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Andrea Wortzel

Introduction

On November 30, 2023, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its Proposed Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI).[1] With this proposal, EPA aims to simplify and expand upon the 2021 Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR) and the original 1991 Lead and Copper Rule (LCR). The proposed LCRI outlines aggressive measures to achieve further reductions of lead in drinking water. This initiative brings to the forefront a critical question: Are the potential health benefits projected by EPA enough to justify the scope and extent of the rule and its related hefty price tag?Continue reading The Long-Awaited Lead and Copper Rule Improvements Have Arrived

The U.S. Supreme Court just issued its long-awaited Sackett decision in which it significantly narrowed the scope of federal jurisdiction over “waters of the U.S.” under the Clean Water Act. Written by Justice Alito (with four other justices joining him), the decision contained three separate concurring opinions, with its operative holding as follows:

  1. The CWA

On March 13, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took the long-anticipated step of proposing maximum contaminant level goals (MCLGs), as well as individual maximum contaminant levels (MCLs), for six PFAS compounds under the Safe Drinking Water Act. PFAS are a large family of synthetic chemicals that have been in use since the 1940s. Many PFAS

On June 1, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a pre-publication version of its proposal to re-write the Clean Water Act Section 401 rule (Certification Proposal), which, if finalized, is expected to have far-reaching impacts on hydroelectric licensing and relicensing. The Certification Proposal is intended by EPA to replace the version of the rule finalized under the Trump administration in 2020 (2020 Rule). While the Certification Proposal maintains some aspects of the 2020 Rule, it differs in some significant areas and in many ways reverts back to the 1971 regulations.
Continue reading EPA’s Clean Water Act Certification Proposal to Significantly Impact Hydropower Licensing

Landowners and permit applicants received an email notification this week that the Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) would not be processing their requests for coverage under a variety of Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 404 Nationwide Permits (NWPs). NWPs are general permits that authorize activities under Clean Water Act Section 404 that “will cause only minimal adverse environmental effects when performed separately, and will have only minimal cumulative adverse effects on the environment.” CWA Section 404 (e)(1).
Continue reading Army Corps Halts Coverage Under Nationwide Permits

There has been a longstanding debate about how to apply the one-year time limit on Clean Water Act Section 401 certification decisions. The D.C. Circuit court in Hoopa Valley Tribe v. FERC, 913 F.3d 1099 (D.C. Cir. 2019) established a bright-line standard that a 401 certification must be issued or denied within one year of receipt of application, or the certification opportunity is waived. States cannot engage in actions to extend this deadline by requiring an applicant to withdraw and refile their application or by finding an application incomplete. This bright-line test was reinforced by the Second Circuit’s more recent decision in New York State Department of Environmental Conservation v. FERC, 991 F.3d 439 (2d Cir. 2021). This interpretation was also codified in EPA’s 2020 Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Rule. See 85 Fed. Reg. 42210 (July 13, 2020). However, on July 2, the Fourth Circuit offered a different interpretation of Section 401 in its decision in N.C. Department of Environmental Quality v. FERC, No. 20-1655 (McMahan Hydro).
Continue reading The Fourth Circuit Weighs In on the Interpretation of CWA Section 401

On May 27, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its intent to reconsider the Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 401 final rule issued by the Trump administration in June 2020 (Final Rule).

Section 401 of the CWA provides a cooperative federalism framework where states and authorized Tribes can issue a water quality certification that places conditions on a proposed project or action requiring a federal permit. Under President Trump, EPA revised the regulations implementing Section 401, to among other reasons, create greater regulatory certainty in the process, reaffirm one year means one year or less as authorized by statute, address the scope of review by clarifying conditioning authority is focused on water quality effects of the discharge as opposed to the entire activity, and modernize the application process. While some states have intervened in support of EPA to defend the Final Rule (including Texas and West Virginia), other states (including New York and California) and environmental groups have challenged the Final Rule. Courts are currently holding these proceedings in abeyance in light of the change in administration. It is not clear how the reconsideration notice will affect these abeyances, but the courts may simply continue to hold the cases in abeyance pending a replacement rule being issued.
Continue reading EPA Announces Reconsideration and Potential Revision of the Clean Water Act Section 401 Final Rule

On March 23, the Second Circuit issued its opinion in N.Y. Dep’t of Enviro. Conservation v. FERC, Case No. 19-1610 (i.e., the “Empire Pipeline” case). The case concerns the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC or Commission) determination that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) waived its water quality certification authority with regard to FERC’s issuance of a gas pipeline certificate when NYSDEC sought to extend its review period beyond the one-year deadline under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA or Act) by agreeing with the applicant to “post-date” the filing date of its water quality certification application by several weeks.
Continue reading Second Circuit Enforces the Clean Water Act Section 401 One-Year Time Limit

On March 18, 2021, FERC issued a Final Rule amending its regulations to establish a one-year period for states, tribes, or other certifying authorities (“Certifying Agencies”) to act on a Clean Water Act (“CWA”) Section 401 water quality certification request for proposed natural gas and liquefied natural gas projects.
Continue reading FERC Establishes Water Quality Certification Waiver Period for Natural Gas Projects

Addressing environmental justice (EJ) concerns highlighted during the campaign is an important priority for the Biden Administration.  Within a week of taking the oath of office, President Biden issued a sweeping executive order with a number of EJ initiatives, including creation of a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council consisting of the heads of each Cabinet-level and independent federal agency.  The order also directed federal agencies to “make achieving environmental justice part of their missions” through development of programs and policies aimed at addressing disproportionately high adverse environmental impacts on disadvantaged communities.
Continue reading FERC to Increase Focus on Environmental Justice