based on depleted aquifers and increased demands. For more information on Arkansas’s water resources and rules, click here.

Oregon Water Developments

Posted on November 30, 2007 by Rick Glick

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski has announced that water will be among the top three priorities for the 2009 legislative session. During the interim, here are some developments to track:

            Oregon Oasis Project

            During the 2007 legislative session, agricultural interests in northeast Oregon proposed the Oasis Project, a bill (H.B. 3525) to withdraw up to 500,000 acre-feet of water per year for 25 years from the Upper Columbia River (above Bonneville Dam) for irrigation purposes. The Oasis Project was offered as a solution to shrinking water supplies for high value agriculture in eastern Oregon and to provide a measure of equity relative to Columbia water use by Oregon’s neighbors. 

            Of the total river flow of 198 million acre-feet per year, irrigated agriculture withdrawals comprise 6.93%. Of that amount, Idaho withdraws 52.5%, Washington 32.8%, Montana 7.3% and Oregon 7.4%. If the Oasis Project were to be implemented, its share of water drawn from the Columbia would increase to 9.25%. 

            The reason that Oregon’s share is relatively small is that the state placed a “temporary” moratorium on such withdrawals in 1994 that remains in place to this day. In December 1993, the four Northwest governors signed a letter suggesting that the states defer to the Northwest Power Planning Council for proposing a cooperative policy for salmon recovery with federal agencies. In a January 6, 1994 letter, Oregon’s representatives to the Northwest Power Planning Council requested that the WRD adopt rules temporarily restricting use of Columbia River water. This “temporary” moratorium has lasted 13 years. In the meantime, Washington has actively encouraged new irrigation in the Columbia basin and continues to do so. The 500,000 af/y withdrawal proposed by the Oasis sponsors represents about 0.0025% of the total river flow.

            Of the total diversion from the Columbia that Oasis would authorize, 195,000 would be devoted to replacing depleted ground water supplies for irrigation of 65,000 acres. 300,000 acre feet of “new” water would be used to add 100,000 acres under cultivation. 5,000 acre feet would be available for municipal use. A fee of $10 per acre-foot of new water would be used by the WRD to develop and manage instream water conservation projects in collaboration with the Warm Springs and Umatilla tribes. 

            H.B. 3525 failed to pass in 2007, but the bill’s sponsors continue to be hopeful of ultimate success. In the meantime, they are exploring other alternatives. Prime among them is withdrawing Columbia River water during the winter months for aquifer storage and recovery (ASR). ASR, if feasible, could replenish the critical ground water areas and provide a sustainable water source for many years. A bill is being proposed for the interim 2008 legislative session to fund a feasibility study of this approach. Another potential alternative is to establish a regional water bank to facilitate cooperative use of the resource. Scoggins Dam Raise and Title Transfer Project

 
            A consortium of Portland area municipal water and sewer utilities are joining together to form the Tualatin Basin Water Supply Project Partnership, comprised of Clean Water Services, Tualatin Valley Water District (TVWD), Tualatin Valley Irrigation District (TVID), Washington County, Lake Oswego Corporation and the Cities of Beaverton, Hillsboro, Tigard, and Forest Grove.  The partnership is working to secure future water supplies for environmental and community needs. Clean Water Services is a county service district that provides sanitary sewer service and urban surface water management to a 123 square mile area within Washington County, Oregon. The population served is approximately 470,000 within the 12 member cities and unincorporated county areas, one of the fasted growing areas in the state.

            The Project seeks to provide an additional 52,000 acre-feet of water for multiple uses in the Tualatin Basin through title transfer of the federal Tualatin Project to a local entity, a raise of Scoggins Dam and construction of a raw water pipeline.  The partnership and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will jointly fund the Project. Currently, the partnership is pursuing federal funding from Reclamation to complete a Planning Report/Draft Environmental Statement and is exploring the possibility of transfer of title of the physical facilities associated with the Tualatin Project.

            Oregon Water Supply and Conservation Initiative

            The Oregon Water Resources Department has launched and the 2007 legislature appropriated funds to create a means of identifying Oregon water needs and potential solutions. It is the first major statewide planning action for future water resources in a very long time. 

            The Oregon Progress Board’s State of the Environment Report (2000) noted that one of the state’s major environmental challenges is inadequate water supply. That is the impetus for the Oasis and Tualatin projects described above. Surface waters in most of Oregon during non-winter months are fully appropriated by existing out-of-stream and instream uses. Ground water resources are showing signs of overuse and are becoming unstable in many areas. Conflicts between instream and out-of-stream needs, exacerbated by listings of aquatic species under the Endangered Species Act, have become increasingly divisive and expensive to resolve.  The Initiative consists of five key components:

(1)   Assessment of existing and future water needs in Oregon

(2)   Completion of a statewide inventory of potential storage sites;

(3)   Statewide analysis of conservation opportunities;

(4)   Completion of a statewide investigation of basin yield estimates;

Match funding for community-based and regional water supply planning.

Minimum Streamflow in Arkansas

Posted on November 30, 2007 by Brian Rosenthal

 With some exceptions and common law developed standards, Arkansas has traditionally followed the reasonable use theory of the riparian doctrine. A riparian user must use water in a manner that is reasonable compared to others’ rights  (including as to ground water). 

            As a mid-south state, Arkansas receives a moderate amount of rain per year (approximately 49.19 inches on average since 1895 compiled from the Arkansas Natural Resource Commission’s Arkansas Ground Water Protection and Management Report for 2006). Stress on the amount, use of and quality of its underground aquifers, primarily in east and southeast Arkansas, have  resulted in increased scrutiny and planning for alternate water sources, including from conservation, recovery and surface water.        

            Arkansas has no current active system in operation for regulating water usage.  The Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, however, is directed to monitor our state’s water resources and can set minimum streamflows by rulemaking (but this step requires consultation with other state agencies). Water needs to be considered are domestic and municipal water supplies; agricultural and industrial; navigation; recreational; fish and wildlife and other ecological needs. The regulations and laws describe preferences and priorities, but are untested in practice.

            Minimum streamflows are to be set on a case by case basis, defining such stream flows as the “quantity of water required to meet the largest of the following instream flow needs as determined on a case-by-case basis:” (1) interstate compacts, (2) navigation, (3) fish and wildlife, (4) water quality, and (5) aquifer recharge. 

            After minimum flows are established, non-riparian permits may be applied for from “excess surface water.” Excess surface water means twenty-five percent (25%) of the amount of water available on an average annual basis from any watershed basin above that amount required to satisfy all of the following:

                        1.         Existing riparian rights as of June 28, 1985

                        2.         The water needs of federal water projects existing on June 28, 1985

                        3.         The firm yield of all reservoirs in existence on June 28, 1985

                        4.         Maintenance of instream flows for wish and wildlife, water quality, aquifer recharge requirements, and navigation

                        5.         Future water needs of the basis of origin as projected in the State’s Water Plan

                        6.         Additionally, in the White River Basin, permitted transfers may not exceed on a monthly basis an amount that is 50% of the monthly average.

           

Minimum streamflow is important because of its relevance to the Commission’s planning in the case of a possible shortage. Separate and apart from its use in this way, minimum streamflows are also used to determine when excess surface water is available for transfers to nonriparians.

            These standards may be reviewed in the near future to begin establishing minimum streamflows and potentially, associated protected levels, which the Commission may attempt to implement by rule under shortage conditions. The White River is scheduled as the first river to be reviewed in conjunction with the Memphis District Corps of Engineers’ Grand Prairie Area Demonstration Project.  While such irrigation projects were unusual in eastern states, another such project is on the horizon with the Corps’ November 2007 Record of Decision issued for the Bayou Meto Basin of Arkansas.    

            Thus, Arkansas’s riparian rights doctrines are yielding to state systems of oversight based on depleted aquifers and increased demands. For more information on Arkansas’s water resources and rules, click here.

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

Posted on November 30, 2007 by Jeff Thaler

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.

[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.

Carbon Capture and Sequestration Issues and Debate

Posted on November 27, 2007 by Jeff Thaler

The proposed construction of a 700-megawatt coal-and-biomass-fuel power plant on the site of a former nuclear power plant in Maine has sparked a great deal of analysis into current issues and technologies associated with carbon sequestration, including but not limited to coal power plants. The Twin River Energy Center in Maine proposed an innovative technology to convert coal and wood biomass to a nearly sulfur-and particulate-free gas that would be burned to drive steam turbines, as well as to create a small amount of diesel fuel. 

            As in many parts of the country, the project proposal kindled debate about the use of America’s substantial coal resources in a time of climate change and greenhouse gas concerns.   Consequently, a large conference was recently held by the Chewonki Foundation with participation of experts from around the country, as well as Twin River representatives, to discuss carbon capture and storage technologies and opportunities. The Twin River project would have the technology to capture carbon, but no ready sequestration site nearby presently exists. 

            The general consensus from conference presentations was that (1) carbon capture and sequestration will need to play an important role in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, not only in the United States, but especially in China, India and other parts of the world; (2) at the present time, there is insufficient geological information -- both on land and below the ocean floor -- about the potential for carbon dioxide storage not only in Maine but in the Northeast in general; and (3) it is imperative that government, industry and environmental groups work together in exploring the viability of carbon sequestration. 

            Maine is a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the nation’s first carbon-and-trade program, which involves all Northeast states from Maine to Maryland, with the exception of Pennsylvania. Commencing January 1, 2009, it required reduction of pollution from the region’s largest power plants by 10% by 2019. However, while the region itself is not heavily dependent upon coal-fired generation, it is heavily dependent upon fossil-fuel generation, as well as being downwind of substantial coal-generated power to the west and south.

            During the Chewonki conference, findings were presented from the MIT Future of Coal Study; the U.S. Department of Energy presented on the priorities and challenges of carbon capture and storage; several speakers focused on technological issues of producing low-greenhouse gas liquid fuels, as well as the monitoring and site characterization for carbon storage; and a presentation was made by a Twin River consultant on the mine-to-wheels analysis of projected carbon dioxide emissions from the proposed plant. 

            A link to the carbon capture and storage presentations can be seen here.   After the presentation, local voters in Wiscasset rejected a change in the zoning ordinance concerning height of structures. The project developer is still intending to pursue the project following some refinements.

           In full disclosure, the author is lead environmental permitting attorney for the Twin River project, and his firm generally represents Twin River. For more information on the author, including contact information, please see firm website here.  

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

Posted on November 27, 2007 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.

Regional Governors Sign On to Progressive Climate Change Agreement

Posted on November 27, 2007 by Linda Bochert

 On November 15, 2007 the Midwest Governors Association held the Energy Security and Climate Change Summit in Milwaukee, WI. The Summit provided Midwest leaders with the opportunity to come together on an issue of global importance and sign onto the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord (the Accord). Full signatories to the Accord include Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Kansas, and the Canadian Province of Manitoba. Indiana, Ohio, South Dakota signed on as observer states, and although Nebraska and North Dakota did not sign onto the Accord, they did adopt the accompanying Energy Security and Climate Stewardship Platform (the Platform).  

          The Accord cites the lack of national leadership on climate change issues and asserts that Midwestern States are well positioned to take a leadership role in climate change policy. Several specific goals were put forth along with an aggressive timeframe within which to accomplish them. Of particular importance will be establishing targets for GHG emission reductions and implementing a regional cap and trade program.

          The Platform provides policy options and measurable goals to help facilitate the transition to a lower-carbon energy economy. Among its top priorities are the development of widespread energy efficiency programs, utilization of bio-based products and transportation, increased development of local renewable electricity, and increased support for advanced coal technologies. 

More information about the Midwestern Governors Association, the Accord and the Platform is available online here.

Carbon Capture and Sequestration Issues and Debate

Posted on November 27, 2007 by Jeff Thaler

The proposed construction of a 700-megawatt coal-and-biomass-fuel power plant on the site of a former nuclear power plant in Maine has sparked a great deal of analysis into current issues and technologies associated with carbon sequestration, including but not limited to coal power plants. The Twin River Energy Center in Maine proposed an innovative technology to convert coal and wood biomass to a nearly sulfur-and particulate-free gas that would be burned to drive steam turbines, as well as to create a small amount of diesel fuel. 

            As in many parts of the country, the project proposal kindled debate about the use of America’s substantial coal resources in a time of climate change and greenhouse gas concerns.   Consequently, a large conference was recently held by the Chewonki Foundation with participation of experts from around the country, as well as Twin River representatives, to discuss carbon capture and storage technologies and opportunities. The Twin River project would have the technology to capture carbon, but no ready sequestration site nearby presently exists. 

            The general consensus from conference presentations was that (1) carbon capture and sequestration will need to play an important role in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, not only in the United States, but especially in China, India and other parts of the world; (2) at the present time, there is insufficient geological information -- both on land and below the ocean floor -- about the potential for carbon dioxide storage not only in Maine but in the Northeast in general; and (3) it is imperative that government, industry and environmental groups work together in exploring the viability of carbon sequestration. 

            Maine is a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the nation’s first carbon-and-trade program, which involves all Northeast states from Maine to Maryland, with the exception of Pennsylvania. Commencing January 1, 2009, it required reduction of pollution from the region’s largest power plants by 10% by 2019. However, while the region itself is not heavily dependent upon coal-fired generation, it is heavily dependent upon fossil-fuel generation, as well as being downwind of substantial coal-generated power to the west and south.

            During the Chewonki conference, findings were presented from the MIT Future of Coal Study; the U.S. Department of Energy presented on the priorities and challenges of carbon capture and storage; several speakers focused on technological issues of producing low-greenhouse gas liquid fuels, as well as the monitoring and site characterization for carbon storage; and a presentation was made by a Twin River consultant on the mine-to-wheels analysis of projected carbon dioxide emissions from the proposed plant. 

            A link to the carbon capture and storage presentations can be seen here.   After the presentation, local voters in Wiscasset rejected a change in the zoning ordinance concerning height of structures. The project developer is still intending to pursue the project following some refinements.

           In full disclosure, the author is lead environmental permitting attorney for the Twin River project, and his firm generally represents Twin River. For more information on the author, including contact information, please see firm website here.