The Deep

Thoughtful analysis of major developments in federal and state regulatory policy and key court decisions

Yesterday, EPA announced a proposed rule that would revise the agency’s regulations to include a requirement that water quality standards protect reserved tribal treaty rights. This proposal is a major milestone for the agency that has tried to incorporate reserved tribal treaty rights into its water quality standards program since at least 2015.

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The Biden administration has enormous climate and carbon management goals, which rightfully include the geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide as a core part of its climate adaptation strategy. The administration, to its credit, has worked with Congress to provide tax credits and billions of dollars of new funding for programs targeting the transportation and sequestration

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

In a move consistent with EPA’s recent uptick in oversight of state regulatory programs, EPA has proposed to establish federal water quality standards (WQS) for human health criteria (HHC) for Washington state. The proposal comes less than two months after the Office of Water rescinded a memorandum that directed EPA regions to comply with Clean Water Act statutory deadlines and give sufficient deference to technical determinations made by states that administer EPA-approved delegated Clean Water Act programs. While the proposal itself is not surprising — EPA telegraphed that it would take this action early in this administration — the timing of the proposal is somewhat surprising.

Continue reading EPA Proposes Federal Water Quality Standards for Washington State

On February 16, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published in the Federal Register new interim guidance that is intended to facilitate the review and deployment of carbon capture, sequestration, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technologies. For those hoping for specific guidance that would accelerate the deployment of CCUS, the interim guidance is likely to disappoint. Congress recently signaled strong interest in accelerating CCUS as a national decarbonization strategy by providing billions of dollars of new investment to support the industry, but the guidance is largely silent on how the executive branch will match the urgency in ensuring on-the-ground deployment in the foreseeable future. Comments on CEQ’s guidance are due to CEQ by March 18.
Continue reading Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage: Administration Action (and Inaction)

On October 21, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California vacated and remanded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2020 Clean Water Act Section 401 final rule (Certification Rule).

In response to the court’s ruling, EPA is implementing the previous water quality certification rule nationwide, which had been in effect since 1971, while it develops a new rule.
Continue reading Court Decision to Vacate, Remand State Water Quality 401 Certification Rule

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

A recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona vacated and remanded the 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR) issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) (together, “Agencies”) that clarified the scope of federal jurisdictional “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Before the promulgation of the NWPR, there had been several rulemakings and much litigation on this complicated issue, causing nationwide confusion on the application of a uniform standard. In 2015, the Obama administration promulgated a WOTUS rule that had been the subject of significant litigation, which the Trump administration had repealed (the “Repeal Rule”). The NWPR sought to provide certainty as to which waterbodies meet the features of WOTUS by creating clear categories of jurisdictional waterbodies.
Continue reading District Court Vacates Navigable Waters Protection Rule