Environmental Law Update – Fall 2018

On September 30, the Massachusetts federal District Court dismissed Toxics Action Center, Inc. v. Casella Waste Systems, Inc.,  a citizens suit under the Clean Water Act and RCRA alleging that discharges of leachate from Casella’s Southbridge landfill through groundwater had damaged surface water and contaminated private wells. The Court dismissed the RCRA counts, because additional Court action would be duplicative of  MassDEP’s enforcement actions and, therefore, not “necessary.” The Court acknowledged that “[t]he First Circuit has not addressed whether a discharge of a pollutant that moves through ground water before reaching navigable waters may constitute a discharge of a pollutant, within the meaning of the CWA.”  But the Court sidestepped the groundwater discharge issue as follows: “a landfill is not a point source within the meaning of the CWA, this Court will not reach the issue of whether the CWA extends liability to surface water that is polluted via hydrologically connected groundwater.”

On September 26, the Department of Public Utilities issued an Order providing for utilities to pay direct incentives to owners of new solar generating sources under the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program.

On September 17, Massachusetts rolled out its first-in-the-nation 2018 State Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan which integrates climate change impacts and adaptation strategies with hazard mitigation planning.  The Plan qualifies the state for Stafford Act funds (per FEMA hazard mitigation grant criteria at 44 CFR § 201.4) and also complies with Executive Order 569.  The state will update the plan every five years, with continuous reviews, updates and revisions via the new Climate Change Clearinghouse.  To date, over 150 communities have performed vulnerability assessments and developed action-oriented resiliency plans under the Commonwealth’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program (MVP).  Certified MVP communities are eligible for MVP Action grant funding and other opportunities.

On September 4, the Supreme Judicial Court handed down New England Power Generators Association, Inc. v. Department of Environmental Protection rejecting the Power Generator’s challenge to MassDEP regulations requiring decreases in annual GHG emissions under the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA). Deferring to MassDEP’s interpretation of the Act, the Court ruled that the Department had the authority to impose annual declining emissions on the electric sector under Section 3 d of the Act, despite the existence of provisions in Section 3 c of the Act, which are specifically applicable to electric generating facilities.

On August 21, Governor Baker signed the $2.4B Environmental Bond Bill including provisions that put into law his 2016 Executive Order 569, establishing an integrated strategy for climate change adaptation discussed above.

On July 12, the EPA and Army Corps issued a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on their proposal to roll back the Obama-Era Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule defining the agencies’ Clean Water Act jurisdiction. The comment period ended on August 23, 2018.  Whatever the agencies ultimately decide, ongoing litigation is sure to continue to delay the clarity sought by so many in the regulated community over the breadth of the agencies’ jurisdiction.

In addition to EPA’s April 2018 proposed Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science rule, which would limit the scientific studies that the EPA could rely upon in evaluating new regulations, on June 13 the Agency issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking  to change the methodology used to calculate the cost and benefit of new environmental regulations.  Battle lines are being drawn over whether the EPA should continue to count so-called “co-benefits,” which take into account the indirect health benefits in addition to the direct benefits of a proposed new regulation. For example, in the case of the mercury air toxic rule, the EPA included $4-6M of direct health benefits from reduced mercury exposures and $80B in co-benefits attributable to the reduction of other pollutants, primarily particulate matter (PM).

In March, MassDEP promulgated a package of amendments to its air pollution control regulations at 310 CMR 7.00 across a wide array of topics, including a revamp of the rules governing appeals of air plan approvals, which had long been the source of legal uncertainty and litigation.

 

BBA and EBC welcome the new EPA Regional Administrator Alexandra Dunn

Tom Mackie and Peter Durning were honored to be a part of the Boston Bar Association and Environmental Business Council of New England’s co-sponsored program on February 15, 2018 welcoming the new EPA Regional Administrator, Alexandra Dunn.

Tom, Chair of the EBC, gave opening remarks welcoming over 200 guests from the legal and environmental consulting community to the event.

Peter, the Co-Chair of the BBA’s Energy and Environmental Law Section, provided closing remarks and a sincere thank you to Regional Administrator Dunn, following a 40-minute presentation and a robust question and answer period.

In her speech, Alex Dunn stressed the need to address core water quality concerns by focusing on nutrients in stormwater, stormwater runoff, and water infrastructure projects.  She also outlined other initiatives for her tenure as Regional Administrator, including emerging contaminants, environmental justice, interstate air shed issues, and finally closing out and potentially redeveloping the remaining Superfund sites in New England.

POTUS Has Trumped WOTUS Before SCOTUS

In our Spring and Fall 2015 Newsletters, we predicted a growing morass of litigation challenging the EPA and Army Corps’ Clean Water Rule (the “Rule”). The Rule sought to codify the criteria the agencies have applied on a case-by-case basis using the three alternative tests announced by the Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) in Rapanos v. United States, 547 U.S. 715 (2006) to define the jurisdictional scope of Waters of the United States (“WOTUS”) under the Clean Water Act. As we predicted, industry groups, 30 states and environmental groups challenged the extension of EPA jurisdiction in federal district and appellate courts.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a nationwide stay of the Rule, and later agreed with the federal government that the Rule was reviewable exclusively in the circuit courts of appeal.  The SCOTUS agreed to resolve the jurisdictional fights over which federal court should hear challenges to the Rule.  Thus, the Sixth Circuit stayed the litigation over the merits of the WOTUS Rule until the SCOTUS decides the narrow jurisdictional question of which courts have jurisdiction to hear substantive challenges to the Rule.  SCOTUS arguments are scheduled for April with an expected June decision.  On April 3, 2017, SCOTUS denied POTUS’ request to stay hearing on the venue for the WOTUS review.

During the campaign, Donald Trump pledged to “eliminate the unconstitutional” Rule and to “direct the Army Corps of Engineers and EPA to no longer use this unlawful rule and related guidance documents in making jurisdictional determinations.”  The SCOTUS grant of review gave the POTUS time to decide how to eliminate the Rule.  On February 28, 2017, the POTUS decried the Rule as a “massive power grab” and signed an Executive Order to direct EPA Administrator Pruitt to begin the legal process to dismantle the Rule and to Attorney General Sessions to ask the court to delay a decision until a new regulation is released.  The process for withdrawing the Rule is lengthy, will require justification, be subject to public comment, and potential challenge in new lawsuits which may end up in the SCOTUS, that will include the POTUS’ newly appointed justice, Neil Gorsuch.  The Republican Congress could also scuttle the Rule legislatively.  (A non-binding resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives that supports the Executive Order.)  Congress could also defund EPA wetlands activities.

The Pruitt EPA will likely be less aggressive in enforcing Clean Water Act violations.  Massachusetts may not be as affected because it has a strong Wetlands Protection Act and many municipalities have Home Rule Wetlands Protection laws.

Until SCOTUS addresses the new Rule years from now, EPA and the Corps presumably will make WOTUS determinations using the Rapanos tests.  A Corps’ Jurisdictional Determination will in turn be subject to judicial review as “final agency action” under the SCOTUS decision in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes Co., Inc., 101 S. Ct. 1807 (2016).  Lawyers for industry, public interests, conservationists and environmental organizations will be fully employed for the next decade.

Delegation of NPDES Program

In this space in the August 2016 Newsletter, we heralded Governor Baker and MassDEP’s efforts to secure from EPA delegation to administer the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). Proposed legislation was sent to die in study at the end of 2016 legislative season by the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. On March 8, 2017, Governor Baker filed An Act to Enable the Commonwealth’s Administration of the Massachusetts Pollutant Discharge Elimination System that will allow MassDEP to administer the NPDES program as in 46 other states. The legislation will make changes to the Massachusetts Clean Waters Act, which are required for MassDEP to apply to EPA. The Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal includes a $1.4 million “seed” investment to support the NPDES program. The appropriation will increase to $4.7 million in FY 2019. The initial funding will allow MassDEP to hire 12 new staffers to phase-in NPDES program development and conduct water quality analyses.
In addition to this legislation (if passed), MassDEP must demonstrate to EPA it has an effective plan for managing the NPDES program, the Clean Waters Act will meet federal requirements, and a funding plan is in place. EPA personnel and budget cuts proposed by the POTUS support the delegation plan. It is hoped that MassDEP will engage more closely with municipalities and other permittees, and be more flexible and collaborative in an interactive process that will consider what is technically and economically feasible to attain water quality standards. Delegation may also put MassDEP squarely in the litigation crosshairs of environmental groups which are unhappy with the manner or speed with which MassDEP implements the NPDES program

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The Demise of the Stream Protection Rule

The Republican Congress and the POTUS have stricken the Interior Department’s Stream Protection Rule that protected waterways from coal mining that was eight years in the making.  The rule would have imposed stronger requirements for avoiding coal mining practices that pollute streams and sources of drinking water, for restoring streams, and for reclaiming and replanting mined lands.  Testing and monitoring of streams near coal mines before, during and after mining were required.  On February 2, 2017, Congress employed a little-used tool called the Congressional Review Act to block the rule with a simple majority vote (House 228-194 and Senate 54-45).  On February 16, 2017, the POTUS became the first president in 16 years to sign a regulatory repeal resolution.  The rule would have protected 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forest in Appalachia.

2017 EPA Construction General Permit

The August 2016 Newsletter summarized the 2012 CPG for stormwater discharges from construction sites disturbing one or more acres of land.  The CPG included requirements for using 2009 technology-based effluent limitation guidelines and new source performance standards for the construction and development industry (C&D Rule), non-numerical effluent limits for erosion and sediment controls, soil stabilization, dewatering and Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPPPs).  The article also previewed the draft 2017 CPG.

EPA has issued the 2017 CPG, effective February 16, 2017.  All existing sites under the 2012 CGP must update SWPPPs and file a new Notice of Intent by May 17, 2017.  The new CPG adds to the 2014 CPG.  It covers demolition sites, sets new C&D non-numeric effluent limits, requires self-inspections, corrective actions, training, and electronic reporting.  There are mandatory stabilization measures based on the size of the disturbance and requirements for erosion controls based on design specifications.  Developers and property owners must recognize that having a multi-binder generic SWPPP on the shelf in the construction trailer is not enough to comply with the CGP.  The document must be tailored to fit the site; the contractor needs to designate the SWPPP as the project erosion “bible,” and train its staff and subcontractors to consult the bible when erosion events occur.

Gold nugget tip:  Designate an Environmental Monitor who checks the predicted rainfall every day and the erosion and sedimentation controls before and after the storm event, and has authority to direct needed repairs.

The Fate of the Environment in the Age of Trump

Since Trump’s inauguration, friends and colleagues have been asking, “what impact will President Trump have on environmental law?” Along with the rest of the nation (and world), we are waiting to see just how far Trump will push his anti-environment agenda.

Here are a few observations from the dizzying first 90 days:
Read More → “The Fate of the Environment in the Age of Trump”

…Oh, Boston you’re my home.

Since 1997, Red Sox Nation has celebrated home victories with the post-game anthem “Dirty Water,” the 1966 cynical paean to the Charles River and Boston Harbor.  “Well, I love that dirty water; Oh, Boston you’re my home.”

Beginning in the 1800’s, the Charles River and Boston Harbor were polluted by domestic, municipal and industrial wastes.  Raw sewage, chemical discharges, and leaching riverbank landfills turned the river into a toxic sluiceway flowing into the nastiest harbor in the world.
Read More → “…Oh, Boston you’re my home.”

A Call To Action

Each September through November, volunteers participate in COASTSWEEP, a state-wide coastal cleanup of marine debris.  Sponsored by MassCZM in coordination with the Ocean Conservatory’s International Coastal Cleanup, individuals, families, organizations and companies collect and catalogue the waste defiling our beaches and waterways, identify the sources of the debris, and act to stop ocean dumping.  Our clients spend billions to build homes and businesses and to recreate in the coastal zone that is under constant attack from trash, primarily from land-based sources (washed out to sea by rivers, streams and storm drains).  Plastics pose the greatest risk to marine wildlife (seabirds and turtles).  Marine debris damages the health and safety, economics, and aesthetics of those who live, work and play along Massachusetts’ 1,500 miles of coastline.

We shouldn’t wait for the islands of ocean garbage to landfall; or for syringes, feces and nasty floatables to wash up on our beaches (as happened in Quincy prompting the cleanup of Boston Harbor).  We encourage our clients, consultants and friends to join in an important opportunity to make a difference by cleaning up fishing nets, lines, traps and buoys, plastic bags, and consumer products that desecrate our marine environment.  To learn more about eye-opening marine debris statistics and oddities, cleanup events, and organizing, joining or sponsoring a team, go to MassCZM’s COASTSWEEP site.

Embrace your stewardship!

Environmental Law Update – Fall 2015

In our Spring 2015 Environmental Law Update we predicted that there would be judicial and legislative challenges to the EPA and Army Corps’ new Clean Water Rule expanding the scope of jurisdictional waters of the United States.  The Rule seeks to codify existing criteria that EPA and the Corps have been applying on a case-by-case basis using the three alternative tests announced by the U.S. Supreme Court in Rapanos v. United StatesEven before the Rule was to take effect on August 28, 2015, 27 states filed federal lawsuits challenging the regulation.

On October 9, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit stayed the Rule nationwide.  The morass of litigation prompted EPA to move to centralize pretrial proceedings in the District of Columbia.  On October 13, 2015, the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation issued an Order denying transfer because the various lawsuits will involve very limited pretrial discovery as the cases will be decided on the administrative record and will turn on questions of law on alleged exceedances of statutory and constitutional authority in promulgating the rule.  The EPA and the Corps have resumed nationwide use of the prior regulations by applying case law, policy and the best science and technical data on a case-by-case basis in determining which waters and wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act.  On the legislative front, on November 4, 2015, over the threat of a Presidential veto, the U.S. Senate approved a resolution to nullify the Clean Water Rule.  “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  Stay tuned.